In the year since Star Wars: Episode VII was announced, director J.J. Abrams has maintained a galaxy-wide silence on the casting of the hype-worthy film. While Abrams was set on keeping fans in the dark, he did let it slip that he was looking for a group of relative unknowns. The Star Wars franchise has a legacy of transforming young aspiring actors into stars. 1977’s A New Hope introduced Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, who quickly became as iconic as their prop lightsabers and intricate hairdos. Abrams similarly sought new faces for his episode’s starring roles—in 2013, an open casting call for the untitled film requested a “smart, capable” man in his late teens or early 20s. This humble description was in fact a sneak peek of Star Wars’ next protagonist, a young Jedi-in-training.
A slew of relatively fresh faces were rumored to be up for this plum part, including theater actor Ray Fisher and Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons. According to Variety, casting was delayed by the question of whether or not Episode VII would have a Caucasian lead. Yesterday Abrams finally ripped off the band-aid, revealing the entire cast in a public snapshot of the film’s first table read. The classy black and white pic confirmed that another rumored frontrunner, British actor John Boyega, would in fact be helming the franchise.
The 22-year-old Boyega was born to Nigerian parents in Peckham, London. He was a performing arts student at South Thames College, where he played the lead in Othello in 2010. Boyega trained at Hackney’s Identity Drama School, and performed in various theater productions around London. In 2011 he was offered the role of Moses in Attack the Block. The film, which centers around a zombie attack on a South London estate, put Boyega on the map. He proceeded to make a name for himself in 2013’s Half of a Yellow Sun, the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel of the same name, and 2014’s Imperial Dreams. Boyega was even set to helm his own Spike Lee drama, Da Brick, loosely based on the life of Mike Tyson; unfortunately, HBO passed on the project. In addition to Episode VII, which he dropped out of the starring role in Race, a Jesse Owens biopic, to film, he’s currently shooting 24: Live Another Day.
As if landing the biggest role of his career isn’t enough, Boyega will be acting alongside Stars Wars’ stalwart legends. Fisher, Hamill, and Ford are all onboard to reprise their iconic roles as Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo in Episode VII, which will be set thirty years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi. They’ll be joined by Boyega, Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) Adam Driver (Girls), Daisy Ridley, (Blue Season) and Domhnall Gleeson (About Time).
Episode VII will arrive in theaters (hopefully with a real title) in December 2015. In his Tuesday afternoon statement, Abrams exclaimed, "It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud."
Boyega and his costars are probably sick of hearing “may the Force be with you”—so we’ll just stick to break a leg.