Star Wars: The Force Awakens will soon be upon us, and Star Wars: Episode VIII will be here before you know it. We don’t know how many of the Force Awakens cast will make it to the next installment of the sequel trilogy, but we now have the film’s first bit of major casting since Benicio del Toro signed on back in July to play a villain role.
Tonight, we can exclusively report that Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights) is joining the cast. While negotiations can always break down and nothing is official until Disney announces it, we feel confident in our reporting.
We don’t have any details on her role, which isn’t surprising (come to think of it, we’re a couple months away from The Force Awakens and we still don’t really have any details on those new characters either). Will she be a total newcomer into the universe? Is she related to any of the characters we’ll meet prior to Episode VIII? Is she playing a human or an alien?
All of these questions will be answered in due time, but I’m just glad that they’ve gone after such talented actresses for major roles, especially Mbatha-Raw, who was due for a breakout role in a blockbuster following her acclaimed performances in Beyond the Lights and Belle.
Curiously, Mbatha-Raw flew under the radar when it came to Episode VIII casting. Latino-Review did report a few days ago that she was being eyed for the film, and at the beginning of September, we reported that Gina Rodriguez, Tatiana Maslany and Olivia Cooke were on the shortlist for the female lead and that they were doing chemistry reads with Force Awakens star John Boyega. Earlier tonight, THR reported that Maslany was signing on for the Boston Marathon Bombing movie, which would likely make her unavailable for Episode VIII. Whether she passed on Star Wars or they passed on her, it looks like they have someone in mind, and it appears to be Mbatha-Raw. However, it’s also possible there’s more than one female lead and Rodriguez (or some other actress) is still in the running for the other part.
If she does sign on, it shows that the Star Wars movies are continuing to crush it when it comes to casting. I don’t know how it will all shake out, but producer Kathleen Kennedy and her directors have shown a sharp eye for spotting emerging talent like John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Felicity Jones, Gwendoline Christie, and more. If you haven’t seen Beyond the Lights, you can watch it on Netflix right now. You’ll immediately be a Mbatha-Raw fan.
Mbatha-Raw will be seen later this year in the NFL drama Concussion and early in 2016 with The Free State of Jones. She’s also co-starring in the live-action Beauty and the Beast, which opens in 2017.
Star Wars: Episode VIII opens May 26, 2017.