It must be said: In October 2012, Star Wars fans felt a great disturbance in the Force. Disney — no need to explain why this is gobsmackingly horrible — announced that it was going to insult the collective intelligence, sensibility, and good taste of everyone in America and the English-speaking world by welcoming George Lucas to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and making another Star Wars trilogy. So obviously I tried out for it.
Upwards of a thousand people descended on Austin this Friday for a shot at one of two “major roles” that casting directors are ostensibly looking to fill. And it’s not just Texas. Cast It Talent, per this official website, has been conducting a “Worldwide Search” for talent over the last few weeks. They’ve held events in the U.K. and Chicago, and they’ve got one slated for Nashville on November 24. The end game is to use the indisputably successful American Idol method to choose two of the actors in a new Star Wars movie.
This is all happening because George Lucas — who has essentially been flipping off his fans for the past 30 years — foresaw all of this. The documentary The People vs. George Lucas (watch it on Netflix! Seriously!) has footage from an interview the Star Wars creator once gave in which he basically admits he’s the worst kind of person.
He continues: “So there’s a certain irony there, in that I have become the very thing that I was trying to avoid. That is Darth Vader. He becomes the very thing that he’s trying to protect himself against.”
I have nothing to contribute to this line of thought except that, well, we’ve reached peak irony, George, because now this artistic vision that was such a Bidensian BFD to you is owned by the corporation responsible for Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch.
Despite this, I still ended up sitting in a huge ballroom in the Hilton in downtown Austin surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of twitchy teens and twentysomethings who all fancied the prospect of a role in Star Wars VII. And that’s where it became glaringly, harshly obvious that Star Wars is dead, Star Wars will remain dead, and we have killed it.
First, backstory: I’m a Star Wars purist, but I’m also a Star Wars minimalist. I watched the original three movies over and over and over and over as a little kid and loved them with a love that is true. (One of my clearest memories is playing in our backyard with my neighbor, fortuitously named Luke, and pretending the swings were TIE fighters.) But I never got into the three prequels, on principle. I was more or less a born conservative, suspicious of innovation and cantankerous by disposition (a really delightful eight-year-old, a babysitter’s dream). But it was also because — let’s be real — the three newer Star Wars films totally sucked. I’ve seen Episode II only one time, and it was at a slumber party with my little sister, Sarah, and my best friend, Mel, and I was half asleep in a Pepsi/Skittles coma, and I still knew it sucked. You know that line where Anakin starts rubbing Amidala’s arm and he says, “Here everything is soft and smooth”? Even now it makes me want to hork.
So, like I said: purist, minimalist. I didn’t read the books, didn’t play the video games, didn’t buy the Legos, etc. Imagine all the love your garden-variety Star Wars fanatic has for the entire book/Lego/six-film franchise: That’s the amount of love I have for the original three Star Wars movies. And I knew that if my eight-year-old self had imagined that someday her 24-year-old self would turn down the chance to audition for a Star Wars film, she would have been crushed. So I went to Austin.
Here’s the thing about trying out for Star Wars: It’s really boring. At about 11:45 a.m. at the Hilton in downtown Austin, a line of a few dozen contenders stretched outside the door of the hotel and down a block and a half. The weather was really horrible — 40 degrees, but it felt more like 30, and there was thick cloud cover and a steady drizzle. I asked a few people why they were waiting in line and got an odd response: A couple from outside Austin (they’d been there since 9 a.m.) told me that it was an “unofficial line.” The employees of the Hilton, sensibly, decided they didn’t want the lobby of their hotel to look like Occupy. So applicants had been instructed to wait in the rain, where they sat in camp chairs, swathed themselves in sleeping bags, and huddled under thatches of umbrellas.
That was completely pointless, given that the wannabes in the “unofficial” line were ushered into the hotel about an hour later, where we were joined by a comparable number of people who’d been waiting in the lobby. Then the whole mass fused together and flowed up a few sets of escalators and into a ballroom.
The entire situation was purgatorial, though it skewed more Our Town than Dante. Contenders (or what’s the best noun for people trying out for something? Auditionees? Competitors? Practitioners of the virtue of patience?) filled the ballroom and just sat, waiting, for hours. At about 12:45 in the afternoon (or something like that — the passage of time was foggy), we learned that an announcement would come around 1. By the time 1:15 rolled around, no dice. Lots of sitting.
Some of the participants, including a girl sitting by me who flew in from Sacramento (her analysis of Sacramento: “It’s not the best place”), had manila folders with headshots and résumés. I realized that I maybe should have brought a résumé. But whatever. My thespian background isn’t exactly formidable; the last production I tried out for was a church musical for children called We Like Sheep. (Perhaps you’ve heard of it?) I was seven, I was cast as Lambie-Pie, and I was sensational. But it’s still not a huge body of work. So unless the Cast It Talent staffers would have been impressed by my saying, “I went on Fox Business one time,” I’m pretty sure that forgetting my résumé wasn’t a game-changer.
At this juncture, it’s worth noting that there are Star Wars tryout truthers. A couple sitting next to me — Kaylyn Dicksion, who runs a website called MarzGurl Productions and told me she almost got a gig on a reality show, and her fiancé, Josh Saucedo — killed some of the time making video selfies for her YouTube channel. “I don’t know what the tie is between this meet-and-greet and Wizard World,” said Kaylyn to the camera, referring to the Wizard World Austin Comic Con event that’s conveniently — or is it too conveniently? — taking place across the street. “But I still say that there is some connection, whether we like it or not,” she concludes.
The pair speculates that the tryouts might not actually be a good-faith effort on the part of Cast It Talent to fill roles for the new Star Wars movie (crazy, right?). The rationale: It couldn’t be a coincidence that Wizard World was going on basically in the same place at the same time. And that’s not to mention that also slated for that night is an event for fans of Star Wars: The Old Republic, which, per its Wikipedia page, is a “massively multiplayer online role-playing game.” These things were planned before, Kaylyn argued; this stuff doesn’t just happen. And why would Disney go to the bother of globe-trotting in search of future celebrities if not to brazenly drum up publicity? If that’s true, it totally worked, with Exhibit A being the article you’re reading right now.
Kaylyn doesn’t have any empirical data backing up her theory, but she does question the legitimacy of the auditions. “It does have me concerned,” she tells me. “I’ve got to admit it.” She adds that she doesn’t want to question the auditions held in other cities, though. “Maybe the other cities are more legitimate, but I don’t know about this one,” she says. After making her case, she passes time playing a Pokemon game on her Nintendo DS.
Quick tangent: Kaylyn and Josh met at a comic convention. He asked if he could take a picture of her because she was wearing a beguiling costume as Aeris from the Final Fantasy game. A few years later, and they’re engaged. Everyone else in the world: You’re going to be single forever.
But back to presuming the worst about Disney’s intentions (usually a safe bet): I can’t imagine that this tryout/publicity-stunt gambit was super successful. People basically waited five hours to be told to go to a website. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. After sitting in this one ballroom for about two hours, people were told to shuffle into another ballroom. Then the casting director, a remarkably unflustered woman, explained to participants that she and her staff had been carefully trained to pick out personality traits or something, and that after talking with each person for a few seconds, they would maybe pull a few out of the line to sign their name in some notebook and stay in touch.
“This is so intense right now,” says the girl from Sacramento, leafing over her headshots and résumé. “I feel like afterwards it’s going to be a little bit more . . . ” Her voice trails off. “This is crazy.”
So the Ballroom #2 part of this process took about an hour, depending on where you were in line. By the time I got to the front, the unflustered casting director pulled me and three others out of line and told us to go to opencastingcall2013.com (hyperlinked for your convenience!), upload a tryout video, and make sure to say in the video that we went to the Austin meet-and-greet. That was it. Quick and dirty. I took that to mean I’m not going to be in Star Wars. National Review editors, you can exhale.
Here’s why Star Wars is dead: First, because they made a huge mistake in not casting me. Second, because it’s no longer in the hands of a bunch of nerds in California and because it’s been entrusted instead to the kind of people who think eight-hour meet-and-greets are a good idea either as A) publicity stunts (or, giving them the presumption of good faith) B) a good way to determine who’s going to be the next Luke Skywalker. It’s because Star Wars — a story that’s profoundly anti-centralization, anti-bureaucracy, anti-depersonalization — is being micromanaged and scrutinized by nameless bureaucrats who think that people who’ve stood in line for five hours will be satisfied with being directed to a website. And it’s because a film enterprise that was initially about risk is now about bet-hedging. No one should need to be told that the seventh film in a franchise probably isn’t going to be super great. But, you know, just in case, consider yourself warned.
As I headed out of auditions, I passed Josh and Kaylyn on the escalator, and I asked him how it went (Kaylyn wasn’t trying out; she was just there to support her fiancé).
“Oh, all right,” he said. He looked glum. “Over and done.” If only we could say as much for Lucasfilm.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.
Editor’s Note: This article has been amended since its initial posting.