The all-but-confirmed casting of Keri Russell in the next Star Wars film could mean a great many things, but one quiet sea change underway is how Lucasfilm peddles nostalgia in a galaxy far, far away. The inclusion of Russell in the next Star Wars movie might seem random, but bringing Felicity to the Force is all about the growing influence of ’90s nostalgia. In fact, if Russell does end up in the final installment of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, it will be this generation’s version of Alec Guinness playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope in 1977.
On July 6, Variety reported that Russell “is in early talks” for Star Wars: Episode IX and that “the role calls for action-heavy fight scenes.” No one at Lucasfilm has confirmed this yet, but the fact that a huge publication like Variety reported the news, that means there’s probably some truth to it. And while Keri Russell certainly has fans based on her performance in the FX TV series The Americans, it’s still the ’90s sitcom Felicity that probably defines her widespread popularity. And guess who created that show? None other than Force Awakens and Episode IX director J.J. Abrams.
At a glance, Russell’s casting in Episode IX might just be a business decision connected to her working relationship with J.J. Abrams. But, on the zeitgeist level, it feels way more profound. And that’s because, at this point, the new Star Wars films haven’t really presented a movie star who is acting as an ambassador from the past. This sounds crazy, of course, because Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher all represent the previous generation in their roles as Han, Luke, and Leia. But, their presence in the new Star Wars movie is pretty much a given, since they are, for better or worse, Star Wars actors. So far — with the notable exception of Laura Dern in The Last Jedi — the new Star Wars films haven’t brought in a big non-Star Wars actor from the ’80s and ’90s in any kind of meaningful and lasting role. And, in the case of Dern, her character felt ancillary to the ensemble and didn’t survive the events of the film. And, unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi, it seems unlikely that she’s returning from the dead after that hyperspace stunt.
Contrary to popular belief, the new Star Wars films aren’t aimed at people who grew up in the ’70s or ’80s. Lucasfilm and Disney are just assuming those people will buy a ticket and don’t really care about pleasing them. So, that means, the real demographic for the new Star Wars are millennials, and…people in their 30s and 40s who grew up in the ’90s. Enter Keri Russell, the perfect avatar for ’90s nostalgia who we all have warm feelings about, even if we haven’t watched Felicity in awhile.
Back when George Lucas was in pre-production for the very first Star Wars in 1977, he was encouraged to cast Alec Guinness in the film as Obi-Wan. Because of his affinity for Kurosawa films, George Lucas had wanted Toshiro Mifune to play Obi-Wan, but when Mifune turned down the part, the studio pressed for the casting of Guinness. These days, we only think of Guinness as Obi-Wan, but for a generation of older moviegoers, he was a respected character actor who brought gravitas and credibility to the goofy outer space movie.
Which is exactly what Keri Russell is for ’90s kids. We loved her in Felicity and we know she’s got badass action chops from The Americans. If there ever was one actor who could bring balance to the nostalgia Force, it’s her. And, if Episode IX is great, thirty years from now, Keri Russell, like Alec Guinness before her, could be remembered for her role in Star Wars, and nearly nothing else.
-Star Wars: Episode IX will hit movie theaters everywhere on December 20, 2019.-