Oscar-nominated director Jason Reitman’s live reading of the script for Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back earlier this week assembled quite an impressive list of actors — but it’s the casting that really made this an intriguing performance.
The event, which happened Thursday night, December 18, in Los Angeles, featured a live cast reading of the original script for The Empire Strikes Back penned by Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan, and George Lucas. The latest in a series of live-reading performances organized by Reitman, this one was initially slated to feature Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul as Luke Skywalker, Spider-Man franchise actor J.K. Simmons as Darth Vader, Stephen Merchant as C-3PO, Dennis Haysbert as Lando Calrissian, and Kevin Pollack as Yoda. Original trilogy star Mark Hamill was a surprise addition to the cast in the dual roles of Emperor Palpatine and Obi-Wan Kenobi, with Rainn Wilson also joining the cast as Chewbacca.
Most significant, however, was the casting of Jessica Alba as Princess Leia and Ellen Page as Han Solo.
Yes, you read that correctly: The Juno and Inception actress reportedly played a slightly stammering version of the smuggler with a heart of gold famously brought to the screen by Harrison Ford in the original trilogy.
“In casting Han, the most important thing is: Who has the most interesting, ironic approach to life?” explained Reitman of casting Page in the iconic role. “And when I think of that, I think of Ellen Page. She’s a small human being who has the energy to fill Madison Square Garden.”
Unexpected casting has been the standard for Reitman’s live-reading series, which is intended to put new spins on classic screenplays using a cast that alters the way we think of the film. Previous events featured a cast of all-black actors — Laurence Fishburne, Terrence Howard, and Cuba Gooding Jr. — as the leading men in Reservoir Dogs, while another reading cast The Princess Bride star Cary Elwes (who originally played the film’s hero) as the villain of the story.
“For Leia, I just wanted to find an actress who was beautiful and also had the ability to be tough and funny, and I’ve seen Alba do all of that,” said Reitman of casting the Sin City actress as Leia, whose initial hatred of Han Solo develops into one of the series’ most memorable romantic threads.
“I needed somebody who would have chemistry with Ellen,” said Reitman. “Chemistry is chemistry, whether it be between a man and a woman, two women, or two men. I have no doubt that Ellen Page could have chemistry with anybody.”
The event also featured some memorable interpretations of the script according to The Hollywood Reporter, with Pollack portraying a fast-talking, hyperactive version of Yoda that was actually more in line with the original script’s depiction of the character. Merchant’s version of the android C-3PO also took a reportedly foul-mouthed turn.
Paul’s reading of Luke Skywalker was reportedly another highlight of the performance, with his delivery of the script’s sci-fi dialogue and tech-speak (intentionally) earning laughs from the audience.
Sadly, Reitman’s series of live-read performances aren’t recorded, so fans who were unable to attend the event will just have to imagine the weird, wonderful version of The Empire Strikes Back that played out on the stage.