What Star Wars veterans can teach the new cast of Episode VII

The cast of "Star Wars: Episode VII" includes new faces and old favorites, creating the perfect opportunity for some Hollywood mentorship.

20th Century Fox/AP
'Star Wars Episode 7' will include the return of Mark Hamill (l.), Carrie Fisher (center), and Harrison Ford (r.).

Both the original cast members – Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew – and the green newcomers in the cast of "Star Wars: Episode VII" have the opportunity of a lifetime to navigate the mentorship galaxy by harnessing the collective Force of experience among the cast.

Frankly, when my four sons learned last year that the next Star Wars movies would be a Disney-produced film trilogy directed by J.J. Abrams, instead of writer/director George Lucas flying solo, panic ensued.

My boys speculated about which Disney pop prince or princess might be injected into the casting mix.

However, when my sons learned this week that Mr. Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Ms. Fisher (Princess Leia), Mr. Ford (Han Solo), and Mr. Mayhew (Chewbacca) were definitely in the film, my youngest son, Quin, breathed a sigh of relief.

“Well, at least the new people in Star Wars will have grownups to help them complete their missions,” said Quin, age 10, referring to the potential of the original cast to guide the greenhorns.

David Shapiro, chief executive of the National Mentoring Partnership in Boston, agrees that the best thing that can happen in this kind of multi-generational professional mix is for mentoring to become the diving force.

“I think one of the reasons why mentoring young people resonates is because it’s a pay-it-forward double bonus,” Mr. Shapiro says. “If both sides enter into it with the goal of sharing and learning and not controlling or having something to prove, the benefits to them personally and the entire project professionally could be huge.”

Also, since some of these senior cast members have been through the wringer in their lives, they are more likely to be better mentors, Shapiro explains.

“People who have been through the most twists and turns are often the most generous with their time and sharing their experiences as mentors,” Shapiro says. “I don’t know the stories behind Mr. Hamill, Ms. Fisher, and the other senior cast members on the set, but the fact that they are sitting across the table from these young cast members all these years after the first Star Wars film was made tells me they are resilient.... Resilience is often the greatest gift we can pass on through our mentoring.”

In Hollywood, "resilience" is often in short supply, so the Star Wars newbies in Episode XII – John Boyega, 22, Daisy Ridley, 22, Adam Driver, 30, Domhnall Gleeson, 30, Oscar Isaac, 35, and Andy Serkis, 50 – will want to put any pride they have aside and pay close attention to their senior counterparts on set.

It seems that after the first "table read" (which means literally sitting around a table and reading the script aloud), Fisher already has mentoring on her mind.

She tweeted yesterday, “A poet needs a mentor, an actor needs a momtor...”

If anyone has had "twists and turns," it’s Fisher, the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds who grew up in Hollywood with stardust in her blood.

Fisher has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, admitted to substance-abuse problems, struggled with her weight while maintaining a career.

Hamill, the original Luke Skywalker, has also suffered his share of upsets, beginning with a car accident after the first Star Wars film. 

Today, however, Hamill is tweeting a happy tune after his first “table read” with the next gen cast.

"UK table read- I was knocked out by the diverse & extraordinarily talented new cast members," Hamill tweeted. "WOW they're good! The saga is in superb hands."

So this tells me the old guard is on board to help out the new cast.

While Shapiro points out that “it’s not always easy to mingle generations in a professional environment,” it is well worth the extra effort.

“One challenge I often hear is in navigating the difference between mentoring and supervising in the relationship,” Shapiro says.

In parenting-speak, I call this the “You’re not the boss of me!” syndrome, in which the mentor or parent comes on too strong and the independence of the one being helped is threatened.

I am reminded of the story of my husband and his father who were paddling a canoe out to an island and instead of working together, they were both so stubborn that they each tried to take charge.

They ended up paddling on the same side of the boat and literally went in circles as they shouted at each other.

If the mentor goes in too strong and controlling, both parties just tend to chase their tails the whole time.

Given all love-fest being led on Twitter by Fisher and Hamill, it looks as if they are paddling in the right direction and in sync.

It will be interesting to see if the younger generation uses The Force or chooses to remain in the dark.

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