Matt Smith may not be in Star Wars: Episode IX after all.
Back in August, Variety reported that Smith had joined the cast of the 2019 blockbuster in a “key role.” Smith, who is best known for his portrayal as the Eleventh Doctor on Doctor Who, looked to be the latest in a significant line of newcomers to the cast of Episode IX.
But Smith apparently told writer Emily Zemler recently that he actually isn’t in the movie:
So that’s pretty much an outright denial from Smith that he’s in the film, although I think it’s worth mentioning that he said, “As far as I can tell, I’m definitely not” – which does leave it open for him to say later that he simply couldn’t tell any more than that at this point.
It’s quite a strange situation. Smith was never officially announced as joining the cast, but Variety is quite reputable. Recently, it has seemed that Making Star Wars has had trouble getting anything regarding Smith’s role, yet at the same time they’ve never given the impression that Smith isn’t in the film. And then there was a Radio Times interview with Richard E. Grant (who is confirmed to be in Episode IX) in which he was asked about reuniting with Smith for IX. Grant acknowledged their history, but when asked if they share any scenes in IX he said with a smile, “I would be fired if I told you anything about that.” It’s possible that Grant was simply unsure what to say, but to me that response doesn’t scream, “Smith isn’t in the movie!” It’s “I can’t tell you that,” but not “Smith isn’t even in this.”
Perhaps we’re reading too much into this, because generally I firmly believe that the best approach is to believe the actor when he says something. So when Smith says that he’s not in Episode IX, I think the best thing to do is to believe him.
With that said, however, this whole thing feels a bit… strange. And I can’t blame fans for thinking that there’s something more mysterious going on here. Some have speculated that Smith’s role was cut, but I find it hard to believe that J.J. Abrams would know that for sure right now. Others have speculated that Smith was fired or his role re-cast, which is certainly possible. But others have wondered whether he actually is in the film but in a role so secretive that Abrams and Lucasfilm want to preserve that mystery.
That would make sense if his role were important to the plot. And, while the reports were majorly unsubstantiated, there have been reports going around that Smith is playing a young Palpatine in Episode IX. Again, I wouldn’t believe that yet, but that type of role would be worth being secretive about. There’s a difference between secrecy and outright lying, however, and I’d think that Abrams understands that well. He has publicly admitted that lying about Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness was a mistake, though this is admittedly different since it’s not him actually saying this.
Ultimately, I just have a hard time believing that it’s as simple as him not being in the film. I have to believe that either his part and/or role was cut, or that he is trying to preserve the secrecy behind it. I mean, think about it: after all these months of people trying to ascertain Smith’s character in the film, you’d think it’d actually be pretty easy to get someone to say, “wait, Smith isn’t in this.” There’s absolutely no reason why people would be cagey about someone’s role when that person isn’t even in the movie to begin with. And even then, Smith’s comments are a bit strange, as he says, “as far as I can tell.” Wouldn’t he know? Perhaps he’s just being funny, but this whole thing is odd.
If I had to guess, either his part was cut or his part is quite important. If it’s the former, I’d bet that Abrams began to realize as filming took place that Smith’s subplot (whatever it was) wouldn’t really be helping things and would be cut, which allowed him to make the call earlier rather than later. If it’s the latter, then I can’t help but think that Smith’s answer will actually lead to much more intrigue and questions about his role rather than less.
To quote a wise Jedi Master, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”