tar Wars fans across the galaxy let out a cheer at a very unexpected announcement in late 2012: George Lucas had sold the ownership of Lucasfilm and all its properties, including the rights to the Star Wars franchise, to Disney. And Disney is already working to produce a film that will continue the story set 30 years after the point where 1983's Episode VI: Return of the Jedi left off.
Of course, fans are clamoring for every morsel of information they can get — but Star Wars being Star Wars, the internet chatter on Episode VII has grown so deafening that it can be hard to keep track of what we actually know about the sequel. So here, a helpful guide:
1. Star Wars: Episode VII will hit theaters in December 2015
December 18, 2015, to be exact. That's a month after Mockingjay: Part 2 will mark the end of the Hunger Games franchise, and a week before Mission: Impossible 5 is scheduled to hit theaters.
2. Kathleen Kennedy is producing, and J.J. Abrams is writing and directing
Star Wars: Episode VII will be produced under the watchful eye of Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, whose decades of production credits include beloved films like E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Back to the Future, and Jurassic Park, as well as more recent and somewhat less-beloved films like War Horse, The Adventures of Tintin, and Lincoln.
Kathleen Kennedy's biggest coup was convincing Star Trek director J.J. Abrams to franchise-hop over to Star Wars. When the film was announced, Abrams was one of the first names thrown around in media reports as a possible contender, but Abrams himself rejected the idea. "I am looking forward more than anyone to the next iterations of Star Wars, but I believe I will be going as a paying moviegoer," he said in November 2013. Kennedy says she came to Abrams with a simple and convincing pitch: "Please do Star Wars." By January 2013, Abrams had officially signed on to direct. Principal photography is slated to begin in May 2014 at London's Pinewood Studios.
Hiring Abrams as director also meant a shift in the story of Episode VII. Right out of the gate, producers hired Michael Arndt, whose writing credits include Toy Story 3 and the upcoming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, to pen the script for Episode VII. But Arndt's treatment was eventually discarded in favor of a script by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, who also co-wrote both Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
3. George Lucas will serve as "creative consultant"
Though series creator George Lucas ceded all control to both the Star Wars franchise and Lucasfilm when he sold the company to Disney, he remains a "creative consultant" for Episode VII. What exactly does "creative consultant" mean? According to Lucas himself, his job is "helping out with the script," though his role will be far, far more hands-off than it was for previous films. This time, he'll merely grandfather the series and offer input when necessary. "That's all my job is, to be the keeper of the flame," adds Lucas.
4. The story will take place 30 years after Return of the Jedi — and will be totally original
Though Episode VI: Return of the Jedi represented the end of the Star Wars series on film, the story has been continued by numerous other writers in novels, comic books, and video games. The March 2014 announcement that Episode VII will take place "roughly 30 years" after Return of the Jedi would seem to offer plenty of opportunities to adapt popular elements from the series' Expanded Universe.
But according to numerous sources, even the so-called "canonical" Star Wars universe, which includes popular entries like Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy novels, has been thrown out of the new official story continuity. Forget everything you know after Return of the Jedi, Star Wars fans — it's a wide-open galaxy again.
5. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher are almost certain to appear
Though an official announcement hasn't been made yet, all signs point to Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher reprising the roles of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia for the sequel. In a March interview, George Lucas said the production "had already signed Mark and Carrie and Harrison — or we were pretty much in the final stages of negotiation," though he refused to confirm that the negotiations had been successful.
The weeks following Lucas' interview were full of hints that the franchise's original actors are already set to appear. Last April, Harrison Ford told the Daily News that he "can't say," but that that he's "excited about possibly returning." Later that month, Fisher told a crowd in Calgary that she's happy Episode VII is happening "because they are sending a trainer to my house so I can get in really good shape." A March 2014 press release confirmed that Episode VII will "feature some very familiar faces." In short: It's not technically confirmed, but you can safely assume that all three actors will appear in the film. There is, however, one familiar character that Abrams has confirmed: R2-D2.
6. Adam Driver is probably playing the new villain
According to a February 2014 report in Variety, Girls star Adam Driver is on the verge of accepting a role as the film's villain, who is "in the vein of iconic Star Wars villain Darth Vader." The report also adds that the character will likely appear in more than one of the new Star Wars films. Though Driver's role hasn't been confirmed by Disney, he's the only actor who has been publicly discussed in connection with the character, and his Girls costar Lena Dunham tweeted a congratulations — so all in all, it's looking pretty likely.
7. Many, many actors are in contention to play the new heroes
The identities of the new heroes is far more muddled. In March 2014, Disney announced that the film will star "a trio of young new leads." Who could they be? According to a wide variety of reports, J.J. Abrams has met with almost every young talent you can think of for the roles, including Saorise Ronan, Michael B. Jordan, and Lupita Nyong'o. (When asked to confirm if she had auditioned, Ronan said yes, but "so did everyone.")
In March 2014, Variety reported that five young actors were vying for the lead role: Jesse Plemons, Ed Speelers, John Boyega, Matthew James Thomas, and Ray Fisher. Ultimately, we won't know for sure until Disney makes an announcement — and while that will probably be soon, it hasn't happened yet. In their most recent statement, the company said it had "no further details on casting or plot" to make.
8. John Williams will write the score
It's hard for many fans to imagine a Star Wars film without John Williams' bombastic score — particularly the immortal title theme, which helped the first Star Wars film pop off the screen from the moment it began. Fortunately, fans probably won't have to imagine a Williams-less Star Wars; at a 2013 promotional appearance for Star Trek Into Darkness in Berlin, J.J. Abrams revealed that Williams was likely to return. "For Star Wars, it's very early days — but I believe that, going forward, John Williams will be doing that film, because he was there long before I was," said Abrams. Several months later, Williams confirmed that he would return.
9. Episodes VIII and IX are already in pre-production
2015 may sound far, far away to Star Wars fans, but we'll soon be be up to our necks in Star Wars films. In an April 2013 interview at CinemaCon, Kathleen Kennedy revealed that the studio hopes Abrams will return to direct Episodes VIII and IX, completing yet another trilogy in the franchise. And looking beyond the main series, Disney has even bigger plans for the franchise; the company is also developing a series of stand-alone films, which means that starting in 2015, at least one new movie set in the Star Wars universe will be released every year until 2020.
The article was originally published on May 3, 2013 and was last updated on March 18, 2014.
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