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 where 1983's Episode VI: Return of the Jedi left off. Episode VII is expected to hit theaters in 2015.
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. Kathleen Kennedy is producing, Michael Arndt is writing, and J.J. Abrams is 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.
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 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. Kennedy says she came to Abrams with a simple and convincing pitch: "Please do Star Wars." By January, Abrams had officially signed on to direct.
2. 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. And at least one other Star Wars creative veteran has accepted a consulting job: Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote both Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
3. The story will be 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. 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.
4. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher are very, very likely 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.
But the weeks following Lucas' interview have been full of hints that the franchise's original actors are already set to appear. In 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." You can safely assume that all three actors will appear in the film. Less clear: The size of their roles.
5. John Williams will probably be writing 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 an April 29 promotional appearance for Star Trek Into Darkness in Berlin, J.J. Abrams revealed that Williams is 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.
6. 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 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.
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