The Force is strong with this one: In a major surprise, a seventh "Star Wars" film entitled "Episode 7" is slated to be released in 2015 -- and will launch a new trilogy with which George Lucas pledges to hand off the intergalactic saga to "a new generation of filmmakers."
The news comes as Disney announced it has purchased Lucas' Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion. Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said in a conference call that the company has a "very lengthy treatment" in hand to begin the development proces for the start of the new trilogy -- one that will likely be in 3-D.
Disney CEO Bob Iger said the company plans to release a new "Star Wars" film every two to three years after "Episode 7."
Also read: Disney to Buy Lucasfilm
The box-office impact will be enormous. "Star Wars" films have earned a total of $4.4 billion in global box office to date.
"For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see 'Star Wars' passed from one generation to the next," said Lucas, the 68-year-old chairman and CEO of Lucasfilm. "It's now time for me to pass 'Star Wars' on to a new generation of filmmakers. I've always believed that 'Star Wars' could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime."
Lucas will serve as a creative consultant on the films, with Kathleen Kennedy, the current co-chair of Lucasfilm, executive producing. She will join Disney as the president of Lucasfilm, reporting to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn to integrate and build the franchise.
But that doesn't answer the question of who will be given the awesome task of scripting and directing the next "Star Wars" film. For countless fans-turned-filmmakers, continuing the "Star Wars" legacy will be one of the most enticing and intimidating jobs imaginable.
The title of the new film installment suggests that it will continue after 1983's "Return of the Jedi," the sixth episode in Lucas' series. The three most recent films, episodes 1 through 3, were prequels to the original, 1977 "Star Wars," also known as "Episode IV: A New Hope."
Lucas' exit from the franchise comes after his trilogy of prequels, with films released in 1999, 2002 and 2005, scored at the box office but disappointed some longtime fans. Whoever takes over the saga will have to not only live up to original films, which many treat almost as a religion but avoid what they saw as the missteps of "The Phantom Menace," "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith."
Bringing back Jar-Jar Binks would not be a wise move.
The original "Star Wars," with its oddly named characters, flashing lightsabers, and complicated plot involving something called "The Force," seemed laughably unlikely to succeed when it appeared in 1977.
But it quickly became a global phenomenon that inspired a generation of blockbusters. Lines from "Use the force, Luke," to "I am your father" -- Darth Vader's chilling revelation in "The Empire Strikes Back" -- became some of the the most quoted in film history.
Disney also plans to continue developing "Star Wars"-related projects for theme parks and television. The animated series "The Clone Wars" debuted on the Cartoon Network in 2008.
In 1986, George Lucas executive produced the "Star Wars"-influenced 3D Michael Jackson film "Captain Eo" that played at Disney parks. The ride "Star Tours," in which guests visited different corners of the "Star Wars" universe, debuted the next year.