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'Star Wars' Sequel Release Is Not Far, Far Away (Think December 2015)

Movie Talk
November 7, 2013

We just got an early Christmas present ... for 2015.

After months of speculation, Walt Disney Pictures announced Thursday that "Star Wars: Episode VII," the next installment of the space saga, will open on Dec. 18, 2015.

"We're very excited to share the official 2015 release date for 'Star Wars: Episode VII,'" Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn said in a statement, "where it will not only anchor the popular holiday filmgoing season but also ensure our extraordinary filmmaking team has the time needed to deliver a sensational picture."

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When Lucasfilm was originally purchased by Disney just over one year ago, it was announced that a new "Star Wars" film would be coming in 2015. The assumption at the time, though, was that the movie would open in the summer. The original movie opened on May 25, 1977, and set the template for the summer blockbuster that would dominate Hollywood for the next three decades. Every previous "Star Wars" film opened in the month of May, including the three prequels.

The move out of the summer gives director J.J. Abrams more time to work on the film, which he is currently rewriting with "Empire Strikes Back" screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. In a surprise shakeup last month, it was announced that Abrams and Kasdan were replacing the original screenwriter, Oscar winner Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine"). Speaking for the first time publicly about the switcheroo, Abrams said in a conference call on Thursday that the time crunch was the reason for the change.

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"It became clear that given the time frame and given the process and the way the thing was going that working with Larry in this way was going to get us where we need to be and when we needed to be."

"Working with Michael was a wonderful experience and I couldn't be a bigger fan of his or adore him more, He's a wonderful guy and was incredibly helpful in the process." Abrams continued. He also left the door open for Arndt, a noted "Star Wars" scholar, to help out with the two other sequels on the drawing board.  "He is one of the best writers around," said Abrams.

The full title has not been revealed yet and there have been no official casting announcements to date, either, though original stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford are expected to return. In the past few days, a casting call went out for two young leads, following an early search for a Wookiee-esque character.

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Delaying the release also takes the highly anticipated film out of the extremely competitive field of giant movies that have already staked claims in the summer of 2015. "Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron" (which will also be distributed by Walt Disney Pictures) will open the season on May 1, 2015, and other massive sequels for "Man of Steel," "Jurassic Park," "Terminator" and "Independence Day" are expected in the following months.

It's not known yet how the new release date will affect Disney's plans to release a new "Star Wars" film every year, alternating between episodes that continue the story from George Lucas's original trilogy and standalone films that tell different stories within the same universe.