In a major surprise, a seventh "Star Wars" film entitled "Star Wars: Episode 7" is slated to be released in 2015 -- with George Lucas pledging 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. It means a massive franchise once thought to be concluded will live on. Disney said in its release that more films in the franchise are expected after "Episode 7."
The "Star Wars" films are behind only the "Harry Potter" series in total gross, according to Box Office Mojo.
"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."
The title of the new film suggests that it will continue after "Return of the Jedi," which is the sixth episode in Lucas' series. The three most recent films, episodes one through three, were prequels to the 1977 "Star Wars," also known as "Episode 4: A New Hope."
Lucas' exit from the franchise comes after his three prequels, released in 1999, 2002, and 2005, scored at the box office but disappointed some fans.
The original "Star Wars," with its oddly named characters, flashing lightsabers, and complicated plot involving something called "The Force," seemed 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" became some of the the most quoted in film history.
More to come...
More to come...