The J.J. Abrams "mystery box" approach to publicity has provoked a swirl of rumors around his next project, Star Wars: Episode VII. The more reports about the film surface, the less we seem to know for sure, but here are the basic facts so far: Abrams is directing a script by he and The Empire Strikes Back co-writer Lawrence Kasdan (from an earlier draft by Toy Story 3 writer Michael Arndt) and the original cast is returning for a story set 30 years after Return of the Jedi.
In order to deliver the film on time for its December 2015 release date, Abrams and company are thought to begin shooting in London in just a few weeks, with early reports on the shooting locations suggesting that a return to Tatooine is in the cards. A dizzying array of names are said to be approached for roles, from Gary Oldman and Benedict Cumberbatch to Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction), with Adam Driver (supposedly) as the main villain.
While we haven't been exactly sure how far along the production is, now we have details straight from Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, who recently attended a Q&A with THR's Stephen Galloway at Loyola Marymount University. According to Horn, not only is the cast essentially locked down, the film has already begun shooting.
Watch the video above for Horn's full remarks.
When asked about the toughest part of the development of Star Wars 7, Horn said simply: "Casting." Though Horn would not disclose any details of just who has been cast, he confirmed that they're almost done with the process, saying:
“We have a lot of them. We’re just not completely done yet.”
Filming was thought to officially begin in six weeks, but according to Horn, "We're actually shooting some of it now." The Disney chief did not reveal what's being shot or where… but most likely in the UK.
Horn also touched on the film's script and story, possibly the aspect of the film which induces the most anxiety in longtime fans. The prequel films were roundly derided for their simplistic screenplays, all of which were written or co-written by George Lucas. Horn acknowledged that this time around:
“It’s all about the screenplay. It has to be screenplay, screenplay, screenplay.”
Asked if the script was now complete, Horn replied: “It actually is now.” Horn also confirmed - seemingly once and for all, if the issue remained in doubt - that Episode VII will be a real-time continuation of Return of the Jedi. According to Horn, the new film takes place:
“[...] where 6 left off — and where 6 left off is 35 years ago by the time this is released.”
So the film is shooting, the script is done, the casting is nearly complete… still, Horn's comments are remarkable for how much he doesn't reveal. At this point, we're about 20 months from the movie's release, but hardcore fans have no inkling about the film's actual story or whether or not aspects of the Star Wars Extended Universe will be included (and if so, which ones and to what extent).
Also, Horn confirmed that Episodes VII, VIII and IX are not shooting back to back - this opens up the possibility that we'll have a timeline for those standalone films (supposedly featuring Han Solo and Boba Fett) before too long.
Now that the filming is underway, we can probably also expect some unofficial development and set pictures to make their way online eventually. Abrams will keep the cloak of secrecy firmly in place for as long as possible, but fans will need something concrete, and sooner rather than later. Stay tuned for more news, as always.
Star Wars: Episode VII will be released in theater on December 18, 2015.