When Disney acquired Lucasfilm and the prized Star Wars intellectual property to go with it, the second - and more exciting - part of the deal was the announcement that the saga would continue with Star Wars: Episode VII in summer 2015. Since that time, J.J. Abrams was brought in to direct, leaving the captain's chair of the rebooted Star Trek series to take the Star Wars reins from George Lucas. And then came the delay.
The release date change wasn't a surprise considering the amount of rumors and reports informing us that Star Wars 7 would need a few more months, and the reasoning was solid: the screenplay needed more time, and undoubtedly the pre-production did as well. Episode VII might be one of the most anticipated films ever, but for the new creatives and decision-makers in charge, it's also one of the most challenging projects ever. It needs to be done right.
The original trilogy is beloved, but the prequels left much to be desired, receiving mostly mixed reactions. If the live-action series is not only coming back, but picking up where Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi left off over 30 years ago, there's an absurdly high level of expectations the next film must meet. For fans, it needs to make up for any issues (or disappointment) the prequels presented; it must serve the franchise and its most iconic returning characters justice; and it flat out needs to be awesome to start the franchise up on the right foot again.
And we're not just talking about another three episodes - Disney is planning at least one Star Wars movie every year going forward beginning in 2015. In between episodic installments of the core series will be spinoffs, origin stories for familiar characters, and if some reports are true, even one-off original stories. So how do you bring back one of the biggest entertainment brands in pop culture history? Let the pros take charge. And by that, we mean put Luke, Leia and Han at the forefront. At least, that's what Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) are attempting in their rewrite of Michael Arndt's screenplay, according to insiders of THR.
Their sources indicate that the primary reason for the writer change was not just for scheduling but for Abrams to get his wish of making the 'big three' returning stars (Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill) the primary focus, for one last hoorah so to speak, instead of having them as supporting players as newbies take the spotlight. Episode VII will therefore make Luke, Leia and Han the stars of the movie, then move them to the background as the newly introduced characters take charge in Episodes VIII & IX.
THR also reveals that because of the story changes to accommodate the rewrites, at least a few of Arndt's new characters have been axed or changed, while new ones from Abrams and Kasdan are being introduced. This also means that while Abrams has met, is meeting and will continue to meet with practically everyone you can think of in Hollywood, some of the names leaked before may no longer be in consideration because the characters they were meeting for no longer exist.
Now for the juicy bits. The report confirms that the recent Jesse Plemons potential casting news is true and explains that Michael Fassbender met with Abrams in December for an unspecified role, although we can't imagine him playing a leading part (at least in Episode 7) due to his upcoming obligations for Assassin's Creed and likely, X-Men: Apocalypse - both of which are equally as massive and time-consuming as Star Wars. Hugo Weaving however, according to multiple informants, met for the specific part of an "Imperial Commander." Thrawn, anyone?
Last but not least, Abrams and co. are seeking out a young actress in her 20s to apparently play the daughter or granddaughter (probably the latter given the timeline) of Obi-Wan Kenobi. With production beginning soon for a late 2015 release, there will be plenty of official announcements in the coming months so stay tuned to Screen Rant and official Disney-Lucasfilm channels for updates.
[Update: the 20-something actress Abrams is looking is said to be "mixed race or black" and as some of our readers pointed out, it could be for the daughter of Lando Calrissian - something he said he wanted in the film back in September 2013, a Jedi daughter. At this point, these are rumors piled on top of hearsay so wait for more info.]
Our big question surrounds whether or not Abrams and co. are pulling in story arcs and key characters from the expanded universe and countless books and video games already out there, practically canon for many of the fans who embraced them. Or are they going completely original? What should they do and what do you want them to do?
Star Wars: Episode VII hits theaters December 18, 2015.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.