Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in theaters in December 2016, serving as the first of multiple Star Wars Anthology or "stand-alone" films released under the Disney/Lucasfilm banner. However, 2017's Star Wars: Episode VIII is the film that will continue the central narrative of the Star Wars franchise from director J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens.
Episode VIII writer/director Rian Johnson was in attendance at the Future Filmmaker Discussion panel at Star Wars Celebration 2016, to discuss his preparation process for making the film and offer some tidbits about where Episode VIII picks up, following the conclusion to The Force Awakens. The panel was hosted by the Lucasfilm Story Group writer Pablo Hidalgo and Johnson was joined onstage by Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and the Lucasfilm Story Group's Development lead, Kiri Hart.
Kennedy praised Johnson's skills as a director, saying that "Watching him on set [for Episode 8], Rian moves the camera as well as Steven Spielberg." Johnson thereafter revealed that he, Kennedy, and Hart got the ball rolling on Episode VIII by watching dailies of The Force Awakens, before he set to work on the screenplay for the film (adding that he brought homemade ice cream to help fuel the creative process, so to speak):
“One of the first things I did was go up to San Francisco, and spent about 6 weeks figuring out the story [for Episode 8]. I think it was a good thing."
Following that, Johnson confirmed that Episode VIII will mark the first time that there's not a significant time jump between Star Wars film installments, saying "For the first time, this movie is going to start where the last one left off.” Thus, Episode VIII will pick back up Rey (Daisy Ridley) shortly after her first encounter with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on the planet Ahch-To, once again brought to life by Skellig Michael. Johnson referred to the island as "a very mystical, magical place... It was appropriately surreal.”
Johnson also revealed a behind the scenes photo from the Episode VIII shoot in Skellig Michael, along with a picture that features Star Wars Rebels show-runner Dave Filoni ("The Man With the Hat," as he's known) visiting the Episode VIII. You can check out those images below, along with a photo of Rogue One director Gareth Edwards in the costume that he wore while filming his own Episode VIII cameo.
Among the films that Johnson cited as an influence on Episode VIII during the Celebration panel were Three Outlaw Samurai and 12 O’Clock High. He also touched upon the experience of his dad taking him to see the first Star Wars movie in theaters ( "He said, ‘We’re going to see the most amazing movie you’ve ever seen.'”), but discussed how he then had to leave his wide-eyed nostalgia for the Star Wars franchise behind him while developing Episode VIII:
“It was an incredible experience on many different levels…You come into it with those feelings of deep nostalgia, but then you realize you have to get over that."
Johnson referred to The Force Awakens as “an incredible explosion of adventure,” saying that Episode VIII will instead be more character-heavy and dig beneath the surface of protagonists Rey and Finn (John Boyega), among others. Later during the Future Filmmaker Discussion panel, Boyega made an appearance (shortly after Alden Ehrenreich was officially confirmed to be playing young Han Solo), adding that "[In Episode 8], the characters have been pushed in a new direction in a very, very cool way.”
Episode VIII, like The Force Awakens before it, will also feature much in the way of practical sets and backdrops, with Johnson saying "The amount of sets we've built on this movie has been absolutely outrageous." He then concluded his part in the panel by noting that the 2017 Star Wars Celebration will feature Episode VIII in the spotlight - while at the same time, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Star Wars franchise:
“I’m really looking forward to the next year and a half…I think we’re going to have a really good time together.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in U.S. theaters on December 16, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15, 2017, the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25, 2018, Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019, and the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.