[Mild SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens ahead.]
There's little doubt that Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens will be one of the biggest movies of the year, if not all time. The J.J. Abrams-directed film is embracing the history of the franchise while simultaneously building something new, promising even bigger threats and higher stakes.
Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm have already begun their marketing push for the film, which can only be expected to increase in the final months leading up to its release. However, as will all major franchises nowadays, eyes have already turned toward the future of Star Wars - with both the 2016 release Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the 2017 installment, Star Wars: Episode VIII, having started production at this point.
Episode VIII recently started filming at Skellig Michael island in Ireland. Details are being kept tightly under wraps, naturally but writer/director Rian Johnson is on the scene along with a returning Star Wars veteran - Mark Hamill.
It appears that Luke Skywalker will play at least a small role in the events of Star Wars Episode VIII, though how he factors into the plot is a mystery. Not long after Hamill was confirmed to be at Skellig Michael, rumors began to circulate that the actor had nearly fallen to his death at the site during the filming of The Force Awakens. An onsite guide supposedly caught the actor after he slipped on the stairs leading to the ruins of a Christian monastery, saving his life in the process.
Hamill recently took to Twitter, where he promptly put an end to the rumors. The actor confirmed that they were false and that he had never come close to harm while working on Skellig Michael (at the same time, all but confirming that he is, in fact, involved with Episode VIII filming).
Fabricated stories usually contain a seed of truth. Didn't so much as stub a toe on Skellig Michael. But thanks for your concern! #FalseNews
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) September 16, 2015
Though Hamill is fine, there has been one small setback at the site. The Irish Examiner reports that the island was hit with bad weather and the sea swells made the island inaccessible by boat. As such, filming on Episode VIII had to be postponed while the production's crew waited out the storm. It wasn't a major delay, but having to postpone the first day of shooting likely put a damper on the crew's excitement.
Episode VIII will feature many returning cast members from The Force Awakens, but the film will also be introducing some new characters to the universe. Casting is already underway for a new female lead and it was recently announced that Benicio Del Toro (Guardians of the Galaxy) has joined the film's cast, too. The Oscar-winning actor was first reported to be playing a villain, but he's since indicated his character is not so black and white.
Speaking with ET, Del Toro teased his role in the Star Wars universe, hinting that his character shouldn't be called a villain.
"I don't know if he's a villain. People are saying that, but it's like they read a different script than I read... It's nice to keep people in the dark; a little bit of mystery is good. If they want to believe it's the villain, then good."
This seems to line up with the actor's previous comments about the nature of his role. Del Toro is building up a sense of mystery around the part, dropping subtle hints that may or may not be simple misdirection. The First Order and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are set to appear in The Force Awakens as primary antagonists, so it's quite possible that Del Toro's role is more of a gun for hire. Working as a mercenary or bounty hunter would technically align him with the villains of the film, but that wouldn't necessarily make him an outright villain, too.
Del Toro's character will likely remain a mystery well into production on Episode VIII, so more subtle hints should be expected in the coming year or so. Regardless of their (murky?) moral alignment, hopefully the character is nuanced enough to take advantage of the actor's Oscar-worthy talents.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.