With the new Star Wars trilogy off to a strong start and its Anthology spinoff series beginning this December, Disney and Lucasfilm had the benefit of going into these knowing from the get-go that they wanted to tell a much larger story than one that just spans three movies.
Television series, comics, novels, and spinoff movies going forward are all carefully worked into a new canon by the Lucasfilm Story Group to ensure a strict continuity, and the old stuff was partially tossed aside, re-branded as Star Wars Legends material. This allows Lucasfilm to build towards larger long-form stories and the develop them as such early on. That's why Rian Johnson was hired to write and direct Star Wars: Episode VIII in June 2014, a year and a half before Episode VII - The Force Awakens even hit theaters.
Johnson was able to work with The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams to make sure he builds off of what Star Wars 7 sets up, and vice versa, that the first installment of the new trilogy delivers certain plot points and character arcs needed for the next two episode releases.
An example of how crucial this pre-planning process can be is in how Johnson was able to already shoot some scenes for his Star Wars 8, using the same Irish island of Skellig Michael where the final scenes and Luke Skywalker introduction take place at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He shot that in September, many months before today, the actual official start of principle photography on Star Wars 8.
Time to bring out my Han Solo figure for everyone on set to sign. Sigh** can't help it.
— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) February 10, 2016
In The Walt Disney Co.’s quarterly earnings call today, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the beginning of filming Episode VIII was originally scheduled to begin shooting last month but the release date delay to December 2017 and reported script rewrites necessitated the push-back on filming.
“There is no better way to propel this franchise into the future than producing quality products. Filming of Star Wars: Episode VIII, the next chapter of the legendary saga, has just commenced and it will be in theaters December 2017. And production of Episode IX, a 2019 release, has also begun.”
Interestingly, last week Johnson posted a photo of Pinewood Shepperton where he's shooting Episode VIII but took it down within a few hours.
Similar to Johnson, Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) was also signed early, tapped to direct Episode IX months before Episode VII released. As for what we know about the next two installments, Abrams admitted he's jealous now that he's not directing Episode VIII based on what he knows Johnson is doing and that script, on that star Daisy Ridley praises, is also described as "much darker" by co-star John Boyega who despite taking severe injuries at the hands of Kylo Ren, has a much more physically demanding role in the followup.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, 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.
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