WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is still in theaters, adding to its all-time domestic box office record, but Lucasfilm is already moving on from J.J. Abrams' film. Their attention is now turning to Star Wars: Episode VIII, which is written and directed by Rian Johnson. The studio is running a fairly tight production schedule, with the next installment of the Skywalker family saga slated to hit theaters on December 15, 2017.
Various Force Awakens stars have spent the past few weeks preparing for the start of principal photography on Star Wars 8, with Disney CEO Bob Iger confirming last week that filming has begun. Today, Lucasfilm officially announced the beginning of Episode VIII production by releasing a teaser video (watch it above) to get fans even more amped for the upcoming chapter of the beloved space opera.
The clip primarily consists of footage at Skellig Michael in Ireland, where Johnson was reportedly doing some filming last fall, before Force Awakens even came out. It depicts the fateful meeting between grizzled Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his would-be apprentice Rey (Daisy Ridley) at the end of Episode VII. Rey holds out Luke's old lightsaber, and then Johnson announces cut. He welcomes the crew to Episode VIII as the iconic Star Wars main theme plays.
In conjunction with the video, a post on the Star Wars website listed the cast members for Episode VIII. Returning from The Force Awakens are Hamill, Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Carrie Fisher, and Anthony Daniels. Harrison Ford, of course, is the most notable absence, an expected development given Han Solo's emotional death in The Force Awakens. There was some speculation that the actor could return for a flashback sequence, but unless Lucasfilm is holding something back for a surprise, it would appear that his time with the franchise is over.
Other names missing from The Force Awakens cast are Peter Mayhew and Kenny Baker, who reprised Chewbacca and R2-D2, respectively. However, fans should not take this as a sign that the characters will not appear in Star Wars 8. Both roles were partially handled through other means in Episode VII, so most likely the torch has been passed. Case in point: it's long been reported that actor Jimmy Vee is taking over for R2-D2, so viewers have not seen the last of the Wookie and feisty astromech droid.
Star Wars 8 also has three newcomers joining the Star Wars universe. After many reports concerning his involvement, Oscar winner Benicio del Toro is officially on board. Joining him are Academy Award nominee Laura Dern and relative unknown Kelly Marie Tran. Obviously, Lucasfilm is keeping details about their characters under wraps, so fans will once again be theorizing about how these three factor in. Tran presumably landed the role that Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Bel Powley were considered for at one point, but it's important to remember Lucasfilm did not announce the full Force Awakens cast when they shared a photo of the group in 2014. There could always be some more additions later on.
It's an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan. As the hype surrounding The Force Awakens cools down, anticipation for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is starting to build. And as moviegoers wait for the first Anthology film to arrive this December, they'll be able to follow the production (and rumor mill) for Episode VIII, trying to piece together what will happen. The galaxy far, far away is once again omnipresent in pop culture, and if the results are anything like The Force Awakens, viewers are in for a treat.
Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, and will be followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode 8 on December 15th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode 9 is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.