Walt Disney Pictures, over the past few years, has reaped hefty profits by banking on nostalgia - with the purchase of Marvel and properties like The Muppets - while also successfully introducing beloved characters (be it Iron Man or Kermit the Frog) and their stories to a younger generation, in order to ensure the cash keeps on flowing in for years to come. The studio is hoping to achieve a similar outcome, after having purchased Lucasfilm and the rights to make Star Wars: Episode VII (for the price of $4 billion).
Disney announced from the very beginning that its intention is to release Episode VII by 2015, and the project - being directed by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness) from a screenplay by Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) - remains on course to begin filming by the early going of 2014. That keeps it on track to become a heavily-favored bet in the 2015 Summer Blockbuster Season derby, along with the other Disney-backed tentpoles (The Avengers 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean 5, to be exact).
Filming on Episode VII will, in part, take place in the United Kingdom. The previous six live-action installments were all partially shot at Elstree Studios in London - except for Episode I - The Phantom Menace, which filmed at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden - with additional sound stage work taking place in famous locations like Shepperton and Pinewood Studios. Shepperton is also where director James Gunn will conduct green screen photography on Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy this summer.
Here is the official statement from the Lucasfilm president and head producer on Episode VII, Kathleen Kennedy
"We've devoted serious time and attention to revisiting the origins of Star Wars as inspiration for our process on the new movie, and I'm thrilled that returning to the UK for production and utilizing the incredible talent there can be a part of that. Speaking from my own longstanding connection to the UK with films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire of the Sun and recently War Horse, it's very exciting to be heading back."
Kennedy's line about "revisiting the origins of Star Wars as inspiration" is probably meant to be taken more literal than figurative here. Nonetheless, it's in keeping with previous comments made by Abrams about his "indescribable, guttural passion" for Star Wars, as well as those by Episode VII consultant Simon Kinberg about his approach to scripting a spinoff film. Basically, the unspoken idea is that everyone is looking to the original trilogy (not the prequels) for inspiration.
Similarly, last week at the CapeTown Film Festival 30th anniversary screening of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker himself (Mark Hamill) made an appearance and once again said that he is pushing for a retro approach on Episode VII:
“I’ve only had one creative meeting about the new films, but I do remember saying, ‘We’ve got to find a proper balance between CGI and old school [FX]. [Applause] That’s what the challenge is, is to try and meet expectations of what [the fans] want. I think there’s nothing wrong with CGI, but I think you have to have a balance, because the camera perceives the width and the depth and the weight – even if it’s a miniature model, the camera just realizes that. So when you have too much CGI and the clouds are CGI and the trees are CGI and the buildings are CGI, you’re getting to a point where the figure in the shot is like a hybrid of an animated film and live-action. And I want it to have an organic look so that we don’t get into Roger Rabbit territory. [laughs] But I don’t imagine that the priority is what I want!”
Fortunately, with Abrams directing, the expectation is that Episode VII will combine practical sets (ex. spaceship and building interiors) with CGI used more sparingly and when necessary (ex. vast landscape panoramas and outer space shots), like in Abrams' Star Trek movies. So, Hamill may get that wish granted after all.
Star Wars: Episode VII is expected to open in theaters by Summer 2015.