The months immediately following Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm brought countless rumors about who's directing Star Wars: Episode VII, with just about every fathomable choice (or fan-dream candidate) being mentioned at some point. Nonetheless, last week's revelation that Star Trek rebooter J.J. Abrams is overseeing the seventh Star Wars live-action installment came as a surprise (either pleasant or unwelcome, depending on who you ask).
Disney/Lucasfilm previously announced a 2015 release date target for Episode VII, but insiders are claiming that could change now that Abrams is onboard. In related news: details on what heavily-rumored Star Wars director Matthew Vaughn - who was a legitimate contender for the job - had planned suggest the new trilogy may end up featuring a female protagonist.
Newly-appointed Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy confirmed Abrams as the Episode VII director a day after the news leaked, setting in motion the first wave of debates about the selection. Paramount released a statement around the same time, assuring that Abrams remains committed to producing - but not directing - both a followup to Star Trek Into Darkness and fifth Mission: Impossible (among other movie projects and TV pilots). However, that may delay Star Wars' return to theaters.
THR, in its report on Abrams' confirmation, mentions the director isn't committed to a 2015 release, meaning Episode VII may be pushed back "if the development process requires it." Obviously, it's too early to determine whether or not anything will come of that, but Abrams does have a track record of not rushing production in order to meet a planned deadline (as happened with the first two rebooted Star Trek installments). Similarly, Disney already has The Avengers 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean 5 scheduled to arrive that year, which could figure into the final decision about when to unleash Episode VII on the viewing public.
It's worth noting that screenwriter Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Oblivion) is well into the scripting process on Episode VII, drawing from his own story treatment; not to mention, Luke Skywalker himself (Mark Hamill) revealed development on a new Star Wars trilogy has been ongoing since at least last summer. Moreover, rumors point to Disney modeling its Star Wars movie output after the Marvel Movie Universe, which means setting (and keeping) release dates planned far in advance. Still, if there's anyone with enough clout to slow down Disney's well-oiled machine, it's a filmmaker like Abrams.
On a related note: Abrams boarding Episode VII has prompted speculation that we may be getting a proper female protagonist for the first time in Star Wars film franchise history; after all, this is the same man who gave us the Felicity, Alias and Fringe TV shows, while also upgrading Uhura's presence in the Trek reboot. /Film dances around that topic in its own report on Abrams' confirmation for Episode VII:
Our sources have been telling us for a while now that Steven Spielberg was really pushing Kennedy to hire Abrams. The story goes that Abrams was the first filmmaker approached after Spielberg, but was very hesitant. Kennedy talked to other directors including Ben Affleck and also Matthew Vaughn who may have pitched to have Chloë Grace Moretz in the lead role. Our sources say that Spielberg was instrumental in convincing Abrams and Kennedy to make it happen.
That Vaughn was pitching Chloë Grace Moretz (who's returning as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass 2 this summer) in the lead not only sounds like a cool idea, it also indicates that Arndt's script features a female lead; or, rather, that an early draft did. Again, as mentioned before, Abrams seems the type who'd be willing to center the action around, say, either Han Solo and Leia Skywalker's daughter or maybe even Luke's offspring (assuming Episode VII continues to follow the Skywalker clan). In other words: there's a reasonable chance that something will come of Vaughn's proposal after all.
The decision to use a female protagonist for Episode VII also makes sense from a marketing standpoint. That is, Disney absorbing both Lucasfilm and Marvel (and maybe even Hasbro, if rumors are to believed) was partly motivated by a desire to expand the company's appeal to the male demographic. Hence, making Star Wars more friendly to female geeks - in order to pull in more women, while also updating the franchise for the current zeitgeist - is a smart maneuver, since it's a given the fanboys are going to show up no matter what.
Star Wars: Episode VII remains tentatively set for release in 2015. We will let you know if (when?) that changes.