There's been a good deal of rumor-mongering about the release date for Star Wars: Episode VII, with claims that the seventh installment in the sci-fi space opera juggernaut will launch in either November 2015 or December 2015, in spite of Disney's continued assurances that a Spring/Summer 2015 premiere remains the target date.
Today, we add some additional fuel to that fire, in the form of another story that raises doubts about when the movie will hit theaters (and no less than one day after the one-year anniversary of the Mouse House's original announcement that it was buying Lucasfilm). Such news rounds out a tough week of speculation and unconfirmed reports about the development process on Episode VII, after the story from a few days ago that suggested Disney and Lucasfilm have been forced to get the ball rolling on a fifth Indiana Jones movie (in order to get Harrison Ford to commit to appearing in the next Star Wars trilogy).
Several of THR's insiders who are reported as being close to the project are now bringing in word that new Lucasfilm president and Episode VII executive producer Kathleen Kennedy - along with "most of the film's creative team" - have asked Disney to push the release date back to 2016. However, Disney CEO Robert Iger is refusing to budge on the 2015 date, while director J.J. Abrams is apparently "in sync with Iger's desire" - even though, as a result, he's had to step in and contribute to the screenwriting process. Ironically, it was originally Abrams who was supposedly not committed to a 2015 release date for Episode VII, which started the rumors about a delay to 2016 in the first place.
THR is supporting the longstanding claim that Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) put together a 40-50 page story treatment for the seventh Star Wars installment, before Lucasfilm became a part of Mickey Mouse's empire. Despite that, many of the site's insiders say that the script "isn't close to ready" and that is why Abrams is now working on the screenplay with Episode VII consultant and Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan (Some might argue that's a blessing in disguise, even if the latest rumors are indeed accurate.)
The problem of studio executives setting a tentpole's release date well ahead of production getting started - forcing the project to move down the pipeline faster than preferable - is one that we've heard about more and more frequently in recent years. The most infamous example would be when Matthew Vaughn ended up having to shoot/edit X-Men: First Class in a matter of ten months - when a year-long turnaround for an effects-heavy blockbuster is still quite short. More recently, we've seen big sequels like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Fast & Furious 7 lose the directors who made their immediate predecessor a hit (due to studios pressuring them to ship the next installment down the assembly line as quickly as possible).
Of course, Episode VII carries more burden than Luke Skywalker after he found out his daddy was Darth Vader, since it's meant to serve as the launching pad for a new era in the Star Wars franchise. That means it needs to get a new generation hooked so they turnout for Episodes VIII & IX, new movie spinoffs, additional television series (see: Star Wars Rebels) and prove willing to buy a near-endless supply of multi-platform products (video games, action figures, tie-in novels, etc.). So, yeah, naturally there has to be some tension behind the scenes on Episode VII, no matter what.
One THR insider has addressed just that, in an effort to downplay the fresh batch of discouraging rumors:
"[What's going on with 'Episode VII' is] nothing out of the ordinary," says the insider. "Almost every big movie changes writers at some point. There's no drama here."
That's not the only issue where THR's inside sources appear conflicted, as certain ones are saying that Abrams has taken a greater amount of control of Episode VII in recent months, while others assure that both Abrams and Kennedy are involved in casting for the film (and beyond). Moreover, Abrams isn't known for kowtowing to studio demands - he was able to get the dates for both Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness pushed back in order to allow the proper time for development. We've heard in the past that the entire reason that he changed teams from Star Trek to Wars is because he wanted to get the next phase in a major sci-fi franchise started on the right foot. So, why would Abrams jeopardize that by rushing Episode VII?
In conclusion, we should all probably hold off on bemoaning that Episode VII is doomed; or, alternatively, proclaiming that the film not been encountered any roadblocks at all. For all we know, in a matter of days - now that Disney has begun releasing Thor: The Dark World in theaters around the globe - we could be getting some major Star Wars announcements, be it official casting news, an exact 2015 release date or maybe even an announcement that Episode VII won't arrive until 2016 after all (rather than try and compete in the 2015 box office derby).
Star Wars: Episode VII remains tentatively set for a 2015 theatrical release. We'll let you know when/if that changes.