We're very close to a year having passed since Lucasfilm became the property of Disney and Star Wars: Episode VII was announced for a theatrical premiere date in 2015. Since then, we've had to navigate our way through a seemingly endless parade of rumors and unsubstantiated reports. That is, save for confirmation that J.J. Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness) is directing the movie, drawn from a script written by Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) and based on material developed by Star Wars creator George Lucas.
Interestingly, not long after rumor began to circulate that Lucasfilm was preparing to make a major Episode VII-related announcement, we do have an update on the film's progress, straight from the lion's mouth. However, while the update is significant, it has nothing to do with casting and/or the subtitle for the seventh live-action Star Wars installment (despite speculation pointing in that direction).
The news from Lucasfilm is that Arndt is no longer involved with development on the Episode VII screenplay, having stepped aside so that Abrams might continue developing the script in collaboration with Lawrence Kasdan (who's been consulting on the project this whole time). As of right now though, it remains to be seen if Arndt will be receiving co-screenwriting credit for his contributions to the new Star Wars movie; or, rather if he'll just be credited for the screen story, based on his Episode VII treatment (he's rumored to have also written story treatments for Episodes VIII & IX).
Here is the official statement, from Kathleen Kennedy:
"I am very excited about the story we have in place and thrilled to have Larry and J.J. working on the script," states Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy. "There are very few people who fundamentally understand the way a "Star Wars" story works like Larry, and it is nothing short of incredible to have him even more deeply involved in its return to the big screen. J.J. of course is an incredible storyteller in his own right. Michael Arndt has done a terrific job bringing us to this point and we have an amazing filmmaking and design team in place already prepping for production."
Abrams' body of work as a screenwriter includes his feature-length directing efforts Mission: Impossible III and Super 8, in addition to episodes of Alias, Lost and Fringe. Interestingly, back in the days before he broke out as successful TV show-runner/executive producer with Felicity in the late 1990s, Abrams wrote such films as the drama Regarding Henry - featuring Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford as the lead - and the sci-fi/romantic drama Forever Young, starring Mel Gibson; not to mention, his work on Michael Bay's end-of-world disaster thriller, Armageddon.
Arguably, the more intriguing writing addition for Episode VII is Kasdan, who co-wrote the script for The Empire Strikes Back - which many consider to be, far and away, the best Star Wars movie - in addition to Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark, some 30 years ago. Admittedly, his more recent screenwriting output (see: Dreamcatcher and Darling Companion) leaves something to be desired, but maybe a return to the space opera franchise that jump-started his career will help to rejuvenate Kasdan's creative spark. (Lucasfilm/Disney seems to think as much is possible, considering that Kasdan has also been recruited to write one of the Star Wars spinoff films.)
The Lucasfilm press release also includes a nice breakdown of the personnel working behind the scenes on Episode VII, with additional confirmation that John Williams is returning to compose the score:
Location scouting, production design, casting, and costume design are already underway on "Episode VII." A team of gifted artists are working to bring the latest installment of the "Star Wars" saga, including director of photography Dan Mindel ("Mission: Impossible III," "Star Trek"), production designers Rick Carter ("Lincoln," "Avatar") and Darren Gilford ("Oblivion," "TRON: Legacy"), costume designer Michael Kaplan ("Star Trek Into Darkness," "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"), special effects supervisor Chris Corbould ("Skyfall," "The Dark Knight Rises"), sound designer Ben Burtt ("Lincoln," "Star Wars: Episodes I-VI"), re-recording mixer Gary Rydstrom ("Jurassic Park," "Saving Private Ryan"), supervising sound editor Matthew Wood ("Star Trek Into Darkness," "The Master") of Skywalker Sound, and visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett ("Star Trek Into Darkness," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End") of Industrial Light & Magic. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk are producing, with Tommy Harper ("Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," "Star Trek Into Darkness") and Jason McGatlin ("Tintin," "War of the Worlds") serving as executive producers.
Principal photography on Star Wars: Episode VII is (according to Lucasfilm) "scheduled to begin Spring 2014 at Pinewood Studios for an expected 2015 release." As always, we'll keep you posted on any future news concerning the film's development.