J.J. Abrams is bringing Star Wars back this December with Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but Disney is looking beyond a sequel trilogy when making the most of their $4 billion investment. In between the new episodes, the Mouse House will release standalone spinoff movies that will explore new stories to tell in the universe; including perhaps a heist film detailing the theft of the first Death Star plans.
Disney has wasted no time getting these spinoff projects through the pipeline, placing Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) and Josh Trank (Chronicle) to call the shots on the first two, respectively. When Edwards' involvement with the franchise was announced, it was also revealed that screenwriter Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli, After Earth) would be penning the screenplay - but that is no longer the case.
THR is reporting that Whitta has left the first Star Wars spinoff, currently slated for a December 16, 2016 release. The reasoning for his departure is unclear, but Whitta did work with Edwards on writing the first draft of the script, and based on the director's quote it would appear that the breakup was amicable:
“Gary has been a wonderful, inspired contributor and I enjoyed working with him tremendously. I’m so grateful for all of his contributions.”
Plus, given what Whitta tweeted, one would guess that his contributions are still going to be a meaty portion of the film's story, regardless of what revisions are made between now and when principal photography starts:
— Gary Whitta (@garywhitta) January 10, 2015
At this stage, it's unknown if another writer will be brought on board to work on some revisions, or if Edwards will just retool the screenplay to his liking. We do know that the team is hoping to begin production sometime this year, so unless this development causes a delay, any rewrites would have to be taken care of rather quickly. At the moment, all would hope that edits will be minimal at worst. If Whitta is sharing the script's title page to the world, he must feel fairly confident that his work is going to be the one moviegoers will see next year. Either that, or the message is one of regret and what could have been (let's hope for the former).
This situation seems to be somewhat different from screenwriter Michael Arndt ending his work on ft The Force Awakens, giving way to Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan. But exactly what that means behind the scenes is anyone's guess.
Sources are saying that a primary influencing factor for Whitta deciding to leave was so that he could work on other jobs, such as the Starlight adaptation he became attached to a few months back. If he's turned in a draft of the screenplay that his co-workers are pleased with, he certainly has earned the freedom to pursue a new project as the Star Wars spinoff inches closer to filming. His work could very well be done.
Since we are talking about a first draft, some tweaks will most likely be made, but by all accounts, this film will keep its "written by Gary Whitta" credit that it had when the Edwards/Whitta duo first came on board. Fans who are wary about the writer of After Earth playing in the galaxy far, far away can take solace in that Whitta is also responsible for penning stories for the acclaimed Walking Dead video games. Right now, there's no real reason for concern.
The first Star Wars spinoff will be in theaters December 16, 2016.
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