- "For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next. It's now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers."
- ―George Lucas
The Star Wars sequel trilogy is a film trilogy that begins approximately thirty years after the ending of Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. The trilogy is comprised of Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan and released on December 18, 2015; and the forthcoming films Star Wars: Episode VIII, written and directed by Rian Johnson; and Star Wars: Episode IX, which Johnson is writing a story treatment for. The films will be produced by Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, with Bad Robot Productions also producing The Force Awakens. The trilogy will feature the return of classic Star Wars characters Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO, as well as a host of new characters.
Rumors of a sequel trilogy had been talked about for decades, ever since George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, stated that he had plans for films that would take place after the original Star Wars trilogy. As the canon saga developed, however, Lucas denied that a sequel trilogy would ever be made, stating that Star Wars was the story of Anakin Skywalker and that his story ended in Return of the Jedi. The development of the sequel trilogy was made official on October 30, 2012, when The Walt Disney Company announced that it was acquiring Lucasfilm from Lucas and that they would be producing new Star Wars films beginning in 2015. Although Lucas has retired, he continues to serve as a creative consultant on the films.
Early plans and abandonment
- "The prequel stories exist—where Darth Vader came from, the whole story about Darth and Ben Kenobi—and it all takes place before Luke was born. The other one—what happens to Luke afterward—is much more ethereal. I have a tiny notebook full of notes on that. If I'm really ambitious, I could proceed to figure out what would have happened to Luke."
- ―George Lucas, around the release of The Empire Strikes Back
Ideas for a Star Wars sequel trilogy were in place as early as 1976, during the filming of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, the first produced film in the franchise, known at the time simply as Star Wars. Mark Hamill, who starred as Luke Skywalker in the film, recounted that George Lucas, the director of A New Hope, asked if Hamill would be interested in appearing in Star Wars: Episode IX in 2011, when Lucas assumed such a film would be made. According to Lucas, Skywalker would "be like Obi-Wan Kenobi handing the lightsaber down to the next generation." TIME magazine also reported in 1978, after the success of A New Hope, that Lucas would produce a sequel to A New Hope and then ten additional films, for a total of four Star Wars trilogies. These early ideas did not reflect the final version of the saga, however; according to Jonathan W. Rinzler, "the original trilogy occupied Episodes VI, VII, and VIII; a Clone Wars trilogy took up Episodes II, III, and IV, while Episode I was a 'prelude,' Episodes IX through XI were simply left blank – and Episode XII was the 'conclusion.'"
As the saga developed after the success of A New Hope, these plans began to change. Lucas stated in 1979 that there would be three trilogies, plans he continued to talk about into the 1980s. Lucas described the potential sequels as being "what happens to Luke" after the original trilogy, and that it would be "much more ethereal" and "ambitious." By the time Lucas produced Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi, the final film of the original trilogy, he no longer had plans to produce a sequel trilogy, stating that the "next trilogy will be someone else's vision."
Several plot points had been discussed for the sequel trilogy that were eventually condensed into Return of the Jedi. According to Gary Kurtz, the producer of A New Hope and Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back, the creative team had discussed the sequels showing Skywalker's new life with the Jedi, finding his long-lost sister—at the time, Leia Organa was not Skywalker's sister— and a final confrontation with the Emperor.
As the years progressed, and the saga continued to evolve to include a prequel trilogy and the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated film and subsequent television series, it appeared that Lucas had finally abandoned plans for the sequel trilogy. In 2008, Lucas told The LA Times that there would not be a story beyond Return of the Jedi because "the movies were the story of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker, and when Luke saves the galaxy and redeems his father, that's where that story ends." He also cited the Expanded Universe—now known as the non-canon Star Wars Legends—as the stories that, despite his lack of involvement in them, continued the saga after Return of the Jedi. In 2012, Lucas also cited the critical reaction from some Star Wars fans towards the prequel trilogy as another reason he did not intend to create the sequel trilogy.
Disney and the sequel trilogy
- "I'm confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come. Disney's strength gives Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products."
- ―George Lucas
In 2011, Robert Iger, chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company, began discussing with Lucas the possibility of Disney acquiring Lucasfilm. Lucas was not yet ready to pursue the possibility of retirement or selling the company, but he had considered it and told Iger he would talk to him at the right time—which was important to Iger, who had already acquired Pixar and Marvel and now wanted to add Star Wars into the Disney organization. Lucas began putting plans in place for his transition out of the company, including the hiring of Kathleen Kennedy as his successor. To make a potential acquisition deal more valuable, Lucasfilm began the early development of Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, and hired writer Michael Arndt to begin working on The Force Awakens. Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, was brought on as a consultant, while Lucas spoke to Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher about potentially reprising their roles as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.
Lucas finally contacted Iger in June 2012, at which point the two companies entered into five months of acquisition negotiations. Lucas worked to ensure that key Lucasfilm personnel would be able to stay on in order to market the new Star Wars films, though Iger stressed that Disney would have final say over future movies. Lucas agreed, despite his reservations about losing control, and initially did not turn over his outlines for the sequel trilogy. He finally presented the stories once some of his concerns were assuaged, and Disney agreed that the stories had potential.
The acquisition was announced on October 30, 2012. In addition to the acquisition, Disney announced that it would be producing the sequel trilogy, that Episode VII would be executive produced by Kennedy and released in 2015, and that Lucas would serve as a creative consultant on the films. Several pre-production announcements followed, including that Episode VII would be directed by J.J. Abrams, that John Williams would return to score Episode VII, and that Arndt had exited as screenwriter and been replaced by Abrams and Kasdan. In 2014, the release date of the film was announced as December 18, 2015, and production on the film commenced in May 2014. Hamill, Ford, and Fisher were confirmed to return to their original roles, as were Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, and Kenny Baker as R2-D2. New actors include John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow, Lupita Nyong'o, Gwendoline Christie, Crystal Clarke, and Pip Andersen.
As Episode VII began filming, Lucasfilm continued to push ahead with its plans for Episodes VIII and IX. Although not officially announced by Lucasfilm, it was revealed in June 2014 that Rian Johnson would write and direct Episode VIII, as well as write a story treatment for Episode IX.
Unlike previous Star Wars films, a new Anthology Series will be released between the main installments—the Star Wars "saga" films—with the first of these, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. scheduled for release on December 16, 2016, being about a band of rebels stealing the plans for the first Death Star. Unlike main installments, these films are planned to take place across the Star Wars timeline and have a different tone than the main saga films, with Rogue One being described as a "war film."
- "The future of interconnected storytelling will allow fans to explore this galaxy in deeper ways than ever before."
- ―Kathleen Kennedy
On April 25, 2014, Lucasfilm announced that the filmmakers of The Force Awakens and the sequel trilogy would not be required to follow the post–Return of the Jedi story that was developed in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, a decision made in order to maximize their creative freedom. The announcement cited Episodes I through VI, as well as The Clone Wars, as Lucas' vision and the "immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align," while the Expanded Universe would no longer be considered canon. The Expanded Universe was re-branded as Star Wars Legends. Despite its non-canon status, past Legends stories remain in print under the new Legends banner. Some elements of the Legends stories have also been retained and used in new stories, such as the animated television series Star Wars Rebels.
With the decision made to accommodate the story of the sequel trilogy, Lucasfilm further decided that all future Star Wars stories would be considered canon and would fit consistently with one another. The company formed the Lucasfilm Story Group in order to coordinate the development of Star Wars stories and ensure that they align with one another.
Future of Star Wars
- "The company intends to put out a new Star Wars movie every year for as long as people will buy tickets. Let me put it another way: If everything works out for Disney, and if you are (like me) old enough to have been conscious for the first Star Wars film, you will probably not live to see the last one. It’s the forever franchise."
- ―WIRED editor Adam Rogers
In an interview to the BBC, Disney chairman Bob Iger stated that the company planned to deliver space opera installments "well beyond" Star Wars: Episode IX and its release in 2019, saying, “[t]here will be more after that. I don’t know how many; I don’t know how often.”