'Star Wars: Episode VII': Release set for December 18, 2015

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Perhaps Darth Vader has found new ways to motivate them …

Lucasfilm has announced the new date for the debut of the next Star Wars trilogy, and despite some script rewriting that is currently underway, the movie will not be pushed to later in 2016.

Fans can expect to revisit the galaxy far, far away on Dec. 18, 2015.

That will make it the first Star Wars film to open around the Christmas holiday — or “Life Day” as it’s known among the Wookiees. The previous films have all premiered in May.

Robert Iger, CEO and Chairman of The Walt Disney Co. (which acquired Lucasfilm last year), noted in a company’s earnings call this afternoon that the new debut “is also the date Avatar opened in 2009.” Naturally, the studio is hoping to follow that lead for a sci-fi winter tentpole. “This obviously is one of the most important movies we have in the next few years,” Iger said.

In a statement, Alan Horn, the Disney studio chief, responded to rumors that director (and now co-writer) J.J. Abrams was having worries about meeting the 2015 deadline. “We’re very excited to share the official 2015 release date for Star Wars: Episode VII, where it will not only anchor the popular holiday filmgoing season but also ensure our extraordinary filmmaking team has the time needed to deliver a sensational picture,” Horn said.

Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark for Lucasfilm, announced two weeks ago they were taking over primary script-writing duties from Oscar-winning writer Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine.) That development was clearly not an ideal one, and it triggered questions about whether the story would be ready in time.

Sets and costumes are already being designed for the film, which starts shooting at London’s Pinewood Studios in the spring.

In announcing the shift, Disney also changed the dates for another major film on its slate, the Brad Bird-directed George Clooney sci-fi saga Tomorrowland (being co-written and co-produced by EW’s own Jeff Jensen.) Tomorrowland was originally set for Dec. 12, 2014, but now moves to May 22, 2015 — the previous berth of the new Star Wars film.

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