LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The next movie in the "Star Wars" franchise will arrive in theaters on December 18, 2015, Walt Disney Co said on Thursday, two weeks after producers hired a new writer to shepherd the script into production.
Disney purchased "Star Wars" producer Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion in 2012 and promised at least three more films in the series, one of the biggest movie franchises of all time.
"This, obviously, is one of the most important movies we have in the next few years, and we've chosen a date we believe will allow the creative team the time to make a great film," Disney chief executive Bob Iger said in a conference call with Wall Street analysts.
The pre-Christmas date puts the film's release in the prime holiday movie season, a departure for the "Star Wars" franchise. The previous six films have all been released in May, in time for the summer movie season.
Filming of the new movie, currently called "Star Wars: Episode VII," is set to begin in spring 2014 and will be directed by J.J. Abrams, who is best known for directing the most recent films in the "Star Trek" science fiction series.
Filming will take place in England, returning the franchise to its British roots as the six previous "Star Wars" films were all partly filmed at studios in Britain.
No acting choices have been announced, but original cast members Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford have been in talks to appear in the upcoming film.
Last month, producer Kathleen Kennedy said Lawrence Kasdan would team with Abrams to write the screenplay, replacing Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt on the project.
Kasdan co-wrote the screenplays for the second and third "Star Wars" films, "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi."
The "Star Wars" franchise, which was created by director George Lucas, has grossed more than $4.4 billion at the worldwide box office since the first film was released in 1977.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine, Ron Grover and Nichola Groom; Writing by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)