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Luke, Leia back for new ‘Star Wars’ Filming on Episode VII begins in May

LOS ANGELES, April 30, (Agencies): The original “Star Wars” movie blasted its way onto screens a long time ago, in a cinema galaxy seemingly far, far away — but Han, Luke and Leia will be back soon. On Tuesday, Disney announced the cast of the film just now entering production under the name “Star Wars: Episode VII”, after months of frenzied speculation among the sci-fi saga’s passionate fans. At 71, Harrison Ford may no longer have space smuggler Han Solo’s roguish good looks and thick head of hair. And 62-year-old co-star Mark Hamill will fill out Luke Skywalker’s flowing Jedi robes a little more thoroughly than he once did. But fans of the saga — many of them disappointed by a series of prequels to the three-decade-old original trilogy — will welcome their return and that of 57-year-old Carrie Fisher’s feisty Princess Leia.

Disney, the new owner of pioneering director George Lucas’ record-breaking franchise, has recruited blockbuster director J.J. Abrams to bring these fan favorites back to the screen. His trio of stars may have aged, but he will have access to a much more powerful array of computerized special effects than Lucas had when he launched the series in 1977. And the original cast, including Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker as androids C3PO and R2-D2 and Peter Mayhew as the hairy “Wookie” warrior Chewbacca, will be joined by new, mainly younger talent. Andy Serkis, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson, plus Hollywood veteran Max von Sydow join the “Star Wars” team. Serkis is well known but not the most recognizable, as his biggest roles have been as the voice and movements behind motion-capture animated characters like the villainous Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Cast members appeared in a photo of a script reading, alongside Abrams and R2-D2, the loyal robot mechanic that has accompanied the heroes through all six movies to date.

“It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again,” Abrams said. “We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud,” he promised. Abrams is a respected mainstream director who has already won plaudits for reviving a beloved space opera franchise, taking the captain’s chair on the successful 2009 “Star Trek” re-boot. But “Star Wars” is, if anything, an even bigger challenge. The two previous trilogies were released between 1977-2005 and inspired spin-off books, comics, toys, videogames and cartoons — earning $4.4 billion.

But, while the stories still have a massive popular audience, many purists were disappointed by the prequel trilogy, which they felt failed to capture the mythic feel of the originals. Filming on Episode VII will begin next month at London’s Pinewood Studios. Reports in local media in Abu Dhabi have suggested that some sets have also been constructed in the Arabian desert. Scriptwriter Lawrence Kasdan returns to the sage, having previously written the second and third films “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Music will once again come from Oscar-winning composer John Williams, whose epic score — one of the most recognizable in cinema history — soars over the iconic opening narrative crawl of each film.

The new “Star Wars” movie is due for worldwide release on December 18, 2015. “Star Wars: Episode VII” has a good shot at joining “Avatar” and “Titanic” in hitting $2 billion at the worldwide box office, industry analysts said Tuesday. “The casting for this new film is perfect from a commercial standpoint,” Vice President and Senior Analyst Phil Contrino told TheWrap. “Bringing back the original cast is brilliant, because it cements the link with the franchise’s incredible legacy, and so is going without A-list actors in the new roles, because it keeps the focus on the brand,” Contrino said.

Even if hardcore fans of the franchise aren’t totally happy with the casting picks, the excitement surrounding them could help build momentum — which is already at fever pitch. “It’s a time-honored tradition for fans of that series to complain about George Lucas and any number of other things surrounding the franchise — and then they go to see the movies five times,” Contrino said. James Cameron’s “Titanic” and “Avatar” are the highest-grossing movies ever at the worldwide box office. The romantic sea disaster epic brought in $2.1 billion in 1997, a record that stood until the futuristic 3D sci-fi saga rolled up a staggering $2.7 billion in 2009. Disney, which was radio silent on Tuesday, will want to manage expectations for “Episode VII.” And it’s worth noting that forecasting box-office returns on a movie more than a year-and-a-half-ahead of its release involves more speculation than data analysis.

Wall Street analysts at this point aren’t as bullish; last summer, Credit Suisse’s Michael Senn predicted $1.2 billion in box office for “Episode VII. This week, Cowan & Co. projected $1.2 billion and FBR Capital Markets said it would take in $700 million domestically — and net $1 billion overseas. Nonetheless, industry analysts are convinced that the sequel will be one for the record books. Keeping the focus on the brand is just what Disney needs to do if they want “Star Wars: Episode VII” to hit record heights, agreed Rentrak Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “We’re talking about what, for many people, is the biggest movie brand in their lifetimes, one that evokes all sorts of memories, imagery — and box-office expectations,” he said.

Since “A New Hope” opened in 1977, the six previous “Star Wars” movies and their re-releases have brought in more than $4.5 billion — but no film in the series has hit the $1 billion mark.  That’s not surprising; “Titanic” is the only movie released before 2009 on the Top 10 list. The highest-grossing entry in the “Star Wars” series remains “Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” which took in $983 million globally in 1999. The box office is a high-profile piece of the franchise’s overall value, but it’s far from being the only factor. With returns from DVDs, books and toy sales factored in, the series has generated more than $27 billion in revenue, according to the research institute Statistic Brain.

Even by “Star Wars” standards, the anticipation around “Episode VII” is unprecedented, Dergarabedian said.
“A few years ago, people thought they’d never see a new ‘Star Wars’ movie, much less a full-fledged franchise,” he said. Disney chairman Robert Iger has said the studio is planning on several more “Stars Wars” movies in the coming years. The North American release date for “Episode VII” — Dec. 18, 2015 — is the same date that “Avatar” opened on five years ago. “That’s significant, and ideal,” Contrino said. “It will surely have a huge opening, but it will also have the whole month of January to keep on playing. I can’t imagine a lot of other studios are going to get in its way.”

That’s a formula “Avatar” followed to its record haul, establishing new standards for the highest-grossing third-through-seventh weekends domestically. And after just 41 days in release, “Avatar” had established new records in 24 foreign markets. “With the incredible growth of the foreign markets, I think the sky is the limit this time around,” said Contrino. “Phantom Menace” is the biggest earning film of franchise overseas with $552 million, which represented roughly 56 percent of its worldwide haul. Largely due to the explosive growth of the foreign markets, today’s biggest blockbusters typically bring in roughly 70 percent of their grosses from overseas.

British actress Daisy Ridley has been cast in “Star Wars: Episode VII,” but has J.J. Abrams has asked her to keep a low profile on social media? It wouldn’t be surprising coming from the ultra-secretive director, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. These days, the public knows everything about every movie star, which is why it’s fairly refreshing to find that biographical details of Ridley’s life remain scarce. She maintains a private Twitter account, @DazRids, and as of this writing, she has only 149 followers. That’s about to change... if she accepts the many pending requests likely waiting for her following a hotly-anticipated table read in London with the rest of the cast. A representative for Ridley did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Director Peter Hearn, whose film “Scrawl” will surely get a boost from Ridley’s newfound celebrity, tweeted his congratulations Tuesday morning. “She deserved it... I’m over the moon(s) for her. Her life is certainly gonna change now...” He also sent warm wishes to the @DazRids account. @DazRids joined Twitter in February 2009 and the account claims it is based out of London, where Ridley calls home. She has posted 12 photos and videos, though her acting reel was promptly removed from Vimeo Tuesday morning as news of her casting spread across the globe. Ridley has only tweeted 138 times but she has favorited nearly 2,000 tweets, indicating that she is an active presence on Twitter despite the fact that she favors her personal privacy. Since the @DazRids account is protected, it’s impossible to see which “Star Wars” collaborators are following Ridley, or who she is following. Her co-star John Boyega is on Twitter, though Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver and Domhnall Gleeson are not. She is welcome to follow this reporter, @TheInSneider, anytime.

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