A decade after George Lucas said Star Wars was finished on the big screen, a new trilogy is destined for cinemas after Walt Disney announced that it is buying Lucasfilm for 4.05 billion US dollars (£2.52 billion).
The seventh movie, with a working title of Episode 7, is set for release in 2015, with Episodes 8 and 9 to follow. The new trilogy will carry the story of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia beyond Return Of The Jedi, the third film released and the sixth in the saga. After that, Disney plans a new Star Wars film every two or three years.
Lucas, who will serve as creative consultant on the new movies, said: "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 film-makers. I've always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime."
Disney CEO Bob Iger said Lucasfilm had already developed an extensive storyline on the next trilogy, and Episode 7 is now in early-stage development. Walt Disney announced the blockbuster agreement to buy Lucasfilm in cash and stock on Tuesday. The deal includes Lucasfilm's prized high-tech production companies, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, as well as rights to the Indiana Jones franchise.
Lucas was hailed as a cinematic visionary when the original Star Wars came out in 1977. But he had become an object of often vicious ridicule by the time he released 3D versions of all six films in the Star Wars franchise earlier this year. Die-hard Star Wars fans had been vilifying Lucas for years, convinced that he had become a commercial sell-out.
The criticism grated on Lucas, who vowed never to make another Star Wars film during an interview with the New York Times earlier this year. "Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?" Lucas, 68, told the Times. He said he was ready to retire from making blockbusters and return to his roots as a student at USC's film school, where he once made a movie about clouds moving in a desert.
Kathleen Kennedy, the current co-chairman of Lucasfilm, will become the division's president and report to Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn. She will serve as executive producer for the new movies.
In a video posted on YouTube, Lucas said the decision to continue with the saga was not inconsistent with past statements. "I always said I wasn't going to do any more and that's true, because I'm not going to do any more, but that doesn't mean I'm unwilling to turn it over to Kathy to do more," Lucas said.
He said he has given Ms Kennedy his storylines and other ideas "and I have complete confidence that she's going to take them and make great movies". Ms Kennedy added that she and Lucas had discussed ideas with a few writers about the future movies and said Lucas would continue to have a key advisory role. "My Yoda has to be there," she said.
The deal brings Lucasfilm under the Disney banner with other brands including Pixar, Marvel, ESPN and ABC, all companies that Disney has acquired over the years.