LOS ANGELES, Jan 21, 2016:

The next and eighth episode in the “Star Wars” saga will premiere in December 2017, seven months later than originally planned, Disney and Lucasfilm announced on Wednesday.

“The move follows the extraordinary success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was the first Star Wars movie to premiere outside the traditional summer blockbuster window and smashed numerous records,” the studios said in a statement on the website www.starwars.com.

The seventh episode in the series, The Force Awakens, quickly surpassed the US$760.5 million record set in 2009 by Avatar to become the top-grossing film ever in the North American market.

The film has now grossed US$858.9 million in North America and US$1.865 billion worldwide.

The next episode will be directed by Rian Johnson, who helmed the 2012 sci-fi thriller Looper, starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt.

It will feature the stars of The Force Awakens: Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.

The movie is in pre-production, with filming set to begin next month in London, the studios said.

Disney and Lucasfilm plan to release a further installment, Episode 9 of the saga, on May 24, 2019.

A spin-off, titled Rogue One, which will be set shortly before the events portrayed in the original 1977 Star Wars film, is set to reach screens on Dec 16.

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