LOS ANGELES: Sci-fi filmmaker J.J. Abrams has been tapped to direct "Star Wars: Episode IX" after the departure of Colin Trevorrow, Lucasfilm announced on Tuesday (Sep 12), delaying its release for seven months.
Abrams - a familiar face in the "Star Wars" universe who directed "The Force Awakens" (2015) - will co-write the film with Chris Terrio, who won an Oscar for the screenplay for "Argo" (2012), the Disney-owned studio said.
"With 'The Force Awakens,' J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy," Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said in a statement.
Disney later announced that "Episode IX," originally scheduled to hit theaters on May 24, 2019, will now be released on December 20 of that year.
Abrams has considerable pedigree in sci-fi, having successfully rebooted the "Star Trek" franchise, directing two of the new films, as well as producing the "Cloverfield" trilogy and the upcoming "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi."
The "Force Awakens" is the third-highest grossing movie of all time, taking US$2.1 billion, and spinoff movie "Rogue One" was beaten only by "Captain America: Civil War" in 2016.
But it hasn't been plain sailing for Lucasfilm, which has parted company with several of its directors recently, starting with Josh Trank, who dropped out of developing a "Star Wars" spinoff in 2015, citing the enormous pressures of being involved with the franchise.
"Rogue One" itself made headlines in 2016, when Tony Gilroy ("The Bourne Legacy") was brought in to helm extensive reshoots just a few months ahead of the release of the Gareth Edwards-directed movie.
Lucasfilm announced a week ago that Trevorrow had left as director of "Episode IX," attributing his exit to differing visions between the filmmaker and studio executives.
The Hollywood Reporter, citing unnamed sources, said the main point of contention was ongoing "script issues," with Trevorrow being forced into several rewrites.
The weekly trade paper reported that the relationship between Trevorrow and Kennedy had become "unmanageable," although it added that she had tried to avoid losing another director.
'HUGE OPPORTUNITY MISSED'
In June, Lucasfilm sacked directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller ("21 Jump Street," "The Lego Movie"), who were just weeks away from wrapping principal photography on the hotly-anticipated Han Solo spinoff.
The pair were replaced by Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard after clashing with Kennedy and writer Lawrence Kasdan, according to reports.
Trevorrow's departure was seen as a significant upheaval as he is considered hot property after scoring big with Universal's creature feature "Jurassic World" (2015), the fourth-highest grossing movie of all time.
Reaction to Trevorrow's replacement was divided on Twitter, where the announcement quickly became one of the top worldwide trending topics, with more than 37,000 tweets.
Many fans expressed admiration for "The Force Awakens" and signaled their approval of the decision, although others saw it as a missed opportunity.
"'Star Wars Chapter Nine: Revenge of the Lens Flare,' written and directed by JJ Abrams," quipped New York Times columnist John Podhoretz, referring to the director's predilection for the visual effect he used extensively in "Star Trek" (2009).
Melissa Silverstein, artistic director of New York's female-focused Athena Film Festival, called it a "huge opportunity missed" with no female director yet in the Star Wars franchise.
"I LOVED Force Awakens so I'm sort of okay with Abrams returning, but at the same time, dang. Star Wars needs to fix its diversity problem," agreed Tim Hanley, author of "The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale."
The untitled Han Solo movie is due out on May 25 next year, while "The Last Jedi," the next film in the main franchise, directed by Rian Johnson, opens on Dec 15.