Disney Will Expand 'Star Wars' in Parks, Release New Film in 2015

'Star Wars Episode VII' film releases Dec. 18, 2015, casting may begin in UK.

Fans from all over the world pose wearing dressed as "Star Wars" characters during the "Star Wars" Celebration at Messe Essen on July 28, 2013, in Essen, Germany.
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The Force is strong with the Walt Disney Company as its plans to expand the presence of Star Wars at its theme parks, following the announcement that a new movie of the franchise will hit theaters on Dec. 18, 2015.

Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, announced the film launch date as part of the company's earning report for the fourth quarter on Thursday. The media empire bought Lucasfilm and its properties including "Star Wars" from auteur George Lucas in October 2012 for $4 billion. The company previously considered May 2015 as a launch date for the new film.

"We're very excited to share the official 2015 release date for "Star Wars: Episode VII," where it will not only anchor the popular holiday film-going season but also ensure our extraordinary filmmaking team has the time needed to deliver a sensational picture," said Alan Horn, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios.

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Casting for the new "Star Wars" film may be about to begin in the UK and the U.S., according to the BBC, which cites online casting calls seeking auditions for lead roles in a major Disney movie. The casting calls are seeking a "street smart and strong" orphaned girl in her late teens and a "smart capable" man in his late teens or early 20s.

The Walt Disney Company reported a profit of $1.39 billion for its fourth quarter, up from $1.24 billion for the same period in 2012. Revenue grew 7 percent from the previous year to $11.57 billion. Profits from Disney theme parks provided the biggest boost, but the company also noted it is profiting from "Star Wars" merchandise licensing.

The company plans to combine those two lucrative parts of the Disney empire, the company's CEO Robert Iger said during an interview with Bloomberg on Thursday.

"There is a fair amount of development at Disney imagineering right now to expand the 'Star Wars' presence in California and in Orlando, and then eventually in other parks around the world," Iger said.

Fans of the "Star Wars" franchise have high standards and expectations to meet, but J.J. Abrams, who is slated to direct the new "Star Wars" film, has proven able at entertain difficult-to-please audiences as the director of two "Star Trek" films. Abrams will write the script of the new "Star Wars" movie with Lawrence Kasdan, who worked with Lucas on the "The Empire Strikes Back," contributed to "Return of the Jedi," and helped write "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark," according to Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy. Composer John Williams will also write music for the new film, as he did with the previous outings to a galaxy far, far away.

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"There are very few people who fundamentally understand the way a 'Star Wars' story works like Larry, and it is nothing short of incredible to have him even more deeply involved in its return to the big screen," Kennedy said on Oct. 24. "J.J. of course is an incredible storyteller in his own right."

During a previous interview in July with CNBC, Iger said Kasdan is also working on other "Star Wars" films "derived from great 'Star Wars' characters that are not part of the overall saga."

"We still plan to make 'Star Wars' 7, 8 and 9 roughly over a six-year period of time, starting 2015. But there are going to be a few other films released in that period of time, too," Iger said in July.

Those stand-alone films will include an "origin story," Disney's Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said during an investor conference in September, Variety reported. This has fueled speculation on blogs that there could be a film focused around characters including space scoundrel Han Solo, Jedi Master Yoda or infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett.

Ahead of December 2015 release, fans will likely have strong views about how they would like to see "Star Wars" presented to a new generation. The last silver screen outing for "Star Wars" starting with Episodes I, II, and III faced fan criticism for weak dialogue among characters including Jar Jar Binks. The re-release of Episodes IV, V and VI in the late 1990s also faced fan criticism for making changes to the classic scenes.