Walt Disney Co delayed the release of the ninth installment of the "Star Wars" saga to Dec. 20, 2019 after announcing on Tuesday the return of filmmaker J.J. Abrams to the franchise to write and direct the movie.
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Disney pushed back "Star Wars: Episode IX" from its initial May 2019 release date after Abrams replaced filmmaker Colin Trevorrow, who parted ways with Disney last week citing differing creative visions with the studio.
Abrams launched Disney's reboot of the "Star Wars" franchise with 2015's box office hit "The Force Awakens," which reunited original 1977 stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill and introduced a new generation of characters. The film made more than $2 billion at the global box office.
"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.
"Episode IX" faced creative challenges after the sudden death of Fisher, who plays the franchise's Princess Leia, last year. Her character, now called General Leia Organa, has a central role in the upcoming December film "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," the eighth installment in the saga written and directed by Rian Johnson.
"Episode IX" was the second "Star Wars" project to lose a director this year. Disney said in June that filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had left the upcoming Han Solo "Star Wars" spin-off movie due to creative differences. They were replaced by Hollywood veteran Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning director of "A Beautiful Mind."
"Star Wars: Episode IX" is part of Disney's expanding slate of "Star Wars" films that continue George Lucas' Skywalker saga as well as introducing standalone spin-off films set within the galaxy far, far away.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Richard Chang)