The future is strong with the ‘Star Wars’ franchise

After buying Lucasfilm, and the attached Star Wars franchise, the Walt Disney Company needed to get a return on their near $4 billion investment. With “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens” raking in close to $2 billion already, the investment seems to be paying off. But they wouldn’t just do one film, would they?

The plan is to make six films total, including “The Force Awakens,” within two series. One is the sequel trilogy, the core narrative. The second is the “Star Wars Anthology Series,” the origin stories. Released each year over the next five years, the series will alternate between a sequel and an anthology.

Like the original trilogy, each film will be led by a different director; possibly so one person can’t destroy an entire trifecta. With J.J. Abrams’ first installment the highest grossing film in American history, holding at 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and nominated for five Oscars, the pressure is on for the next five.

The first anthology film, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” will be directed by Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”) and is to be released in time for a 2016 Star Wars holiday special. Set after the founding of the galactic empire, the story follows a group of Rebel fighters tasked to steal plans for the Death Star.

“Star Wars Episode VIII” follows in 2017. Directed and written by Rian Johnson (“Looper”), it begins filming in early 2016. Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie and John Boyega have all been confirmed to reprise their roles as Luke Skywalker, Poe Dameron, Captain Phasma and Finn, respectively.

The anthology series next takes another stab at Han with a Solo film in 2018 directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie”). Though initial rumors pinned the film as an origin story, it is more likely to be a glimpse into the life of the open-shirted space smuggler. The short list for the title role, narrowed from 2,500 young actors Disney auditioned, includes Dave Franco, Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller and Scott Eastwood.

Then comes the final sequel, “Star Wars Episode IX,” directed by Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World”) and to be released in 2019. Finally, a third anthology film likely focusing on Boba Fett will be released sometime in 2020.

Is that the end? Though only Siths deal in absolutes, if the movies do well Disney will likely produce another few trilogies, so here’s to another 40 years of “a galaxy far, far away.”

-Aaron Kreitman