The 'Force Awakens' follow-up will arrive on Dec. 15, 2017
Credit: Lucasfilm

The Force has awakened… but now it’s hitting the snooze button.

Disney and Lucasfilm have just announced that Star Wars: Episode VIII, originally set for release May 26, 2017, is moving back seven months. The new debut will be on Dec. 15, 2017.

The movie, which picks up the story of Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and villain Kylo Ren, was supposed to begin filming this month in the U.K. but will actually start principal photography next month, according to Lucasfilm.

Until The Force Awakens, Star Wars films were always summertime releases, with each of the original trilogy and the prequel movies hitting theaters in May. But now, it seems Star Wars is becoming a holiday phenomenon. In addition to Force Awakens — which was shifted from May to December because of script delays — and Episode VIII, anthology film Rogue One, directed by Gareth Edwards, is set to arrive on Dec. 16 of this year.

There have been rumors of last-minute script changes to Episode VIII too, which is being written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper), but that’s not uncommon for any major movie as it heads before the cameras. In a statement, Lucasfilm said the date shift was aimed at following the lead of The Force Awakens, which now holds the record for domestic box office at $859 million and is No. 3 on the worldwide chart with $1.9 billion — behind Titanic in second place with $2.2 billion and Avatar in the No. 1 slot with $2.8 billion.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth installment in the Johnny Depp franchise, will move into the May 2017 spot Episode VIII is vacating. The Pirates movie was originally marked for July 7, 2017, so it moves ahead in the schedule by about a month.

The presence of Episode VIII in that Memorial Day space had other major releases steering clear, so Pirates 5 isn’t currently facing much competition there, and it escapes a much more crowded summer slate, where it would have had to fight for audience attention against Wonder Woman, War For the Planet of the Apes, Uncharted, and — in the family-friendly sphere — Despicable Me 3.

As for Episode VIII, director James Cameron had said last year that a target date for his Avatar sequel was Christmas 2017, putting Star Wars potentially on course for a battle on Pandora.

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