Walt Disney has delayed the release of the ninth instalment of the Star Wars saga for seven months following the announcement that J.J. Abrams will return to the franchise to write and direct the movie.
The release of Episode IX has now been moved from May 24, 2019 to December 20, 2019 after Star Wars: The Force Awakens director Abrams confirmed that he was to helm the movie, following the departure last week of original director Colin Trevorrow.
Trevorrow 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. It made more than $2 billion at the global box office and speaking on Tuesday evening Lucasfilm President KathleenKennedy said: "With The Force Awakens, J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is comingback to close out this trilogy."
The movie, the last in the new trilogy, had already faced creative challenges after the sudden death last year of Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia. Her character, now called General Leia Organa, has a central role in the upcoming December film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth instalment in the saga written and directed by Rian Johnson.
Episode IX is 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 spin-off movie due to creative differences. They were replaced by Hollywood veteran Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning director of A Beautiful Mind.
The announcement of Abrams' return as writer-director was made by Star Wars makers Disney Lucasfilm on Tuesday afternoon.
"With The Force Awakens, JJ delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy," said Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy.
Film trade website Deadline.com had earlier reported that Rian Johnson, director of the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, had declined the offer to go back behind the lens for 2019's Episode IX, putting Abrams back in the frame.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in cinemas on December 15, 2017, with Episode IX now due on December 20, 2019.
Trevorrow's exit from Episode IX was announced in a statement from Lucasfilm which read: "Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow have mutually chosen to part ways on Star Wars: Episode IX.
"Colin has been a wonderful collaborator throughout the development process but we have all come to the conclusion that our visions for the project differ.
"We wish Colin the best and will be sharing more information about the film soon."
His Star Wars departure followed the summer exits of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from the as-yet-untitled Han Solo spin-off movie because of what they called "creative differences" with producers.
The Da Vinci Code and Apollo 13 director Ron Howard - a Stars Wars fan since the Seventies - has since stepped in to finish the Alden Ehrenreich-starring adventure, which is due for release on May 25, 2018.