The Complete History of the Sequel Trilogy: Episodes VII, VIII and IX

After writing The Secret History of Star Wars book in 2008, I felt that I had covered the “Sequel Trilogy”–the fabled Episodes VII, VIII and IX–in as sufficient detail as possible. In fact, it was and still is the only book to really examine those films. At the time of the book’s writing and publishing, circa 2005 to 2008, when the future of Star Wars was up in the air due to the completion of the prequels, George Lucas was denying the very idea of those films, saying that the media had in fact made it all up. This contradicted decades and decades of interviews in which George Lucas talked openly about the films and had his company promote their tentative future release. But by 1999, Lucas was saying those films might not get made, and by 2005 he was saying not only were they media creations, but that he would never make a Star Wars film again because the story was done.

And then October 30th, 2012 happened. North America was still scrambling to deal with the aftermath of one of the most destructive storms in its history when out of nowhere the movie world was dealt one of the most unforeseen sucker punches in recent memory. Not only was Lucasfilm being sold to Disney for an astronomical price tag, transferring all rights to the Star Wars franchise, but they would be making the Sequel Trilogy. Right now. For release in three years.

So, even though I devoted an entire appendix in Secret History of Star Wars to the Sequel Trilogy, and even though I examined aspects of it in two more appendices, I thought I might as well sum up the complete history of those films. Now that they are in the news again there is more confusion than ever, so I’m going to make this article the most complete overview of the films that can be compiled. Because a few more bits of information have come to light since the original edition of Secret History of Star Wars , I would consider this to be definitive at the time of this writing.

1. Early Conception of Star Wars Series and Sequels: 1974-1978

The Sequel Trilogy has its roots before Star Wars was even made, but these are very distant roots, and those are the idea of sequels to the film Lucas was calling The Star Wars. The prequel trilogy did not exist until later, as The Star Wars was meant to begin in the thick of the action, with an interesting backstory that set-up the film that would never be seen. This is why Lucas’ early drafts of the film were titled Episode I, and then Saga I in later drafts, the implication being that there would–or could–be follow-ups. The early material for Empire Strikes Back was titled Chapter II, and then the 1978 screenplay Episode II, before finally being titled Episode V in 1979 once the prequels were decided on.

Lucas expressed desire to make sequels as early as September 1974, when a deal memo was worked out stipulating sequel rights belonging to Lucasfilm, while Lucas was preparing the second draft screenplay [Rinzler, Making of Star Wars p.25]; when contracts were finally drawn up a couple years later he retained sequel rights and had Hamill and Fisher under contract for two additional films. However, that contract came very late in pre-production, and so this is why Star Wars is more or less constructed as a stand-alone film–legally speaking, Lucas had no ability to make sequels. But in his mind he had the idea of making a trilogy of films, which is even reflected in his screenplay titling “From the Journal of the Whills”–the idea being that the Star Wars saga was just one small section of a larger chronicle of the galaxy. In late 1975, science fiction author Alan Dean Foster was hired to write the novelization of Star Wars and two sequel novels. Lucas at the time had no movie rights, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have novelized sequels in the meantime. The intention was that if he was successful in retaining the movie rights, these two sequel novels could be made into films. The two met and conferenced on the two sequels in December 1975, [Rinzler, 107], and Foster later began writing the second novel, which was finally released in 1978 as Splinter of the Mind’s Eye . In the end, Lucas did retain the rights for both the two lead actors and his own creative control, and this is the basis for the Star Wars trilogy. So, where does the “Sequel Trilogy” come into play?

Basically, after the film was released and became a massive hit. Lucas realized, not only could he make the two immediate follow-ups for his trilogy, and make them in more ambitious ways than he first foresaw, but he could go beyond those films. In 1977, he was envisioning the series as not constrained by any concrete number of “episodes” but continuing indefinitely, with spin-offs and movies following new characters and time periods. This non-linear approach was the first seed for the prequels, where he at first thought of making a film–one film, the way he tells it–following the early days of Ben Kenobi. He first talks about this conception of the new franchise in the August 25th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone :

GL: One of the sequels we are thinking of is the young days of Ben Kenobi. It would probably be all different actors…I think the sequels will be much, much better. What I want to do is direct the last sequel. I could do the first one and the last one and let everyone else do the ones in between.