Surprise! Disney suddenly bought LucasFilm for $4 billion earlier today, adding Star Wars to the long list of properties flying under the Disney flagship. The release also announced a brand new Star Wars feature film in 2015.

LucasFilm, owned completely by CEO George Lucas, had full creative control over the Star Wars franchise before today, and in celebration of their new purchase, Disney has announced that Star Wars Episode 7 will be targeting a 2015 release date, with plans to release additional Star Wars films every two to three years into the foreseeable future.

The exact sticker price for Star Wars, and other LucasArts intelligent property was $4.05 billion, half in cash, and the rest in 40 million shares of stock.

George Lucas will remain on the film as a creative consultant, Kathleen Kennedy, Co-Chairman of Lucasfilm, will be promoted to President of LucasFilm, though she will still be answering to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn.

During the conference call, Disney CEO Bob Iger stated that along with the acquisition they received a “pretty extensive treatment for what would be the next three [Star Wars] films.” Iger added they were pleased with the treatment and the films were in “early stages.” Iger also noted that Disney now has the rights to the Indiana Jones franchise, although Paramount will still retain a portion of the property.

The full press release was released by Disney earlier today.

Lucas was quoted to say that he believes that Star Wars belongs to a new generation of filmmakers.

“For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next,” said George Lucas, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lucasfilm. “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime. I’m confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come. Disney’s reach and experience gives Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products.”

In the video below, George Lucas sits down with Kathleen Kennedy to discuss the reasoning behind his decision to sell Lucasfilm. He goes on to say that he’s very happy to hand over his company to Disney, knowing that it’s in “safe hands” and looks forward to seeing what they will do with the different franchises that he’s developed over the last few decades.

All that’s left now is speculation. Talk of a Force Unleashed film adaptation has been circulating for quite some time, but does the loose title of Star Wars VII dash those hopes? Will the film take place after Return of the Jedi as a continuing storyline, or will we be treated to something from the expanded universe?

Disney knows how to character brand, so we’re probably going to see the return of a few favorites. C3PO and R2D2 are shoe-ins for bit parts, but we might be able to expect a crowd-roaring semi-translucent cameo from Yoda as well.

How can Star Wars continue the saga?

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There’s plenty of material in the existing Star Wars universe on which to base new stories, so will the new film be an adaptation of a story already told in the books? Will it be a fresh reboot? Will it be a completely original story?

Older fans might remember a quick snippet of an interview with Lucas from 1983 in which he discussed what he would do with Star Wars 7 if he were in control. Since he’s no longer in control, these plans might be a moot point, but it’s still a very interesting idea especially given how long it’s been since Return of the Jedi.

In ICONS: Intimate Portraits in a chapter titled The Dark Side of George Lucas, interviewer Denise Worrell asked Lucas about his sequel plans, to which he revealed an idea, set 37 years in future, that revisits sixty-year-old Jedi Luke Skywalker as he restructures the Jedi Council after the events of the original trilogy.

According to Worrell, Lucas said that Mark Hamill would get “the first crack” at the role, and the series of films would discuss ” the Jedi knighthood, justice, confrontation, and mentorship.”

At this point, it seems more likely that the films will follow a brand new adventure with a mostly brand new cast of characters, but it’s worth noting that most of the original Star Wars cast members are still alive and kicking.

A little perspective: The six Star Wars films over a span of 35 years have made $4.4 billion. It might be safe to expect Disney to run this machine until the wheels fall off in order to get a healthy return on their investment.

This isn’t the first piece of news from the George Lucas/Mickey Mouse relationship. Check out our full detailing of their romantic journey.

Additional reporting by Jeremy Baril and Joshua Nealey

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