Fans were thrown into a frenzy this week when news emerged that Disney had purchased George Lucas’s famed Lucasfilm for more than $4 billion, along with the announcement that audiences will not only get a seventh episode of “Star Wars,” but an entire new trilogy.
“Disney is a huge corporation; they have all kinds of capabilities and facilities. There is a lot of strength to be gained by this,” Lucas proclaimed in a YouTube video on Tuesday. “We have a large group of ideas and characters and books and all kinds of things… We could go on making ‘Star Wars’ for the next 100 years.”
According to Kathleen Kennedy, Lucasfilm co-chair and now brand manager of the “Star Wars” franchise, meetings are already underway with possible writers for the forthcoming films, which will reportedly be based on the characters that were central to the second trilogy: Luke, Leia and Han Solo.
With an announced release date of 2015, filming will need to begin in the next year or two, which means young Hollywood will be lining up to take over three of films' most famous characters of all time. We talked to producers, directors, and 'Star Wars' followers to find out who has the inside track.
“I can see Rooney Mara as Princess Leia and Emilie Hirsch as Luke Skywalker,” prominent film director Gabriela Tagliavini told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column, adding that David Fincher (“The Social Network,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) would likely be in the top line-up to take the helm as director.
Gary Michael Walters, co-president of Bold Films and the executive producer of "Drive,” “Legion" and "Bobby” placed his Leia prediction on young and upcoming actresses Nina Dobrev and Lilly Collins.
“In her day, Leia was considered a very sexy role and I think these young actresses have that potential. As for Luke Skywalker, he isn’t an overtly obvious hero. Anton Yelchin would play that self-doubt really well, or Liam Hemsworth. Both are great actors,” he said. “And in terms of who would likely be considered for Han Solo: Ryan Gosling. He has so far stayed away from the super hero/action genre, so this could be the perfect role for him… He’s got the athleticism and the sensitivity too.”
Walters noted that Disney was not likely to take the risk of casting no-name actors and actresses as Lucas did, opting for “tried and true” as opposed to “new, young hotshots.” And he said the same goes for the pros behind the scenes.
“The directorial choice will be interesting and will depend on what tone the studio chooses to go in. They could go with a big-name like Martin Campbell (‘Casino Royale,’ ‘Green Lantern’) or Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”) would be great,” he said. “I would also have to think that Jon Favreau is on the shortlist as he did such a good job with ‘Ironman.' Then there is James Mangold (‘Walk the Line,’ ‘Knight and Day,’ ‘The Wolverine’) who is a brilliant filmmaker and can execute the heart as well as the intellect. Phillip Noyce (‘Salt’) should also be considered, he is able to deliver action and character. And ‘Star Wars’ is a very character-driven piece.”
Zachery Bryan, former actor and producer/co-founder of Vision Entertainment Group, also threw Anton Yelchin’s name in the ring as the top choice for Luke, but also noted that Zac Efron was currently Disney royalty and that Andrew Garfield would potentially be looked at for the role. Like Walters, he also saw Ryan Gosling a good fit for Hans Solo, in addition to other Hollywood “it” boys Tom Hardy, James Franco, Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
“Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence and Isabel Lucas could be cast as Princess Leia,” Bryan anticipated. “Top directorial candidates, I would shortlist Joss Whedon (‘The Avengers,’ ‘Thor’) and Bryan Singer (‘Valkyrie,’ ‘X-Men.’)
Yet according to longtime ‘Star Wars’ analyst Jami Philbrick of iamROGUE.com, it would be wise to go with faces already familiar to the franchise.
“It has long been rumored that Lucas imagined a nine-part story and that episodes seven through nine would focus on Luke rebuilding the Jedi in the aftermath of the defeat of the empire. The story would also deal with him training his niece and nephew, the twin children of Hans Solo and Leia. That being said, nobody really knows what the plans for this new ‘Star Wars’ is, so it is possible that it could revolve around completely new characters,” he explained. “If the big three return, it would be a travesty if Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford do not reprise their roles.”
“As for directors, I think all ‘Star Wars’ fans are sighing relief that Lucas will only be a creative consultant and not directing the new film. If you think about it, the film considered by most to be the best of the series, ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ is the film he had the least involvement with,” he said. “It is pretty much assumed that Kathleen Kennedy will be overseeing the projects so the obvious choice is Steven Spielberg, who sits on the board of Lucasfilm. He is George Lucas’s best friend, has worked with him on the ‘Indiana Jones’ movies, and Kennedy is his long time producing partner so it makes sense.”
However, if it is not Spielberg, Philbrick pointed out the likelihood of the aforementioned Joss Whedon and Jon Favreau, especially given that they are both already tied to Marvel at Disney.
“I’m sure Peter Jackson (‘Lord of the Rings,’ ‘The Hobbit’) and Guillermo del Toro (‘Hellboy,’ ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’) are also being considered, and del Toro already is connected to Kennedy and Spielberg through DreamWorks,” he quipped. “But I would also like to see what someone like Nicolas Winding Refn or Neill Blomkamp (‘District 9,’) would do with a ‘Star Wars’ movie. The prospects are staggering."
And although the buyout signals a new lease of life for “Star Wars,” industry insiders warn that the biggest boo-boo the new bigwigs could make is straying too far from what audiences have come to know and love over the past 35 years.
“If they change it too much," cautioned Tagliavini. "The fans are not going to like it."
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay