George Lucas Announces Reboot
April 2011 - George Lucas announces plans to reboot the Star Wars franchise with a new version of A New Hope .
Lucas promises that this will be a new vision recognising the enormous strides made in technology: 3D, extensive use of synthespians and a host of old and new characters.
The Internet immediately goes into meltdown, with Twitter's fail whale on active duty. Meanwhile new website dontrapeourchildhoodagain.com goes live with remarkable speed.
A New Direction
May 2011 - Reports come in via TMZ that Lucas was involved in an altercation with "an irate fan" near Skywalker Ranch.
He is unharmed but speculation is rife when, two days later, he issues a statement confirming that he is neither to write or direct the film.
Mooted names by fandom and the media include James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher and J.J. Abrams. Everybody mentions Peter Jackson.
Cameron instantly shoots himself in the foot after being accused of disrespecting the original's legacy. The reported quote, albeit later denied, is that "nobody will bother watching the old films after this".
Meanwhile, an interview with the fan who "attacked" Lucas reveals a more mundane truth. "I saw him in the car ahead of me, and in shock, our cars collided. George came to ask me if I was OK, and I couldn't help myself. I said, 'Don't make Star Wars yourself. Give it to someone who's as hungry for it as you were in the '70s.'"
The Writers: Nolan & Abrams
June 2011 - The studio's shortlist is leaked online: Cameron, Jackson, Abrams, Nolan, Neil Blomkamp and Louis Leterrier.
An extensive poll organised by Ain't It Cool News reveals the fans' preference: Nolan and Jackson perfectly tied, with Abrams third.
A source close to lifelong fan Abrams announces the Lost creator's fears about taking on such a massive challenge, but "it'd be his dream job, he'd be a fool not to go for it".
After intensive talks behind the scenes, it is announced Nolan and Abrams will co-script, as well as taking Executive Producer credits alongside Lucas. The press release mentions their work in rebooting Batman and Star Trek , saying that they will bring a wealth of experience to the new project.
The verdict? Widespread, near unanimous praise, with commentators hopeful that the lightness of touch displayed by Abrams in Star Trek will counterbalance Nolan's more serious leanings.
As for the director, surely the door is open for Peter Jackson...?
The Director: Neill Blomkamp
July 2011 - Fox announces its director. Surprisingly, it is not Jackson but his protege, District 9 's Neill Blomkamp.
Bloggers are quick to link Blomkamp's childhood in apartheid-era South Africa with the film's study of oppression and rebellion. The Guardian asks: "Could this be a neo-realist Star Wars ?"
Immediately, attention turns to casting, with District 9 star Sharlto Copley the hot favourite to play Han Solo.
Michael Caine is C3PO
October 2011 - After a few quiet months, the first major casting is confirmed.
Hinting that screenwriter/producer Nolan will be taking a strong interest, roles go to Nolan regulars Christian Bale and Michael Caine. Bale signs on to play Han Solo, scotching rumours about Copley.
But in an unusual development, Caine's role is as C3PO. His publicist comments: "If he's going to do science-fiction, he wants to do it properly. A robot! What's not to like?"
Christian Bale Is Chewbacca
November 2011 - In one of his first public pronouncements since the crash, Lucas states his belief that Luke Skywalker should be played by an unknown. However, names bandied about include Jamie Bell, Aaron Johnson, Robert Pattinson and Henry Cavill. The odds-on favourite, however, is Shia LeBeouf.
Meanwhile, Christian Bale forces a major shake-up when he steps down from Han Solo in favour of playing Chewbacca. Taking a leaf out of Caine's counter-casting, the official line is that, "Christian is here to try out new things, and a Wookie is something he's never played before."
Sharlto Copley Is Han Solo
December 2011 - Bale is quickly replaced as Han Solo by original favourite Sharlto Copley. Aware of the irony that his co-pilot is the bigger star, his agent ruefully comments, "Don't worry, Sharlto isn't going to be upstaged by a walking carpet."
Meanwhile, sources close to the usually secretive Abrams talk openly about his and Nolan's plans for the reboot. "As well as the story we know, there is the opportunity here to tell stories that we've not seen before."
Reading between the lines, commentators suggest the plan is to do an origins story set before the events of A New Hope . Sure enough, just before Christmas, it is announced that Nolan and Abrams are making two films, the first a prequel leading up to the original's events, the second being a more traditional remake.
Mia Wasikowska Is Princess Leia Organa
January 2012 - Casting ramps up, with Alice In Wonderland 's Mia Wasikowska beating bookies' favourite Gemma Arterton to the role of Princess Leia.
Industry spies, meanwhile, confirm that the first film will concentrate on introducing the main characters' arcs, with the focus on Leia fomenting the early stages of the Rebellion, while Luke Skywalker witnesses atrocities on Tatooine and Han Solo's cynicism is sealed by bad experiences off-world.
With fans worried that this changes the original film beyond recognition, Nolan's team issues its first public statement: "It's not the same film, but it's a chance to show how the heroes lived under the yoke of the Empire and understand why they do what they come to do."
Denzel Washington Is 'Ben' Obi-Wan Kenobi
February 2012 - The first of the story's elder generation is cast, with surprise choice Denzel Washington as Obi-Wan Kenobi underlining the rumours of Blomkamp delivering a more political, allegorical piece of storytelling.
Meanwhile, Lucasfilm confirms that the first film is provisionally titled Star Wars: Reign Of The Emperor . A spokesperson adds. "We're not using the chapter titles." That doesn't stop the film being known colloquially as SW3.5 online.
Daniel Day-Lewis Is Darth Vader
March 2012 - Another major casting coup, as two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis is signed to play Darth Vader. "We wanted somebody with the stature to deliver both Vader's commanding voice and imposing physicality," says 20th Century Fox.
Rumour #1: Day-Lewis will be wearing an oxygen mask 24/7 to prepare for the role. Rumour #2: Christian Bale isn't happy at all.
To compound the new films' ambitions, Emperor Palpatine is to be played by Peter O'Toole. Even sceptics in the blogosphere are excited by the prospect of a Day-Lewis/O'Toole double-team: "O'Toole's about the only actor who could hand Day-Lewis' balls back to him on a plate," one hyperbolic commentator suggests.
Freddie Highmore Is Luke Skywalker
April 2012 - The biggie. After months of speculation, most of which had Shia LeBeouf as a shoo-in, the all-important role of Luke Skywalker goes to 20 year old Freddie Highmore.
The annoumcement of the ex-child star of Finding Neverland and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is greeted with reserved praise, with some favouring a more established actor and others keen for Blomkamp to have stuck to Lucas' suggestion of an unknown.
The kerfuffle only dies down when the "last big role" is cast: a new character called Osev Nadoub, to be played by Henry Cavill. The smart betting is on Osev being the Rebel spy who steals the plans for the Death Star.
July 2012 - Filming begins, and the paparazzi is out in force, to show that set and costume design are offering a more realistic, ergonomic feel while remaining, stylistically, close to the original concepts.
The official website expands on the differences between new and old with concept designs for the Millennium Falcon, a much cleaner, more impressive vehicle. The accompanying text promises that this is the ship that made the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs... before it got beaten-up during Solo's smuggling career.
Controversy On Set
October 2012 - The globe-trotting shoot continues, with filming in Peru, the Philippines, Switzerland and the same Tunisian deserts used for the first Star Wars movie.
Colourful, possibly apocryphal, stories begin to emerge. In one, Day-Lewis is so convincing staying in character as Vader that one crew member passed out after a tyrannical outburst. "Does Daniel have Jedi powers?" asks Heat magazine.
Bale, too, blurs the divide between star and performance by allegedly biting Sharlto Copley on the arm. Copley's camp brushes off the incident with good humour: "Well, Han and Chewie have been together a long time. Like any relationship, there are ups and downs."
Finally, Michael Caine - struggling with the physical exertions of acting from within the metal suit, reluctantly agrees to give a voice-only performance. To ensure fidelity to the footage already shot, as well as providing a Caine-esque vibe, the role goes to an uncredited Jude Law.
Into The Studio
January 2013 - The five-month location shoot over, cast and crew decamp to Los Angeles for interiors and motion-capture work to perfect the 3D-isation of the Star Wars universe.
The principal all-CGI character is R2D2, although other notable creations from the original film - including the Jawa and the denizens of Mos Eisley - will also be mo-capped.
A leaked portion of script (incorporating roughly the first half of the second film, namely Luke's discovery of Leia's message, his meeting Kenobi and the hiring of Solo) appears online. The ecstatic reaction is conveyed on Ain't It Cool in a report with the headline, "Greedo shoots first!"
By April, Star Wars: Reign Of The Emperor and Star Wars: A New Hope officially wrap, and the films enter a lengthy period of post-production.
First Sighting At Comic Con
July 2013 - After several quiet months, industry insiders and fanboys alike are looking to Comic Con 2013 for the first unveiling of footage from the films.
They are not disappointed. The hot ticket, causing an unprecedented scrum for seats that delays the event for several hours until proceedings can be beamed via satellite across the convention.
Concentrating on Reign Of The Emperor , the footage introduces master spy Osev Nadoub as he infiltrates the Imperial Alliance's inner retinue, only to risk discovery when Vader arrives... Then, in an explosive montage, the crowd sees glimpses of the regular characters, culminating in Washington, Copley, Bale and Highmore seeing the Death Star for the first time.
The verdict: "Rugged and robust yet dashing and daring. Both evolution and revolution, it's fair to say Star Wars will never be the same again," gushes Variety .
December 2013 - With the films confirmed for May and December 2014 release, respectively, Christmas sees the biggie: the trailer proper for Reign Of The Emperor . It's a foreboding affair...
On Alderaan, inexperienced Princess Leia is ordered to provide diplomatic cover for spy Osev Nadoub. On Tatooine, young farmer Luke Skywalker sees his planet become a staging post for the Imperial Alliance, causing tensions with local gangster Jabba the Hutt. And across the system, a rogue and a Wookie are caught in the crossfire between rebels and stormtroopers - but enjoying themselves immensely.
Endlessly replayed and over-analysed, the trailer offers few clues as to the extent of Luke and Leia's involvement. The stars, according to most commentators, are Copley as an edgy, sarcastic Solo and Cavill as a intense, haunted Nadoub. Caine's C3PO is received with wry warmth, but most are baffled by Bale, lost under Chewbacca's fur.
Premiere At Cannes
May 2014 - Mere days ahead of its public release, Star Wars: Reign Of The Emperor is the opening night gala at the Cannes Film Festival.
The principal cast provides the paps with its snaps, but industry attention is focussed on the unprecedented cinematic think-tank that created the film: Lucas, Abrams, Nolan and Blomkamp. Treated like rock stars and royalty combined, the four men are a hit even before the premiere.
Afterwards, they are mobbed as kings. Despite some critical forebodings - "too long, too choppy, with a sudden ending (the droids' escape to Tatooine) that plays to fanboy nostalgia more than dramatic effect," sniffs Sight And Sound - the consensus is that this is the real deal.
"Finally, here's the film that actually shows what it is like to live in a galaxy far, far away. The terrifying cloud of persecution from Day-Lewis' fearsome Vader grips as keenly as a WWII resistance thriller but, in Sharlto Copley and Christian Bale's hilarious double-act, Blomkamp also shows the fun that can be have zipping from planet to planet."
Yes, Bale's a hit. "The star has literally let his hair down, and out comes his inner Wookie - a compelling mad, irresistably endearing performance."
One Billion Dollars And Counting
Summer 2014 - Reign Of The Emperor makes one billion dollars worldwide within a month, and soon targets Avatar 's overall record haul. It soon surpasses it.
The hardcore fanbase remains aghast at some of the liberties Nolan and Abrams have taken with the original story, notably Kenobi's shadowy presence as an interloper who keeps the headstrong Skywalker out of trouble.
But the public is delighted, and pays and pays again to see the film. Praise for the cast is universal, but teenage girls are particularly smitten with Highmore, who displaces R-Pattz and Zach Efron as the hearthrob du jour.
One Last Hope...
Autumn 2014 - A mini-backlash sets in, as fans of Reign Of The Emperor wonder how the more familiar story of A New Hope can possibly measure up, while the purists have already written it off.
The writers are quick to dispel criticism, advising us to expect "the same, but different. While the details are the same, these characters are real people - and will behave accordingly."
As nervous anticipation sets in, the film's trailer is launched, and very clever it is, too. The first half is a shot-by-shot recreation of the original 1977 trailer, before the second half offers witty, screwball repartee between Leia and Solo, new action (Luke and Leia pursued by the Death Star's in-built defence systems) and one killer twist (is C3PO a double-agent?!?!).
December 2014 - What were we worrying about?
The new, New Hope is everything Reign Of The Emperor promised and more. It's the original film, remixed in Blomkamp's darker, more realistic aesthetic, with Vader's interrogation of Leia so frightening that many call its 12A certificate unacceptable.
And yet, it's a funnier film, too, guided by the light and shade of the '80s sequels, with Mia Wasikowska's fiery Leia widely considered to be the film's break-out star after a muted turn in Reign Of The Emperor .
The film hits the ground running, with Luke and Kenobi tussling for ownership of the droids during the first ten minutes, and the action arriving at the Death Star after only half an hour. From there, the film offers surprising but sensible detours from Lucas' template, including a deeper role for Caine's charismatic C3PO... who, despite the implications of the trailer, isn't a traitor: he's bluffing.
Even the sceptics are quiet this time, and A New Hope trounces the six-month-old box office record set by Reign Of The Emperor , as well as making it to the top of the IMDb 250.
Meanwhile, plans are afoot for Blomkamp, Nolan and Abrams to turn their attentions to The Empire Strikes Back ...