Dates announced for Star Wars Episode VIII and standalone film

Los Angeles (AFP) - Disney tantalized Star Wars fans on Thursday (March 12) with details of two new films, as the reinvention of the blockbuster sci-fi franchise went into light speed.

With excitement already set to hit fever pitch in December with the release of The Force Awakens - the seventh episode in the space saga - the studio revealed that Episode VIII would come on May 26, 2017.

Rian Johnson - the directorial force behind the blockbuster Looper, Brick and The Brothers Bloom - will write and direct the newest episode, Disney and Lucasfilm announced, without giving away any plot details.

They also said that the first standalone film featuring characters from the "Star Wars" universe will be called Rogue One - and will star Oscar-nominated British actress Felicity Jones. That film is due on December 16, 2016.

"Rogue One is the title for the first film in a unique series of big-screen adventures that explores the characters and events beyond the core Star Wars saga," Disney and Lucasfilm said in a statement.

Jones - who was nominated for an Oscar this year for her portrayal of British scientist Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything - is the project's first actress cast.

The spin-off will be directed by Gareth Edwards, known for his work on last year's Godzilla reboot and independent sci-fi flick Monsters, while Chris Weitz, who wrote Antz and Cinderella, will be the screenwriter.

The news comes as fans of the franchise await the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, due in theaters on December 18. The movie includes original cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Kenny Baker, alongside several newcomers including Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o.

Disney paid $4 billion for Star Wars founder George Lucas' Lucasfilm in October 2012.