LONDON (REUTERS) - The anticipated Star Wars: Episode VIII will pick up from the cliffhanger in the final scene of The Force Awakens, fans of the franchise were told at a special event, while a new Han Solo was unveiled for a stand-alone film on the much-loved character.
Director Rian Johnson said Episode VIII, due out in theatres in December 2017, will break "a long-standing Star Wars tradition" as each of the previous Star Wars films has picked up at least a year after the events of its predecessor.
"I didn't want to skip ahead. That last moment of (Episode) VII, I want to see what happens next," Johnson told fans on Sunday gathered for the final day of the three-day Star Wars Celebration in London.
Episode VIII is the next instalment in Walt Disney Co's latest Star Wars trilogy that kicked off with last year's The Force Awakens, featuring a new generation of characters led by Daisy Ridley's Rey and John Boyega's Finn.
Johnson said Episode VIII will get "to the heart" of the new characters and challenge them.
"The first film was this incredible explosion of adventure and excitement that sets up these characters and then just out of necessity it's very natural that in the second film that we start zooming in on the characters," Johnson said.
On Sunday, rising star Alden Ehrenreich, 26, was officially introduced as Han Solo in a franchise spinoff due out in May 2018 that will follow an origin story of the handsome, rogue space smuggler made famous by Harrison Ford.
"As a kid, this character especially, you play make-believe and you kind of imagine what it would be like," Ehrenreich said.
The biggest applause went to veteran Star Wars actors Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, who played siblings Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in the franchise.
Hamill said fans always ask if he and Fisher have a sibling-like relationship, to which he replies, "Yeah, we fight all the time and we're not speaking to each other for years at a time."
Disney is releasing three stand-alone films that will explore new realms and stories outside of the trilogies first set up in George Lucas' 1977 Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.
On Friday, fans were shown exclusive footage from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, out this December, which features a new host of characters.