Looper film-maker to write and direct Star Wars: Episode VIII

Los Angeles (Reuters) - Rian Johnson, the director of the 2012 time-travel thriller Looper, will write and direct the next film in the new Star Wars trilogy, Episode VIII, a source with knowledge of the plans said.

Johnson, 40, will also write the initial script for the subsequent film, Episode IX, the source said on Friday.

Star Wars: Episode VIII is the second of three films that Walt Disney Co announced after purchasing Star Wars creator George Lucas' Lucasfilm in 2012 for US$4.05 billion (S$).

The first, Episode VII, is currently in production with director J.J. Abrams.

The eclectic Johnson 's first film, 2005's Brick, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, was a high school movie fused with a noir mystery. His second film, 2008's The Brothers Bloom, was both a family comedy and a con-man caper. His third film, Looper, starred Gordon-Levitt as a hit man and Bruce Willis as a future version of the same character.

The new Star Wars films are expected to expand the saga that was first released in 1977 and has become embedded in pop culture.

Disney will also produce stand-alone Star Wars films that will be released between the three new films, the first of which will be directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla).

Episode VII is being filmed at multiple locations including the historic Pinewood Studios outside London, and scheduled for release in December 2015. Pinewood won an appeal on Friday to double the size of its main studio with a controversial 200 million pound (S$) expansion plan. The British government supported the 15-year project to expand the studio, after it was blocked twice by the local authorities.

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