A USA Today profile piece on George Lucas throws an interesting wrinkle into the production timeline of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
It's been widely assumed that Episode VII sparked into existence because of Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm, but the article indicates that wasn't the case:
Lucas already started to develop the next three Star Wars films, but he knew a third trilogy was a 10-year commitment at least. He at first expected to finish Episode VII, release it in May 2015 and then sell the company afterward.
But Disney expressed interest and came along at the right moment, Lucas says. "It's better for me to get out at the beginning of a new thing and I can just remove myself."
This seemingly corroborates what was said in November 2012, around the time Episode VII was announced. At the time, the Los Angeles Times reported Lucas had already begun meeting with screenwriters prior to the Disney purchase. About that same time, Mark Hamill also told Entertainment Weekly he and Carrie Fisher had met with Lucas months before the sale.
"I thought he was going to talk about either his retirement or the Star Wars TV series that I’ve heard about," Hamill said in 2012. "So when he said, 'We decided we're going to do Episodes VII, VIII and IX,' I was just gobsmacked. 'What? Are you nuts?!'"
We now know that Hamill and Fisher will reprise their roles as Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
In the new USA Today piece, Lucas did mention the upside to no longer being involved with the franchise. "The only thing I really regret about Star Wars is the fact I never got to see it -- I never got to be blown out of my seat when the ship came over the screen," he said. "The next one, I'll be able to enjoy it like anybody else."
Directed by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens Dec. 18.