By Lisa Richwine
PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - The highly anticipated next installment of the "Star Wars" franchise will be set 30 years after "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi," Walt Disney Co.'s chief executive officer Bob Iger said on Tuesday at the company's annual shareholders meeting.
Disney purchased "Star Wars" production company LucasFilm for $4.05 billion in 2012 and announced it would release three new films in the popular sci-fi series. Fans have been avidly awaiting details of the next film, "Star Wars: Episode VII."
"Return of the Jedi" was the third film in the first trilogy of "Star Wars" released between 1977 and 1983. The series is set in a galaxy far, far away, in the past.
Iger did not reveal any casting news, other than to confirm the return of the robot character R2D2. The official Star Wars website posted on Monday the new films would feature "a trio of new young leads along with some very familiar faces," and that filming would begin in May at London's famed Pinewood studios.
Rumors have swirled for over a year on whether some of the franchise's stars, including Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, would return. Trade magazines have reported that rising stars including Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o and "Girls" actor Adam Driver were being considered.
The "Star Wars" franchise was created by director George Lucas and comprises six films that have grossed more than $4.4 billion at the worldwide box office since the first film was released in 1977.
"Episode VII" will be released on December 18, 2015, and will be directed by J.J. Abrams, who helmed the recent "Star Trek" film franchise reboot.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; writing by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Mary Milliken and Amanda Kwan)