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Sunday September 24th, 2017 1:34PM

J.J. Abrams to write and direct 'Star Wars: Episode IX'

By The Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — J.J. Abrams is returning to "Star Wars," and will replace Colin Trevorrow as writer and director of "Episode IX," pushing the film's release date back seven months.

Disney announced Abrams return on Tuesday a week after news broke of Trevorrow's departure. After several high-profile exits by previous "Star Wars" directors, Lucasfilm is turning to the filmmaker who helped resurrect the franchise in the first place. Abrams will co-write the film with screenwriter Chris Terrio, who won an Oscar for adapting "Argo," and also co-wrote "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."

As the director of "The Force Awakens," Abrams rebooted "Star Wars" to largely glowing reviews from fans and more than $2 billion in box office. Abrams had said that would be his only film for the franchise, but he's now been pulled back in.

Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy said that Abrams "delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for" on "The Force Awakens" and added "I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy."

This move also means Abrams will be the only director aside from "Star Wars" creator George Lucas to direct more than one "Star Wars" film.

"Star Wars: Episode IX" was originally slated to hit theaters in May 2019, but in the wake of the shift has officially been pushed back to a Dec. 20, 2019 release. It is the final installment in the new "main" Star Wars trilogy that began with Abrams' "The Force Awakens" in 2015 and will continue this December with director Rian Johnson's "The Last Jedi."

Lucasfilm has had a number of public fallouts with "Star Wars" directors over the past few years.

Earlier this year the young Han Solo spinoff film parted ways with director Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and swiftly replaced them with Ron Howard deep into production. In 2015, the company fired director Josh Trank from work on another Star Wars spinoff. And extensive reshoots on "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" led to widespread speculation that director Gareth Edwards had been unofficially sidelined by Tony Gilroy.

News of Abrams' return was greeted warmly by fans on social media Tuesday. He hasn't directed or committing to directing another project since "The Force Awakens," and instead had been focused on producing.

"I'm very much enjoying taking a moment. Since I've done the show 'Felicity,' I've gone from project to project. So it's been 20 years since I haven't been prepping, casting, shooting, editing something," Abrams told The Associated Press in March.

That moment, however brief, is over. For Abrams, it's time to go back to the Millennium Falcon and that galaxy far, far away.

___

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr .

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