'Star Wars: Episode VIII' release delayed to Dec. 2017

NEW YORK (AP) — There is a disturbance in the force.

The release of "Star Wars: Episode VIII" has been delayed from May 2017 to Dec. 15, 2017, the Walt Disney Co. announced Wednesday. The date change postpones the next "Star Wars" installment set to follow the box-office hit "The Force Awakens."

Though "Star Wars" was once synonymous with the summer blockbuster, the date change means that the franchise will again look to dominate movie theaters in the holiday season. It has proven a lucrative match for "The Force Awakens," which has made a record $861 million domestically and $1.88 billion globally in five weeks of release.

Disney offered no reason for the delay, but rumors have recently swirled that writer-director Rian Johnson ("Looper"), who is taking over for J.J. Abrams, is rewriting the script. Production is set to begin next month in London.

In the interim, Gareth Edwards' "Star Wars" spin-off "Rogue One" is due out Dec. 16 this year.

With prominent release dates now staked out by studios years in advance for their largest franchises, the impact of the switch immediately caused ripples.

The new date sets up a potential but unlikely head-to-head between "Star Wars" and "Avatar." James Cameron's "Avatar 2" had been planned for Christmas 2017, though few expect 20th Century Fox to hit that date with the much-delayed "Avatar" sequel. A spokesman for Fox didn't immediately respond to an email Wednesday.

One movie definitely affected is Steven Spielberg's "Ready Player One," a science-fiction release for Warner Bros. It's scheduled for the same Dec. 15 weekend in 2017.

Disney moved one of its other billion-dollar franchises, "Pirates of the Caribbean," to May 26, 2017. The Johnny Depp series returns with "Dead Men Tell No Tales."

At the same time, Sony Pictures moved two of its biggest movies into summer 2017. The next "Spider-Man," starring Tom Holland and directed by Jon Watts, shifted up three weeks to July 28, 2017. Jake Kasdan's "Jumanji" remake shifted from Christmas 2016 to July 28, 2017.