Casting rumors for the upcoming Star Wars reboot have been as plentiful as they've been completely unconfirmed, with many expecting members of the original trilogy to return for Episode VII. While Han Solo himself won't spill the beans on that front, Lucasfilm finally let one bomb drop: R2-D2 will be rolling back onto the screen and into your hearts. Everyone's favorite astromech droid was seen in a photo posted on the franchise's website today alongside Episode VII director J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and the creators of the new and improved Artoo, Matt Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples. Towersey and Steeples are both part of the worldwide R2-D2 Builders Club, which creates fully functioning, film-accurate droids; their amateur efforts helped score them jobs on the Episode VII creature effects team.
Kennedy met the pair during a trip to the annual Star Wars Celebration Europe convention in Germany this past summer. "She posed for pictures with us, looked at all the droids we’d built and was very complimentary," Steeples recalls. "I mentioned that the R2-D2 Builders in the UK were available if required, as a semi-joke. When I was contacted to work on the film by [executive producer] Jason McGatlin, it was on her recommendation." Steeples and Towersey are currently overseeing astromech-building at Pinewood Studios, where Episode VII has begun production. The duo are also working on further improving Artoo so that the droid be able to work on any terrain.
"It’s fascinating to see the whole process of filmmaking as Star Wars: Episode VII grows around us," Towersey says. "I feel very privileged to be in the working environment I’m in at the moment. It’s something I will never take for granted." Still in pre-production – with Abrams and Lawrance Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) recently taking over screenwriting duties for original scribe Michael Arndt – Episode VII is scheduled to begin filming next spring. Primary casting is ongoing, with an open casting call in the UK extended to online auditions for the roles of a teenaged girl and a young man. Episode VII will open on December 18th, 2015.