Star Wars shooting in Abu Dhabi
2:52pm Wednesday 21st May 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Star Wars: Episode VII is shooting in the United Arab Emirates, it has been announced.
A media company backed by the Gulf federation's capital of Abu Dhabi said director JJ Abrams' eagerly anticipated movie is currently filming in the Middle Eastern emirate.
It is the first definitive word from the that filming has begun, as officials had previously refused to confirm any involvement with the seventh instalment of the galactic franchise.
The media company, twofour54, said JJ and cast members arrived in early May.
Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy described Abu Dhabi as "an incredible place to commence this journey" in the twofour54 statement.
"We are extremely excited about being part of such a huge movie," Paul Baker, executive director of twofour54 Intaj, the company's production services division, said.
"It's a good demonstration that we are well on the way to establishing a long-term production environment in Abu Dhabi."
More than 600 international and regional crew as well as lead and supporting cast members are in the Emirates for the Star Wars shoot, according to Baker.
He wouldn't say how much The Walt Disney Co's Lucasfilm division was spending in Abu Dhabi, describing it only as "significant".
The government-owned daily newspaper The National reported last month on apparent preparations for the filming deep in the desert, and later said that the police and army had been deployed around the site to keep onlookers away.
While he was unable to confirm what specific measures were being taken, Baker defended the intense secrecy surrounding the shoot
"A very important part of us building our film industry is ensuring we are able to maintain confidentiality on film projects," he said. "This one being the most anticipated movie shooting this year, it's quite reasonably shrouded in secrecy."
Original cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill have roles in the film and are joined by a number of up-and-coming actors including Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver.
Newcomers include Daisy Ridley, who has had small parts in Casualty and Mr Selfridge, and John Boyega, who appeared in London-set sci-fi film Attack The Block. Little has emerged about their roles but, along with Domhnall Gleeson, they are rumoured to be playing a trio of new lead characters.
Also coming back are Anthony Daniels as C3PO, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and Kenny Baker as R2-D2.
The movie will also shoot at Pinewood Studios in the UK.
The film is lined up for release in December 2015.