With J.J. Abrams kicking off the first of three new Star Wars films, Disney announced on Thursday that Godzilla filmmaker Gareth Edwards will direct a separate spin-off installment of the franchise, scheduled for December 2016.

The yet-to-be-titled Star Wars film, which is being written by The Book of Eli screenwriter Gary Whitta, is being described as a stand-alone movie in addition to the next three installments beginning with Abrams's Star Wars: Episode VII, to be released in December 2015.

"Ever since I saw Star Wars I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life — join the Rebel Alliance! I could not be more excited and honoured to go on this mission with Lucasfilm," Edwards said in a statement.

The British director made his feature film debut with the 2010 thriller Monsters. His re-imagining of Godzilla stormed the North American box office last week, with $93.2 million US in sales over the past weekend.

Walt Disney Co purchased Star Wars creator George Lucas's production company LucasFilm for $4.05 billion US in 2012 and announced it would release spin-off films between the releases of three new films in the popular sci-fi series.

There has yet to be any announcement about which characters would appear in the spinoff films.

Fans have speculated the standalone films could focus on popular characters such as bounty hunter Boba Fett and Jedi master Yoda or tell the origin stories of a central figure such as smuggler-turned-hero Han Solo.