The true test of the ongoing commercial appeal of "Star Wars" will not come with the release of Episodes VII, VIII, and IX.  The true test will come when they finally leave the story of the Skywalker family behind and begin telling stories that are set in the universe that George Lucas created, but that explore new corners and new characters.

That test may be coming sooner than anticipated, and I am eager to see how it plays out.  Zack Snyder is developing a stand-alone film that uses Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" as a foundation, according to a report this morning on Vulture, and that seems like a perfectly logical development.  After all, "Star Wars" has Kurosawa in its DNA in a major way.  The first film in 1977 was directly inspired by elements from "The Hidden Fortress," and when Lucas began casting the movie, they made overtures to Toshiro Mifune to play Obi-Wan Kenobi.

But it's been an ongoing relationship, this playful reinterpretation of Kurosawa's work in the world of "Star Wars."  One of the best episodes on the animated "Clone Wars" series was a riff on one of Kurosawa's lesser-known films, "Stray Dog," which is about a policeman who loses his gun and his frantic efforts to recover it before anyone gets hurt with it.  "Lightsaber Lost" was a second-season episode, and in it, Ahsoka Tano, Anakin's Padawan, loses her lightsaber and is afraid to tell her master what happened, sending her scrambling to retrieve it.  Even more astonishing is the "Kagemusha" episode, where Jar Jar Binks becomes the stand-in for a Gungan boss.  In fact, they've done "Seven Samurai" on the series as well, in an episode called "The Bounty Hunter," where Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka end up helping a small agricultural village that is tired of being raided by pirates.

I love the idea of Snyder playing with the familiar "Star Wars" tropes without being pinned down to the larger saga's continuity and characters.  It is an exciting prospect.  And I'd be willing to bet that this isn't just going to be a beat-for-beat retelling of "Seven Samurai," but that they'll use it as a jumping-off point to tell that style of story.

We are still in the very early days of this Disney deal, and right now, people are still trying to get their heads around just how big of a sandbox Lucas has passed off to Disney.  I think it's going to be fascinating to see what happens over the next fifteen to twenty years with the property, and I suspect there will come a time when we'll look back, amazed that it used to be just the story of one family.  "Star Wars" is as limber a franchise concept as exists, and the only way Disney is going to truly see it flourish is if they take chances and if they're willing to try anything.

No word yet on whether this is the same project  as the ones that either Simon Kinberg or Lawrence Kasdan are developing.  I hope this is Snyder's next film after "Man Of Steel," and to be honest, I'm more curious about this than I am about Episode VII, if only because there is so much more latitude in terms of what they can do with it.

UPDATED:  To be fair, Borys Kit is now reporting that Snyder's camp denies any involvement with "Star Wars" and says, without qualification, that Snyder is not developing the movie that Vulture wrote about this morning.

"Star Wars: Episode VII" is still on track for a 2015 release.