Star Wars Episode VIII will take the form of an old-fashioned war movie, according to its director Rian Johnson.

Speaking at the Star Wars Celebration conference in London, Johnson said that films such as Twelve O’Clock High and The Bridge on the River Kwai had been required watching for his crew ahead of shooting.

The classic tales of guts and gall both feature leaders who win over their men. In Twelve O’Clock High, General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) has to revitalise an exhausted squadron of fighter pilots tasked with flying daytime raids over Germany. The Bridge on the River Kwai stars Alec Guinness as a prisoner of war who becomes personally invested in a bridge-building project for his Japanese captors.

Episode VIII, expected in cinemas in December 2017, will follow on directly from the events of The Force Awakens, which ended with Jedi-in-the-making Rey (Daisy Ridley) meeting Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a deserted island. Johnson shared a production still of a shoot for his film taking place on Skellig Michael, in Ireland, where The Force Awakens concluded. He also announced that, seeing as he and Gareth Edwards – the director of spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – had been working on their films at the same time, they had made cameos in each other’s movies.

Johnson, who admitted he got choked up when he first stepped on to the set of the Millennium Falcon, said it was important to keep nostalgia in check.

“You come into it with feelings of deep nostalgia, but then you realise your responsibility, ultimately, is to get beyond that very quickly and ultimately tell a story that feels alive right now,” he said.

Meanwhile, producer Kathleen Kennedy, who joined Johnson at the event, explained why the director of Looper and Brick was at the top of her list when it came to choosing someone to take the franchise forward.

“I don’t say this about many people – I think Rian moves the camera as well as Steven Spielberg,” she said.