Johnson, who broke out as a director at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005 with his independent film "Brick," will take over George Lucas' franchise from J.J. Abrams, who is currently shooting "Star Wars: Episode VII" in London.
Johnson's producing partner Ram Bergman will join him on the film.
The news comes as something of a surprise given the tendency of this franchise -- and other major series' in Hollywood-- to stay with the same director for follow-up films. Spinoff "Star Wars" movies are also being planned with directors Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank.
Johnson, whose science fiction film "Looper" became a sleeper hit in 2012, was on some people's short lists to help relaunch "Star Wars" before Abrams was named.
In a 2013 interview with Digital Spy, Johnson said he was interested in "Star Wars," but didn't think he'd be a likely candidate for the job.
“I don’t think I’m on those sorts of lists,” he said. "On the one hand, it's 'Star Wars,' it would be very hard to say no to. On the other hand, for me, I'm just really enjoying writing my own stuff."
A spokesperson for Disney declined to comment on Johnson's hiring.
“Star Wars: Episode VII” is scheduled for release Dec. 18, 2015.