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The comments on this answer involve a disagreement about whether Return of the Joker is a direct reference to Return of the Jedi, with one party arguing is it obviously a reference and the other stating that it's just a common phrase.

There's another obvious eariler example in LOTR Return of the King.

Does the phrase Return of the XXXX actually predate Return of the King to any significant degree, particular in the titles of works of fiction?

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  • 8
    Even earlier The Return of She by H.Rider Haggard.
    – Chenmunka
    Aug 20, 2021 at 17:12
  • 4
    Bonus question, if it fits into anyone's answer to this question: Was Return of the Jedi directly inspired by Return of the King ? Aug 20, 2021 at 17:15
  • 3
    @ThePopMachine "Was 'Return of the Jedi' directly inspired by 'Return of the King' ?" - the original title was going to be "Revenge of the Jedi", but Lucas later changed "Revenge" to "Return" Aug 20, 2021 at 19:48
  • 3
    isfdb.org/cgi-bin/…
    – user14111
    Aug 21, 2021 at 4:32
  • 6
    Perhaps an interesting side note: many of the titles being included in the answers use "[The] Return of [Blank]" as a simple way of titling a sequel - referring to a character from an earlier work returning. "Return of the Jedi" and "The Return of the King" however refer to major plot points - entities which have been gone long before the beginning of the work in question. So, there are really two different concepts that could be parodied/emulated here.
    – pladams9
    Aug 21, 2021 at 15:00

8 Answers 8

51

Conceptually the phrase would have been familiar English usage from at least the 13th century, the first usage of note I was able to find was a reference to the biblical story made by Rembrant's painting titled "Return of the Prodigal Son" (1661 - 1669):

enter image description here

Hermitage museum Saint Petersburg

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  • 3
    The painting's title is in Dutch, this is a translation. I don't know how soon it was translated into English.
    – user132647
    Aug 21, 2021 at 7:50
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    The parable is older than the idiom. The scene has been painted many times before and after Rembrandt. Rembrandt's fame has helped spread the idiom across European languages during the next 100 years. An example painting named in the English language already using the idiom as of 1772: steigrad.com/west-the-return-of-the-prodigal-son Aug 22, 2021 at 22:35
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    The return of the prodigal son is a parable from the Christian Bible, as you say, it far predates Remembrant.
    – terdon
    Aug 23, 2021 at 13:10
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    @JirkaHanika The parable is generally referred to only as "the prodigal son", though. Aug 24, 2021 at 2:40
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    @KyleStrand - By "idiom" I was specifically referring to "the return of the". That refers to a specific scene from the parable. Prior to Rembrandt, the scene was depicted many times, but described differently. Since Rembrandt, we are seeing the returns of variously labelled sons all across European languages, and eventually even other significant returns. Aug 24, 2021 at 7:21
36

Return of the [Something] is a relatively common - and old - title. If you consider the variant "The Return of the [Something]", it becomes even more widespread.

Earliest example I could find was "The Return of the Native", by Thomas Hardy - 1878. It is by no means unique.

enter image description here

While "Return of the Jedi" is a fairly famous title, alongside "Return of the King", those titles are so common that is difficult to say later title was influenced by this or that previous work.

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  • 3
    Actually the Tolkien title is The Return of the King, isn't it?
    – user14111
    Aug 21, 2021 at 4:25
  • Agreed. "[The] Return of / to ..." is such an obvious title for a sequel that it was a trope long ago. Surely, no modern author would use it unless they're intentionally invoking that trope for a nostalgic "retro" effect.
    – PM 2Ring
    Aug 21, 2021 at 4:45
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    Standard disclaimer here that Tolkien didn't actually want the title The Return of the King, but rather The War of the Ring (source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) Aug 21, 2021 at 6:05
29

Yes.

The novel Return of the Brute, by Liam O'Flaherty, was published in 1929.

enter image description here

And here are some movies from the '30s.

The Return of Doctor X is from 1939.

enter image description here

The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel is from 1937.

enter image description here

The Return of Chandu is from 1934.

enter image description here

Return of the Terror is also from 1934.

enter image description here

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    A slightly more modern variant (which still predates Star Wars) is "Return to the Planet of the Apes".
    – PM 2Ring
    Aug 21, 2021 at 4:47
  • 1
    "Son of Sequel Strikes Again!" (Oh! My!) Aug 22, 2021 at 14:00
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While this is not the earliest, as far as popularity in its own time, this one could be right up there with other much more recent "returns":

The Return of Sherlock Holmes, published in 1905.

enter image description here

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  • 3
    +1. I wanted to add this example. "The Return of XXX" is a classic title for many serialized works.
    – Taladris
    Aug 23, 2021 at 3:52
8

Yes.

The Return Of Frank James (1940) came long before Return of the Jedi (1983) and Return of the King (1955).

enter image description here

6

"The return of XXX" is a classic title for many serialized works. For example, The Return of Sherlock Holmes was published in 1905 (as mentioned in Lee Mosher's answer).

We can draw a parallel between the returns of Sherlock Holmes and the Joker. Sherlock Holmes was assumed to have died in The Final Problem (published in 1893) and got revived in the Return of Sherlock Homes. the Return of the Joker is part of Batman Beyond, a futuristic timeline (set in 2019!) where the Joker was assumed to be dead.

There is also a return of Tarzan published in 1913, so this kind of title was probably common for everything related to the adventure genre.

A short Google search returns many "the return of XXX" titles related to comics characters:

  1. the return of Superman
  2. the return of Bruce Wayne
  3. the return of Tarzan (published in 1973). I don't know how it relates to the novel mentioned above.
4

Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, written 1603–1604, has the line, “The contents of this is the return of the Duke.” The King James Bible of 1611 translates 1 Kings 20:22 as, “for at the return of the year the king of Syria will come up against thee.”

These are not titles, but they predate Rembrandt’s “De terugkeer van de verloren zoon” and the Shakespeare line is not translated from another language.

Return as a verb appears earlier than return as a noun, but something like this usage probably appeared by the late 1300s.

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"Return of the Werewolf" was published in 1976.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6661032-return-of-the-werewolf

Looking at the Google N-Gram Viewer, we can see that the phrase enters usage even before Google can start tracking it in the 1500's. I tried putting in 1200 for the year start, but 1500 is as far back as Google goes.

Google N-Gram Viewer

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=the+return+of+the&year_start=1500&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=3

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