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Was the original release of Empire Strikes Back called Episode V in 1980? Or was this added in a later re-release?

Did the original opening crawl actually start out with

Star Wars
Episode V
The Empire Strikes Back

or just

Star Wars
The Empire Strikes Back

or maybe even

Star Wars
Episode II
The Empire Strikes Back

?

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  • 5
    Doe it mean you are old when you remember it from the times all of it was new?
    – PlasmaHH
    Apr 14, 2014 at 9:57
  • 3
    @PlasmaHH Maybe, but you guys are the important veterans who can remeber it all before George started buggering around with it. For instance, you know that Han shot first!!!!! ;) :D
    – Mikasa
    Sep 11, 2015 at 18:19
  • 1
    Yeah, I'm jealous of you people older than me in this case. I've never lived in a world where special editions didn't exist x.x
    – lpreams
    May 27, 2016 at 5:59

3 Answers 3

33

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was the only live-action feature length Star Wars film to ever be released without an episode number or subtitle.

Per the Wikipedia entry for Star Wars (Film)

The film was originally released as Star Wars, without "Episode IV" or the subtitle A New Hope. The 1980 sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was numbered "Episode V" in the opening crawl. When the original film was re-released on April 10, 1981, Episode IV: A New Hope was added above the original opening crawl. In early interviews, it was suggested the series might comprise nine or twelve films. The film was re-released theatrically in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, and with additional scenes and enhanced special effects in 1997.

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    and I've little doubt that the only reason the "Episode IV" wasn't in the first release was because they weren't at all sure about the public reception, probably had no funding yet for the sequels (let alone the prequels).
    – jwenting
    Apr 14, 2014 at 7:27
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    @jwenting: also I wonder if the specific number IV might not have been considered essential by then, maybe Lucas wasn't quite ready to commit to his back-story, let alone suggest he'd make the movies of it ;-) He wanted to capture the feel of a certain kind of action drama TV show, so the most important thing was that the first movie wasn't the start of the saga, rather than that there are exactly 3 prequels. I often think that the opening scenes were conceived as the resolution of a hypothetical previous cliff-hanger, although I have no quote from Lucas to that effect. Apr 14, 2014 at 8:29
  • @SteveJessop I think that was certainly on his mind when coming up with the original numbering. Of course it did leave him with the option to inject further stories both after and before the events of the trilogy, but whether that was a nice side effect or the original intent I don't know. Asimov in essence did similar when writing his timeline of his Foundation universe, deliberately leaving gaps in the histiography so he could inject novels in those gaps if he wanted to (he of course died before he could fill those gaps).
    – jwenting
    Apr 14, 2014 at 8:37
  • @SteveJessop I'll try to find a better source, but the IMDB faq matches what I've read: When the film was originally released in 1977, it was simply referred to as Star Wars, though supposedly, George Lucas had intended to put Episode IV: A New Hope in the opening crawl, but 20th Century Fox didn't want Lucas to do so because they thought it would confuse audiences, since there were never any other episodes released before it. After the commercial success of the original Star Wars, Lucas was able to continue with the multi-film epic he originally envisioned.
    – phantom42
    Apr 14, 2014 at 10:50
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    Star Wars did not become Episode IV until the second draft of Episode V. I'm actually kinda surprised there are Star Wars fans who don't know this. Vader did not become Luke's father until that draft, either.
    – trlkly
    Aug 28, 2014 at 22:46
7

It was released as Episode V although Lucas toyed with it being Episode II in the beginning.

It is not quite the grand vision some would make out hence why the prequels contradict so much.

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    This is certainly brief, but it's substantially correct. So why the downvotes? MacKrazy, welcome to the site. Aug 29, 2014 at 19:16
2

I saw The Empire Strikes Back in May 1980 and it indeed had the "Episode V:" prefix in the title of the opening crawl. It's true it had working titles of Star Wars 2 and other variations in other countries. The leak of the title in January 1978 by The Hollywood Reporter and official announcement by Lucasfilm a few months later in August explained this.

After the success of Star Wars in 1977 and announcement of a sequel some copies were updated to include the updated title "Episode IV: A New Hope" in the opening crawl in the early fall of 1977 but most people didn't see this new edit until the summer of 1978 when it was re-released the first time.

1
  • I think you’re right. My recollection, and I saw the original in the theatre many times before empire came out, is that it always said episode 4. I think the websites claiming that it was added in 1982 have it wrong, it was there by 1978 at the latest.
    – Bob
    Feb 6, 2022 at 5:21

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