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Complementary to this question, why did George Lucas start the numbering at 4? I know (now) he had a vague idea of what would be in 1, 2, and 3. But why not start with calling the first movie 1, and come the time to do the prequels, call them whatever?

And how was it even accepted by the distributor as a concept that a movie serial (at the time!) could start some point down the line then be expected to maybe trace back in the future?

  • In High School I learned that it was an example of the classical device of starting a story In media res: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_medias_res . I guess my teacher was making that up! – zipquincy Apr 6 '15 at 15:55
  • I have no corroborative evidence, but I recall an interview (I think with GL) where it was stated that there were always going to be 3 trilogies. However, A New Hope stood the best chance of being made & being successful as a stand-alone movie out of all 9 so it was made first. – DaveP Apr 6 '15 at 18:11
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    Q: Why did the movies come out in 4 5 6 1 2 3 order? A: In charge of scheduling Yoda was. – Dúthomhas May 16 '18 at 20:56
  • I feel like I am endlessly commenting on "history of star wars" questions just to say that thanks to Team Negative One you can now watch a print of the original 1977 theatrical release of Star Wars, and see the lack of episode number and the lack of Greedo shooting, etc for yourself. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten May 16 '18 at 20:57
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He didn't. The numbering was added later.

Star Wars on Wikipedia

That link explains that the numbering didn't show up until The Empire Strikes Back and then was added retroactively to A New Hope (along with the subtitle).

Here on the The Empire Strikes Back page you can find a succinct description of the writing process for Empire. Lucas originally labelled Empire "Star Wars II". He did a hand treatment, from which experienced writer Leigh Bracket did a first draft. That first draft does not have Vader as Luke's father - it has Obi Wan killing Luke's father. It was only in rewriting that draft after Bracket died that Lucas came up with the idea that Anakin was Luke's father. It was then that much of Vader's backstory was invented and the IV -> V numbering shows up.

Lucas likes to claim precognizance of the whole thing. But if you look at the documents that were produced around the time of A New Hope's and Empire's productions, they suggest he was making it up as he went along. The truth is he had a lot of help writing two of the first three movies. He basically plotted them and left much of the writing to other people. And some of the major plot elements in Empire and RotJ didn't actually come from him, but from cowriters who never really got credit for it.

This is one possible reason why the original series was so good, and the prequels were so bad. Lucas didn't have the same sort of help on the prequels and his legend was such at that point that no one would stand up to him and say "George, this sucks."

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    Added a new link. The numbering didn't show up until Empire. – Daniel Bingham Jan 18 '11 at 23:37
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    @Daniel Bingham Good Answer, wish to give you another +1 for having an awesome mom :) – Samuel Herzog Jan 19 '11 at 4:37
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    Actually, didn't Harrison Ford say pretty much that: "George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can't say it." – Daniel Roseman Oct 28 '11 at 18:09
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    I'd like to point out that both Brackett and Kasdan are credited for Empire (and Lucas isn't), and Kasdan also for Return. Saying his co-writers didn't get credit isn't fair or true. – Plutor Aug 29 '14 at 13:43
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    This response makes no attempt to explain why Lucas began with 4 when numbering ANH, which is the main concern of the OP. I'm surprised this even got so many votes. – Charles May 14 '18 at 14:10
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I've read the Star Wars drafts that Lucas wrote, many years ago now so my memory on the subject is vague. I believe there are 3 versions prior to what he finally filmed with version 4. I recall that the first draft did have a plot that involved the trade federation.

It seems to me that some of the ideas in those drafts ended up as the back story for Star Wars IV.

4

Here is what really happened: Initially, it was not called Episode IV or A New Hope. Initially, there was only going to be one movie, but shortly after it was released, it was really successful, and Lucas was going to make more.
The movie was re-released in 1978 (roughly 1 year after the original premiere). The initial crawl was redone including Episode IV: A New Hope. The music was also changed a bit (to what you now know and love) and the background with the stars was also changed (again, to what you now know and love).

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    The movie was revised after about a month, not a year. otherwise, yeah. – aramis Feb 20 '12 at 11:22
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The first episode and number was Empire they didn't change Star Wars until the 1981 rerelease. There does seem to be some debate about this but even though Lucas got the idea of each film being an episode early on during the writing of Empire he called them 1,2,3 instead of 4,5,6. I have no idea what Daniel Bingham is talking about when he says no cowriter got credit for the first 3 Lucas only has sole screenplay credit on Hope, on Empire he doesn't even have screenplay credit only story by and on Return he was credited as a cowriter. Then on the prequels it is no secret that Tom Stoppard did script doctoring on at least episode 3 if not all of them and others like William Goldman are rumored to have done their own passes.

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    I believe this would have been better as a comment, as Putor has done. It challenges an unsubstantial part of his answer which doesn't actually stop his answer from answering the question. – Mac Cooper Aug 29 '14 at 13:52

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