Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What Do You Call STAR WARS?

What do you call STAR WARS? What I mean is...how do you refer to the 1977 film that was originally released by that name?

The reason I ask this is that I have noticed more and more people on social media call the film "A New Hope" or even "Episode IV". When STAR WARS is shown over broadcast television, my onscreen cable guide refers to it as "STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE". Technically, the movie's "official" name is now STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE.

But that's not the name of the movie I saw back in 1977.

There wasn't any "Episode IV: A New Hope" before the opening crawl of the original STAR WARS. That was added when the movie was re-released in 1981. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was the first Star Wars film to receive an episode number. Apparently George Lucas wanted to put the Episode IV sub-title on the original Star Wars, but Fox executives were worried that moviegoers would be confused and wonder about the first three episodes.

Now, from my personal experience, I don't remember anyone referring to the Star Wars films by episode number in the 1980s. STAR WARS was just called STAR WARS, EMPIRE was EMPIRE, etc.. Of course there was only three movies to deal with back then (it's hard to imagine now, but there was a time when folks were wondering if there would ever be another Star Wars film made). Social media didn't exist, but magazines like STARLOG did, and they never used the episode numbers.

It's my recollection that major use of the episode numbers came into being when the Special Editions of the Star Wars films were released in 1997. That's when the A NEW HOPE title started to gain traction, and when Lucasfilm began to heavily use it, The Star Wars prequels officially integrated the episode numbers into their titles--if you look at the original theatrical poster for THE PHANTOM MENACE, it is called STAR WARS EPISODE I--THE PHANTOM MENACE.

I've never gotten into the swing of using the episode numbers. I say ATTACK OF THE CLONES, not Episode II. If someone says to me, "I really can't stand Episode VI", I have to think about what movie that person is referring to. Adding an episode number to an already existing title seems a bit unwieldy to me, and calling a movie "Episode Something" seems generic.

The real reason I don't use "A New Hope" is that my favorite movie of all time--the one I first saw in 1977--wasn't called that. It was called STAR WARS, and that's the title I'll always use. Mind you, I'm not saying that my opinion is the right one--you can call the movie ERNEST VS. BLACULA for all I care. It's just my personal preference.

I would assume that younger Star Wars fans are more apt to use the episode numbers or the A NEW HOPE title. Most of the "kids" have probably never seen the original version of STAR WARS (which is a shame). Their version of STAR WARS is the Special Edition. The subtitle EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE has been used frequently their entire lives, and I'm sure most of them believe that is the proper name. The thing is, I feel the special edition of STAR WARS is a different film from the original. So maybe it is proper to refer to the Special Edition as A NEW HOPE.

But if that is true, then George Lucas just didn't rework scenes from one of the most famous movies of all time--he managed to change its title. As a old horror/science fiction film fan, I'm used to movies with multiple titles--but this is something totally different. I can't think of any other hugely successful movie that has been called a alternate title decades after its original release. I understand this was the filmmaker's decision, and I'm not questioning the right of that decision. I'm merely pointing out, from a film buff's perspective, how unusual that is. You couldn't imagine say, GONE WITH THE WIND or THE GODFATHER having an alternate title.

I was hoping, since this year marks the 40th anniversary of the original theatrical release of STAR WARS, that the 1977 version of the film would finally be released on Blu-ray. It doesn't look like that's going to happen...it may not ever happen. That means the Special Edition of that film is going to wind up being the only edition. And the A NEW HOPE title is going to be considered the true title.

If you want to call the movie EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE, that's fine. I choose not to call it that. Am I being silly in my decision? Maybe. But when a movie like STAR WARS has had such a major impact on one's life, that person tends to have strong feelings about it. Besides, I could get really anal and start using BLUE HARVEST instead of RETURN OF THE JEDI.

*What do you call STAR WARS? Leave comments below.


  1. THX-1139

    But seriously, Star Wars

  2. I tend to call it by the full retronym, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. If for some reason I don't use the full retronym, I simply call it by its original name, Star Wars. I've never used simply Episode IV or A New Hope.

  3. I've always called it Star Wars, and I suspect I always will.

    (And now I want to see a movie called Ernest vs. Dracula.)