Why did Lucas begin the episode numbering at IV?

  • 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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_medias_res . I guess my teacher was making that up!

    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.

    Q: Why did the movies come out in 4 5 6 1 2 3 order? A: In charge of scheduling Yoda was.

    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.

  • 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."

    Where does it say the numbering was added later? I know the subtitle "A New Hope" was added later, but the first trilogy has been IV, V, and VI for as long as I can remember.

    That article wasn't actually. But when it was originally released it was just "Star Wars". I think I'm quoting my mom on this actually, who saw it in the theaters something like 9 times when it was first released.

    On the scroll text in the introduction though, I think it was always Episode IV.

    Added a new link. The numbering didn't show up until Empire.

    Ah, thank you. That's why I remember it from childhood. I don't have a working VCR or I could have checked. :)

    Awesome answer. Thanks!

    @Daniel Bingham Good Answer, wish to give you another +1 for having an awesome mom :)

    @Daniel Bingham. He was greedy.

    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 I hadn't heard that story, but I would love to hear it! :D

    So, the real question is, why was Empire given the number 5?

    @daniel Roseman So, I've now heard that story. That was during the filming of the first movie. Not the prequels. Apparently the actors hated their dialog a lot of time. Pretty funny.

    +1 Someone please do an image macro of "George, this sucks."

    While this is an interesting answer I don't think wikipedia qualifies as a primary source...

    @Liath, no, but Wikipedia does have several cited sources regarding the original name (in case accuracy of the claim is in question)

    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.

    Being credited on Wikipedia/IMDB doesn't mean anything if everyone forgets they existed. Which your average person who grew up with Star Wars does.

    I am tempted to edit out that last paragraph, as the prequels did not suck. It is completely subjective, and also not necessarily true, according to the AV Club and Rotten Tomatoes

    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, it does, he didn't. He numbered it after Empire was in production, at which point he'd decided on the 9 movie format.

    Irv Kershner, who directed _Empire_, doesn't get the credit he deserves. He worked damn hard with his cast to greatly improve the dialogue, and through that the storyline. The great success of _Empire_, which is a better film, actually, than _Star Wars_, is largely due to the script changes that the director made during filming. There are two important books about the making of _Empire_, especially the one written in 1980 by the unit's publicist, that detail what really happened. And yes, I saw all the movies on release, and _Star Wars_ was NOT subtitled 'episode 4' at any stage prior to 1980.

    @DaveJohnson I agree that it's completely subjective. It's also completely irrelevant to the question at hand and *should* be edited out

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