In a notable change in the last few weeks of press releases and official documentation, Lucasfilm has stopped referring to the Star Wars Skywalker Saga by their episode numbers. In a press release for the Han Solo movie starting production, they referred to the first film as simply "Star Wars: A New Hope," foregoing the "Episode IV." In this week's Star Wars Rebels press blast, there was a reference to "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" with no "Episode III" as well. Today's announcement of more actors attending Celebration likewise skipped the Episode number.
It's a subtle change to most, but it does mark a change in policy. Previously, at least the first mention in all official materials included the episode number in the title. That changed when we got Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the first Skywalker Saga, or Episodic, film from Lucasfilm after their purchase by Disney. While the movie was referred to as "Episode VII" before it had an official title, and the episode number is still in the opening crawl, all offficial materials referred to it by the simple name, sans Episode VII, from the day it was given "The Force Awakens" moniker. The same has happened with "Episode VIII," which was recently re-announced as Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Making it retroactive to Episodes I-VI makes sense in a branding perspective. If you're teaching the public to simply look at "Star Wars" and the worded title in your new films, why not make them do that for the old films as well? One strange side effect, both for the better and worse, is that it distinguishes the films as trilogies a bit less. If you're merely talking about them as titles, and not episode numbers, it's harder to group them together as "Prequel," "Original," and "Sequel" trilogies. Lucasfilm is never going to make that terminology completely disappear, nor do they likely want to, but taking out the episode numbers may make people look at all nine movies as "The Saga" instead of a triumvirate of trilogies.
The other aspect worth exploring is the fact that Lucasfilm is in the process of rebranding Star Wars for film audiences. With the success of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and lots of promise for the next standalone, Han Solo, Lucasfilm was discussing whether the Skywalker Saga, the core, episodic films of the franchise, would continue beyond Episode IX as of last November.
"That's a conversation going on right now, too. I have to honestly tell you, could we [do nothing but stand-alones]? Sure. But I don't know. We are looking at all of that," Kennedy said.
The saga films are probably not going away entirely, and are definitely still the bigger draw - The Force Awakens did about double the box office of Rogue One, and The Last Jedi is undoubtedly going to smash box office again when it's released this year. Training the audience that there's a little less of a difference between the saga and the story, that they're all just a title and have less distinction, may help to even that disparity out, and make the entire Star Wars franchise ever stronger for it.
It is worth noting, of course, that the first movie was just called "Star Wars" when it first hit theaters - the official title had neither "Episode IV" nor "A New Hope." Episode numbers were not included on most posters, either - we're talking however about official documentation like press releases here.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in post-production now for a December 15, 2017 release. Han Solo: A Star Wars Story (not final title) is in principal photography for a May 25, 2018 release. Star Wars: Episode IX (not final title) is in pre-production for a 2019 release. Excited for The Last Jedi? Rate your anticipation by clicking the fire icons below, and help it reclaim the #1 spot on ComicBook.com's anticipation rankings!
Comicbook.com reached out to Lucasfilm for comment on this story but had not yet received a response at press time.
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