The Missing “Episode”

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Despite many rumors to the contrary, the subtitle to the original Star Wars film, Episode IV: A New Hope, wasn’t added to the opening crawl of the film until 1981, about a year or so after the release of The Empire Strikes Back.

There were various re-releases of the original film but it wasn’t until around the time that Empire was released that George Lucas decided to go back and change the film’s opening for consistency’s sake. Since Empire was going to be known as Episode V and he knew he was going to finish at least one trilogy (if not two or possibly three) he went back and added Episode IV: A New Hope to the famous yellow text.

There are many out there who claim to remember seeing the Episode IV: A New Hope lettering in theaters before the 1981 re-release. This is absolutely wrong.

Starwars.com once reported the following:

“Episode IV: A New Hope” did not appear in the film during its opening run, but was added during the movie’s re-release to ensure consistency with The Empire Strikes Back.

They’re not specific about which re-release that might be, but a little more research reveals the truth.

Let’s look at a quote from an original review of Empire found in the Washington Post. It’s dated May 18, 1980 and is written by Gary Arnold. Notice how he refers to the reissue next summer, which would be 1981, and how all the Star Wars prints will include the new subtitle of Episode IV: A New Hope:

Just as “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back” start in the thick of the action, jumping into military operations caused by civil war in a remote, exotic, technologically advanced interplanetary civilization, Lucas recently disclosed that he started in the middle of a grandiose epic narrative. These sensational popular spectacles are intended to be merely the first and second chapters of a trilogy, which will be completed in 1982 or 1983 by a third chapter entitled “Revenge of the Jedi” (changed to “Return of the Jedi”). When “Star Wars” is reissued, probably next summer, the prints will include the subtitle, Episode IV: A New Hope”. This adjustment may already be seen in the published screenplay, which came out last winter in an attractive book called “The Art of Star Wars.”

In an issue of Newsweek dated May 19, 1980, David Ansen makes references to the title change as well, and this is in 1980, not 1977-78. Here’s an excerpt:

“Viewers may be in for a surprise when the credits announce ‘Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.’ Episode ‘FIVE?’ Have we slipped into a time warp? Actually, what we are getting is the second act of the middle trilogy of a projected nine-film cycle. The first ‘Star Wars’ will be retitled ‘Episode IV: A New Hope,’ and the next sequel, projected for 1983, will resolve all the dangling threads of the Luke Skywalker saga.”

In Time magazine’s May 19, 1980 issue, there’s yet another review that mentions the retitling of the original film to Episode IV: A New Hope. Here’s an excerpt:

“The very first surprise in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ comes in the opening credits: the movie is identified as ‘Episode V.’ Since it is the immediate sequel to the original ‘Star Wars,’ that opus has been retitled ‘Star Wars: Episode IV,’ raising a meteor shower of questions. The answer: Lucas has begun his space saga in the middle, and both pictures are the centerpieces of a projected nine-part series. The remaining movies, fore and aft, have not yet been laid out in detail, but Lucas has the framework, a kind of history of what happened in that galaxy long ago and far away.”

Now let’s look at the “Star Wars Compendium of Lost Footage” put together and maintained by Ryan Silva. It’s a little dated but still relevant and fun to read. Here’s the section dealing with this topic:

From “Star Wars” to “A New Hope”:
The reissue of “Star Wars” that ran for three weeks starting on Wednesday, August 15, 1979, DID NOT contain the “Episode IV: A NEW HOPE” subtitle. A trailer for “Empire” was shown, however, and a Kenner toys discount booklet was given out (both of which are announced on the poster for the reissue).

The first appearance of “Episode IV: A NEW HOPE” was on the new prints struck for the two-week reissue of “Star Wars” on April 10, 1981, nearly one year after the premiere of “Empire.”

By the way, when the subtitle was added, the roll-up itself was changed. Lines of text were condensed differently so the length of the roll-up remained the same despite the addition of two lines at the top. The capitalized words DEATH STAR appear on one line in the first version and are broken on the revised version.

For the record, “Empire” was reissued later that year, on July 31, 1981. In 1982, “Star Wars” returned on April 10 and “Empire” on November 19. Both of these reissues featured identical “Revenge of the Jedi” trailers.

Yes, Virginia, there is a bootleg:

Floating around the black market limbo of sci-fi conventions and fanboy heaven is a forgotten bootleg of “Star Wars,” a film transfer of the original 1977 theatrical release. It’s interesting mainly as a curiosity, because the transfer is awful, the image is cropped poorly, and I’m sure that we all have much better, legal copies lying around. Nevertheless, as an account of the minor changes made to “Star Wars” over the years, it’s priceless.

Following is a list of differences sent to me by an anonymous informant:

I synched up the tape to my THX laserdisc (with picture-in-picture) and tried to find the differences…

*Video differences:

First, the tape isn’t really panned and scanned. It’s panned all right, but not scanned–the picture just sits on the center of the widescreen frame. The only video difference I could find was in the opening scroll. Not only was the “Episode IV: A New Hope” tag missing, but the lines were formatted differently.

Laserdisc
Pre-ANH Video
   

Episode IV
A NEW HOPE

It is a period of civil war.
It is a period of civil war.
Rebel spaceships, striking
Rebel spaceships, striking
from a hidden base, have
from a hidden base, have won
won their first victory
their first victory against
against the evil Galactic
the evil Galactic Empire.
Empire.
   
   
During the battle, Rebel
During the battle, Rebel
spies managed to steal secret
spies managed to steal
plans to the Empire’s
secret plans to the Empire’s
ultimate weapon, the DEATH
ultimate weapon, the
STAR, an armored space
DEATH STAR, an armored
station with enough power to
space station with enough
destroy an entire planet.
power to destroy an entire planet.
   
   
Pursued by the Empire’s
Pursued by the Empire’s
sinister agents, Princess
sinister agents, Princess
Leia races home aboard her
Leia races home aboard her
starship, custodian of the
starship, custodian of the
stolen plans that can save
stolen plans that can save
her people and restore
her people and restore
freedom to the galaxy . . .
freedom to the galaxy . . .
   

* Special thanks to the Cerebus group for some of the reference material.

* For a GREAT article on May 25, 1977 and all that goes with it, please see May 25, 1977: A Day Long Remembered by Michael Coate.

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