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So I'm rewatching Spaceballs and notice in the scroll text it starts with chapter 11 which I'm sure has something to do with bankruptcy and how George Lucas started in the middle of the series. My question is why did star wars begin in the middle of the series? Episode 4 seems an odd place to start instead of episode 1.

  • i always thought it was the technology and costs at the time to make the pod racing and such from episode 1 was way too high for the late 70's – Nicholas Aysen May 14 '18 at 5:42
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    See - scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/872/… – Paulie_D May 14 '18 at 9:09
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    @Paulie_D That answer only explains why they needed to incorporate a numbering system.. it doesn't explain the choice of IV itself for A New Hope. – anon May 14 '18 at 9:22
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    Agreed....I eagerly anticipate your answer. – Paulie_D May 14 '18 at 9:22
  • Actually, that scifi stack link does seem to explain it: "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." – Todd Wilcox May 16 '18 at 16:37
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It seems like:

Lucas wanted to make room for a prequel trilogy, probably about Anakin

Contrary to the common rumor/fan theory/questionable assertion from Lucas himself, the history strongly suggests that Star Wars was originally conceived as a single movie, with maybe an option for a low-budget sequel. (Note that Star Wars was released before movies were expected to have sequels, and sequels were rare. One could argue it was actually Star Wars that initiated the popularity of movie sequels and franchises.)

Then, during the writing of the big-budget sequel that was made possible by the commercial success of Star Wars, Lucas came up with the idea that Vader would turn out to be Luke's father, and around the same time changed the newly-conceived episode numbers for Star Wars and Empire from I and II to IV and V, respectively.

The correlation between the idea and the numbering change strongly suggests that Lucas wanted to tell the story of how Luke's father became Darth Vader, and wanted to leave episode numbers available for a trilogy to tell that story. Assuming this is true, it makes some of Lucas' statements about how he wanted to tell the story mostly true, with the only exception being that he clearly didn't always want to tell the story this way.

See this excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for The Empire Strikes Back:

[Original writer Leigh] Brackett finished her first draft [of The Empire Strikes Back] in early 1978; Lucas has said he was disappointed with it, but before he could discuss it with her, she died of cancer. With no writer available, Lucas had to write his next draft himself. It was this draft in which Lucas first made use of the "Episode" numbering for the films; Empire Strikes Back was listed as Episode II. ... He made use of a new plot twist: Darth Vader claims to be Luke's father. ...

This new story point of Darth Vader being Luke's father had drastic effects on the series. ... After writing the second and third drafts of Empire Strikes Back in which the point was introduced, Lucas reviewed the new backstory he had created: Anakin Skywalker was Ben Kenobi's brilliant student and had a child named Luke, but was swayed to the dark side by The Emperor (who was really a Sith Lord and not simply just a politician). Anakin battled Ben Kenobi on the site of a volcano and was wounded, but then resurrected as Darth Vader. Meanwhile, Kenobi hid Luke on Tatooine while the Republic became the Empire and Vader systematically hunted down the Jedi.

With this new backstory in place, Lucas decided that the series would be a trilogy, changing Empire Strikes Back from Episode II to Episode V in the next draft.

Inspired by the answer here: https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/872/why-did-lucas-begin-the-episode-numbering-at-iv

And other details here: How much of Star Wars did George Lucas actually write?

  • This is the more correct answer; "Star Wars: The Annotated Scripts" and other early writings make it clear that Lucas' original plan was for a single sprawling film that was wisely shortened to Star Wars for budgetary and other reasons. The movie wasn't labelled "Episode IV" when it came out. I'd have remembered that, though I don't seem to recall having owned a droid. – jeffronicus Jun 11 '18 at 21:10
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Tl; dr.

  1. Anakin is the real protagonist of Star Wars.

  2. Lucas chose three-act narration when creating Star Wars for both the backstory and the main screenplay.

  3. Lucas wanted to start the storytelling in the middle of Anakin's story.

All of this combined -- Lucas chose to use IV to represent the beginning of the middle of the story (i.e., A New Hope), and ANH is middle of the story because the story is really about Anakin/Vader.


My question is why did star wars begin in the middle of the series? Episode 4 seems an odd place to start instead of episode 1.

There are three things that need to be mentioned to answer this --

1. According to George Lucas, Star Wars is specifically about the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker.

From a 2008 MTV News interview where Lucas talks about Star wars: Clone Wars and how it's separate from the epic tragedy that's portrayed in the films:

"The epic itself is basically about one man. You pass through a lot of things, but you never get to look at it. [With 'Clone Wars'], we're not burdened by the mythological underpinnings. We get to go more places," Lucas said. "The story about Anakin Skywalker and his fall into the dark side and redemption by his son, that's finished. It was started when he was 10, it ends when he died. There's no more story to tell. All that stuff is really not part of what this is."

And then, from the May 2008 edition of Total Film Magazine:

Q: Are you happy for new Star Wars tales to be told after you're gone?

LUCAS: "I’ve left pretty explicit instructions for there not to be any more features. There will definitely be no Episodes VII-IX. That’s because there isn’t any story. I mean, I never thought of anything! And now there have been novels about the events after Episode IV, which isn’t at all what I would have done with it. The Star Wars story is really the tragedy of Darth Vader. That is the story. Once Vader dies, he doesn’t come back to life, the Emperor doesn’t get cloned and Luke doesn’t get married …"

So, clearly George Lucas created Star Wars for the purpose of telling Anakin/Vader's story, and not necessarily Luke's (though, Luke obviously plays an extremely important and intimate role in Vader's story).


2. Lucas's original intent was to produce just the first three films, and he wanted to start the storytelling in the middle of the story.

When Lucas first wrote the Star Wars screenplay, his intent was to start in the middle of Anakin's story. This in mind, he first created a "whole backstory" (the events in episodes I-III), and then, he wrote the screenplay for what took place in episodes IV-VI.

From a 1993 interview with Lucas (starting at 1:41 in the video):

"It started out that I was going to write a screenplay, and in order to write the screenplay, I knew I was going to kind of start in the middle of something -- I didn't wanted to just [unclear what Lucas says] -- so I had to create a world, and in order to create that world with characters and all that stuff, I had to do this whole backstory. About where they came from, who they were, and what happened, and how they got to where they are. And so then I started this movie, and I wrote the movie, only it was way too big, and it was three acts, so I mean..

So I took the first act and I said well, I can make the movie about this, because I can think I can get this done; it was sort of within the range of what I could do. So I made a movie out of the first act, and that was such a hit I was able to do the second two acts."

And it's at this point, when transitioning into The Empire Strikes Back, that Lucas retroactively [and moving forward] applies a numbering and subtitle system to these films.

Here's another interview where Lucas talks about the prequels, and how only the first three films were apart of the original plan --

So, why did Lucas use IV instead of I for A New Hope?


3. Because Star Wars adheres to a three-act structure, and again, because the story's real protagonist is Anakin/Vader.

Since Lucas specifically wanted to start in the middle of the story (a narration technique known as In Medias Res), and, with the story's true protagonist being Anakin, Lucas needed to choose a number for A New Hope that conveyed "the middle".

enter image description here
Star Wars matches the second style of In Medias Res.

This being said, the storyline of the backstory and of the main screenplay both perfectly fit a three-act structure. In the previous section, Lucas is directly quoted using this format when creating the main screenplay, and, in all probability, he also used this format when creating the backstory (three-act narration is extremely common).

So, since the screenplay is three acts long, and, since the backstory is three acts long, then, the beginning of the middle would be the fourth act.

When you combine all of this together, it perfectly explains why Lucas assigned the title Episode IV to A New Hope.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Napoleon Wilson May 16 '18 at 17:10
  • Was this answer just undeleted? I only answered because this answer disappeared. – Todd Wilcox May 16 '18 at 17:25
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    I will ask the SE people on your behalf this time (this isn't anything moderators can do). In the future, should this concern arise, take a look at the guidance outlined here for how to achieve this. But of course, don't overuse it or take critical comments too personal on otherwise appreciated content. We're all grown-ups and can deal with controversial topics (it's "just" Star Wars afterall ;-)) or our arugments put to test. – Napoleon Wilson May 16 '18 at 18:13
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    FWIW I didn't feel like I was arguing and I wasn't trying to be rudely critical. Only explaining my downvote. I don't think it's that bad an answer, I just think Lucas lies a lot and the answer doesn't take his lies with a grain of salt. – Todd Wilcox May 16 '18 at 18:48
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    I was taught the three act structure was merely a way to organize a plot, and usually has nothing to do with any separation of a story into different chapters, movies, episodes, etc. For example, in Star Wars, Luke's first act begins with the inciting incident of R2 running away and/or the Larses being killed and soon he has an overwhelming desire to join the rebellion. He overcomes some obstacles but then the nature of the problem changes when the Falcon is taken aboard the Death Star which begins act II. Then Act III starts when he joins the rebellion and has to destroy the Death Star. – Todd Wilcox May 16 '18 at 19:12

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