This past weekend, Disney chairman Alan Horn was audibly booed by fans at Disney’s D23 expo for saying nothing about “Star Wars: Episode VII" other than that he has nothing to say about "Star Wars: Episode VII." Now, most "Star Wars" fans know that it’s pretty early in the game to expect any real details, but, for those in attendance, something, anything would have been nice. (Maybe Nien Nunb could have said “hi.”) It appears, however, that what most fans wanted was to learn the title of the movie.
We are a little under two years away from the release of “Star Wars Episode VII” (assuming that “Episode VII” keeps its summer 2015 release date) and we still don’t know the official title of the movie. Is this normal for a "Star Wars" movie? Combing through the last 36 years, let’s take a look at how each of the existing “Star Wars” movies titles were announced, which gives us a good hint as to when we should expect this news for "Episode VII."
“Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”
Knowing “Episode VII” director J.J. Abrams’ love of secrets, perhaps he will take the route of “A New Hope” and release the title of the movie almost four years after his movie is released in theaters. “The Empire Strikes Back” was the first “Star Wars” film to have an official subtitle and to have an episode number -- “Episode V.” Which, yes, was quite confusing to people in 1980 who had seen “Star Wars” and were wondering where the three missing movies were in-between.
“Star Wars” (originally titled “The Star Wars” before release) was not released with the subtitle of “A New Hope,” nor the episode number of “IV.” After the release of “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Star Wars” was re-released into theaters on April 10, 1981, with “Episode IV” and “A New Hope” shown before the opening crawl. (There are reports that Lucas most likely changed the name well before 1981, but it was in '81 that the title "A New Hope" first officially appeared in the movie.)
In the video below, you can watch the opening crawl as it appeared in theaters in 1977.
“Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”
There doesn’t appear to be any real record of when “The Empire Strikes Back” was first announced to the public as the title. From the accounts read, it appears that Lucas just started referring to it as “The Empire Strikes Back” in interviews instead of any sort of dramatic reveal.
As noted in J.W. Rinzler’s wonderful “The Making of The Empire Strikes Back,” the working title of “Empire” was just “Chapter II" for quite some time. The first documented use of the title “The Empire Strikes Back” came from the transcripts of a story conference that took place from November 28, 1977 to December 2, 1977.
Here’s one of the original trailers for “The Empire Strikes Back,” which is notable because it was narrated by a shockingly enthusiastic Harrison Ford.
“Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”
Here’s where things get tricky and what's probably the source of all of the title hoopla. The original title for “Return of the Jedi” was ... “Return of the Jedi.” According to J.W. Rinzler’s “The Making of Return of the Jedi” (in stores on Oct. 1), it was “Jedi” producer Howard Kazanjian who told George Lucas, “I think it’s a weak title.” A couple days after that conversation, Lucas renamed the film “Revenge of the Jedi” and officially announced that title at a press conference on May 14, 1980.
For over two years, the title remained "Revenge of the Jedi." In November of 1982, Lucasfilm hired a research center to test the word “Return” versus the word “Revenge.” On December 17, 1982, the title was officially changed back to “Return of the Jedi,” costing Lucasfilm quite a bit of money in already printed promotional items while, at the same time, creating collectables for fans.
In the video below, you can watch the first trailer for “Episode VI,” which was still called “Revenge of the Jedi.”
“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”
There was a lot of speculation about what the first “Star Wars” movie in 16 years would be called. A lot of fans guessed it would be something along the lines of “The Beginning,” which was actually George Lucas’ working title of the first prequel.
Of course, nobody guessed that the title would be “The Phantom Menace,” which was announced by the "Star Wars" official website on September 25, 1998 –- just under eight months before the movie was released into theaters.
Below is the first trailer for “The Phantom Menace” because, for as disappointing as that movie was, the trailer is still fantastic.
“Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones”
Again, Lucasfilm chose to announce the new title on its official "Star Wars" website, this time on August 7, 2001 – almost 10 months before the film was released in theaters.
“Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”
Obviously “Revenge of the Sith” is a homage to the title that wasn’t used back in 1983. And “Revenge of the Sith” marks the first time that Lucasfilm employed fanfare surrounding the announcement of the title.
On July 24, 2004 at San Diego Comic-Con, Lucasfilm announced the new title with a dramatic montage of all six movies (which you can watch here) followed by Lucasfilm’s director of fan relations, Steve Sansweet, who revealed his new t-shirt to a packed crowd -– a new t-shirt that had the brand new logo for “Revenge of the Sith.”
So, if there’s anything to be learned by this past weekend’s non-announcement, it’s that –- if recent history from the prequels is to be believed –- we are probably about a year away from knowing the title of “Episode VII.” Actually, 2014’s Comic-Con is probably a good bet.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.