A New Hope. The Empire Strikes Back. Return of the Jedi. The titles of the original Star Wars trilogy have become so iconic that it feels almost impossible to imagine that they weren’t always there. However, just like every other part of movie making, at one point somebody had to come up with the perfect title to represent each movie.
And of course, in most cases the first idea didn’t end up being the one that they went with. Almost every Star Wars movie was almost called something else before the final title was landed on.
Episode IV: A New Hope
Obviously fans who went to the movies in 1977 had no idea that they were watching a movie that would one day be called Episode IV: A New Hope. As far as anybody was concerned, for the time being, the movie in question was simply called Star Wars. However, the journey to that seemingly simple title was a long one.
The first time anything star wars related was written down, was a two page outline of the story that Lucas titled Journal of the Whills. The story in the outline is drastically different from the movie we ended up getting, but it’s still possible to see how the outline would one day become the project known as Star Wars. While a few of the early outlines or rough drafts dating back to 1973 only refer to the project as Star Wars (or The Star Wars), a version of the script that was finished in January of 1975 bore the weighty title Adventures of the Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars. By May of that year, the title had been shortened to The Adventures of Luke Starkiller Episode I: The Star Wars.
This is the draft that Ralph McQuarrie worked with to create concept art for the project and developed the first images of Star Wars ever. A later third draft of the script would flip the title around, calling the movie The Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Starkiller. Eventually most of the title would be dropped (and the main character’s last name changed) to the much cleaner Star Wars that began the movie.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
After the success of the original Star Wars film, there was little doubt that there would be a second movie. George Lucas quickly got to work exploring the possibilities of what could happen in a second Star Wars movie. Production of the second Star Wars movie began in August of 1977, just a few short months after the release of the original movie.
At the time, the project was being called Star Wars: Chapter II. Reflecting this title at the time, the company that was founded in order to help absorb some of the liabilities of the film’s production was called The Chapter II Company. While the project was referred to as Star Wars: Chapter II for much of its early development, it’s unlikely this was ever intended to be the actual title of the movie. Likewise, the title of the original draft written by Leigh Brackett was titled Star Wars Sequel, From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, another title that was only ever meant to be a placeholder, though it seemed to reference some of the early titles for the original movie as well. According to producer Gary Kurtz, he came up with the title The Empire Strikes Back somewhere around December of 1977, during early outline construction of the sequel.
According to Kurtz, he never wanted the number “2” to appear in the title since movies with a “two” are always viewed as inferior to the original. Of course the title did end up having a five in the title, but most of the marketing for the movie focused on The Empire Strikes Back title, and not on the episode number.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
The very first title used for the third movie in the original trilogy had nothing to do with Star Wars at all, but then again, it was never going to be the actual title of the movie. When production first began on the movie, it was called Blue Harvest, with the tagline “Horror beyond imagination.” The idea behind the Blue Harvest title was to help hide the production of the third movie. According to producer Howard Kazanjian, it would have been much harder to make the movie if everybody knew that the production was for the next Star Wars movie.
So they deliberately told everyone that they were working on a movie called Blue Harvest. When making everything from call sheets to hotel reservations, the title Blue Harvest was used. The ruse went so far as to have Blue Harvest hats and T-shirts for the crew. The actual first title for the last movie of the original trilogy was going to be either Return of the Jedi, or Revenge of the Jedi. In one report, Lucas had wanted the movie to be called Return of the Jedi from the beginning, but had changed the title to Revenge of the Jedi after screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan said that the word “Return” made for a weak title. However, in January of 1983, it was announced that the official title would be Return of the Jedi, as Lucas felt that revenge was not a Jedi trait.
Some have suggested that Lucas only ever intended for the movie to be called Return of the Jedi, and the “Revenge” title was used to throw off people making counterfeit merchandise. If that was the case, then the trick fooled even Lucasfilm as an official Revenge of the Jedi poster was designed and sent out to theaters, before the title change resulted in them having to recall the mistitled poster.