1:23pm PT by Graeme McMillan
Will 'Star Wars IX' Title Reveal Any Key Details?
If the last week has revealed anything, it’s that Star Wars fandom is becoming increasingly impatient when it comes to the official release of the title for this December’s Star Wars: Episode IX. Similar to the anticipation for the title for Avengers 4, social media feeds have been becoming pre-occupied with the perhaps-imminent announcement, with almost every message from anyone connected to the movie — from Anthony Daniels to arch-fan troll Mark Hamill — being dissected for potential hints and clues about the title’s reveal. However, such fervor may be slightly unnecessary.
In a recent tweet, Lucasfilm Story Group member Pablo Hidalgo told a fan “If [Episode IX] has a title, I don’t know it.” Assuming that Hidalgo was being honest — which seems like a fair assumption, if only because he has nothing to gain from lying about this — it suggests that perhaps the urgency felt about, and focus placed upon, the title of the movie by fans is somewhat misplaced. If Episode IX’s title gave some earthshattering hint about the future of the franchise, surely it would be something that the division of the company responsible for keeping canon consistent would be aware of?
As if to emphasize that the title of Episode IX isn’t as important as it may seem to those of us outside the circle of Star Wars insider knowledge, it’s worth revisiting the earlier titles from the central Star Wars movies and wondering what they actually told us about the movies themselves. In order of release:
A New Hope (1977)
Textually: The title refers to Luke Skywalker, who emerges from hiding — although he, himself, didn’t realize that he was being hidden — to become an important figure in the fight against the Empire.
Metatextually: In that “A New Hope” has retroactively been added to the official title since the movie’s original release as, simply, Star Wars, it’s understandable that this title is so vague as to be essentially meaningless, explaining nothing about what actually happens in the movie. Really, “Star Wars” is far more descriptive.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Textually: The title refers to the attempts by the Empire to restore dominance over the galaxy in the wake of the destruction of the Death Star, which it accomplishes in ways both big — destroying the Rebel base on Hoth — and small, with the capture of Han Solo and the emotional impact it has on the core characters in the series.
Metatextually: While the movie does, indeed, feature the Empire striking back on multiple fronts, the title doesn’t explain how or even if the striking back is ultimately successful. Given that it would only be expected that the second movie in the series would feature the villains doing something more than just being passive and upset, it’s hardly a revelatory title.
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Textually: The title refers to Luke Skywalker’s graduation into becoming a full Jedi, and the impact that has on the conflict between the Rebellion and the Empire. Alternately, it could refer to Anakin Skywalker returning from the Dark Side at an important moment of the climactic battle.
Metatextually: The title of this episode could be read as a spoiler ahead of the movie’s release, revealing as it does that the movie features at least one Jedi. (I wonder if anyone read it as being a teaser for a return of Obi-Wan Kenobi at the time? He and Yoda were the only two Jedi that anyone had seen to that point.) Given that most fans were expecting that Luke would be a Jedi Knight by the final chapter of the original trilogy — not to mention that Yoda would make another appearance — it might not have been the most surprising spoiler, however.
The Phantom Menace (1999)
Textually: The title refers to Senator Palpatine, who is manipulating events on either side of a trade dispute under the guise of Darth Sidious, whose very existence is a mystery to the Jedi seeking to end the conflict.
Metatextually: This movie’s title is enjoyably campy and faithful to the series’ pulp origins, but it’s hardly descriptive — indeed, it’s so non-descriptive to what happens in the movie that some people were under the impression that the Phantom Menace is actually Darth Maul, the most memorable villain (and most promoted character) from the entire escapade. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that Darth Sidious is the Phantom Menace, truth be told. Maybe it was the friends we made along the way.
Attack of the Clones (2002)
Textually: The title refers to the beginning of the Clone Wars, the result of political maneuvering on behalf of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who is manipulating both sides of the conflict in order to build his own power base.
Metatextually: Let’s be real: This movie’s title is entirely misleading. The clones don’t really attack until the end of the movie, and even then, they’re actually deployed in response to the existing droid army of the Separatists. It’s a title built off the fan expectation that the Clone Wars — an often-referred-to part of Star Wars mythology — would appear in the prequel trilogy, but not a title that really makes sense in the context of the actual movie.
Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Textually: The title refers to the rise of Palpatine into Emperor, and the slaughter of the Jedi Order on his orders, cementing the Sith as the dominant power in the conflict despite their rumored extinction.
Metatextually: Another title that doesn’t really make sense in the context of the narrative — is it really revenge that Palpatine is after? I’m unconvinced — but does make sense in the larger metatext of Star Wars mythology, being a repurposing of the original title for 1983’s Return of the Jedi, which was initially advertised as Revenge of the Jedi. Again, it’s a title designed to excite fans, but not actually give anything away about the movie itself.
The Force Awakens (2015)
Textually: The title refers to… Well, that’s complicated. Technically, I guess it refers to Rey’s emergence as a Force user, which theoretically re-ignites a dormant conflict between Force users, but that’s not entirely accurate.
Metatextually: This title only works metatextually, in reference to reviving the franchise, because the existence of Kylo Ren — who has, judging by the movie itself, been using the Force all along, albeit somewhat ineptly and for evil purposes — puts lie to the idea that the Force has actually been asleep at any point. Calling the movie The Franchise Awakens would have been a little bit too on the nose, however.
The Last Jedi (2017)
Textually: The title refers to the belief that Luke Skywalker is the final in the line of Jedi, a misdirection that is underscored in dialogue at the end of the movie.
Metatextually: As much as The Last Jedi as a movie is a story about misreadings and mistaken beliefs, there’s no way to look at the title of the episode as anything other than a feint. Even outside of the fact that Luke himself points out that he is not the last Jedi because of Rey, early on in the movie, Leia uses the Force in one of the more dramatic and powerful ways the movie series has seen. Once again, it’s a title chosen not to reveal anything about the movie’s plot, but to generate excitement and speculation.
Based on the evidence, Star Wars titles are, more often than not, not intended to explain (or even offer anything more than broad hints about) each movie’s plot, but instead intended to generate excitement and offer hints towards that installment’s tone and general direction. Which is all well and good — we really shouldn’t expect anything more from a movie title, reasonably — but it’s worth considering that fans don’t need hints or an excitement generator; it’s the final chapter of a trilogy of movies. They’re already very excited, and, really, they know pretty much what to expect in terms of tone and feel given the past two movies. (Or, for that matter, everything else in the franchise.)
This isn’t to say that, when the title of Episode IX is released, I won’t be speculating about potential meanings or readings of it — like I said, the titles tell us some things, even if it’s simply what Lucasfilm and Disney are thinking in terms of the framing and promotion of the movie — but as excitement and anticipation grows for the eventual release of the movie’s title continues to grow and reaches unforeseen heights, it needs to be remembered: It’s only a title.
Oh, and the title is going to be Star Wars: Endgame. Just wait and see.