I recall a conversation with neighborhood Star Wars fan Danny Curran (who I mentioned in a Comment under my Sunday blog entry), back when I was a kid, about why Empire was labeled “Episode V.” In those pre-Google days, there really was a period when we didn’t know. Our theory — not a bad one, but inaccurate — was that the 1977 film was “Episode I” (actually, it had retroactively been declared Episode IV, of course) and that Episode II must therefore be the Star Wars spin-off novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster (yes, there really was a time when there was only one Star Wars spin-off novel instead of a Star Wars section of the bookstore) and that Episode III must be The Star Wars Holiday Special. What Episode IV was, under this system of numbering, we could not imagine (little did we realize we had already seen Episode IV in 1977).
One funny thing about our system, in retrospect, is that George Lucas would probably like to ignore the existence of both Splinter and Holiday now, albeit for different reasons.
Holiday was simply bad, though it did, of course, introduce the world to Boba Fett (in animated form), making us giddy with anticipation for his eventual appearance in 1980’s Empire (a formula Lucas successfully repeated four years ago, as you may have noticed, by introducing Gen. Grievous in the animated Clone Wars shorts before unveiling him in Revenge of the Sith). Splinter, more strangely, is now evidence not so much of Lucas’s bad taste but of the fact that he didn’t really have as clear a master plan as he likes to pretend. Luke and Leia slept together (without clearly having sex) in the novel, though it would be revealed in Return of the Jedi five years later that they are siblings, and Vader fought with Luke without breathing a word about paternity issues — and Vader got his arm chopped off fairly easily in the process.
Meanwhile, in the real world (more or less): we’re planning a space-based Debate at Lolita Bar for Wed., Dec. 2, on a question that could have profound consequences for the long-term destiny of the human race: “Should We Abolish NASA?” Ken Silber (formerly of Space.com) will argue no — and you or someone competent you know should tell me if you’d like to argue yes. Think of it as a blow against a centralized Galactic Empire, if you like.