It's been a little over a month since Disney officially unveiled Star Wars: The Force Unleashed to the world, and while there's been a ton of fan speculation and press coverage, there's one aspect of the publicity that's been curiously overlooked: the lack of a Roman numeral.
Of course, this absence may simply be a reflection of the Abrams-Kennedy braintrust's "retro" approach to marketing the films, like the very '70s ITC Serif Gothic font used for the subtitle and the "bubblegum cards" used to reveal the new characters' names. And the original Star Wars movies only carried Roman numerals in the opening crawls, beginning with Empire Strikes Back in 1980 ("Episode IV: A New Hope" was added to prints of the 1977 original the following year); in all other promotional materials, they were unnumbered. When you're the biggest popular culture event of the era, you don't need to remind the general public about things like sequencing, especially if they still vividly remember the events of the last movie, where they saw it, and who they saw it with — or how many times, in those pre-VHS days, they went back.
It could also signify a break with the recent past and the prequels. Unlike the original movies, the advertising for the prequel trilogy prominently displayed the episode numbers, presumably to educate non-hardcore fans (who after all, represent the 99% of the moviegoing public who think "Boba Fett" is some kind of seasonal Starbucks beverage) that these were not a direct continuation of the older films and did not feature older versions of Luke, Han, and Leia. (And the Millennium Falcon, yay!) These movies are a continuation of the original trilogy, barring thirty years or so, so there's less confusion about the chronology, and people who hate the prequels or never saw them, or have forgotten them entirely, can safely ignore their existence. The "good" Star Wars movies didn't need numbers, the implication goes, and neither do ours.
But I suspect that chronology plays an even bigger role in the marketing. After all, Disney isn't making just another trilogy, but a number of spinoff movies set in the same universe, and presumably in the same timeframe. This strategy is not altogether different from Star Wars' biggest labelmate at the Mouse House, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Certain Marvel films are more closely tied together than others — like the "big three" franchises that lead up to The Avengers — but others, such as Guardians of the Galaxy, are less bound up in continuity, even though they share the same universe. I suspect Disney is going to adapt this model to the Star Wars universe. The new trilogy could form the narrative "spine" of the universe, much as the movies featuring the Avengers heroes do for the MCU, but characters, artifacts, and events will feed into the spinoff films and back into the main saga, much as the Infinity Stones and SHIELD bind the disparate elements of the Marvel franchise. It's entirely possible that The Force Awakens, rather than setting off a linear story, Lucas-style, will generate a number of ancillary projects that will define and reshape the universe for a generation, ensuring both unprecedented longevity and connectivity. As with Marvel's movies, the new trilogy may only constitute the first phase in a gigantic multimedia saga that today's viewers have grown to love. So when you're watching The Force Returns for the third or fourth time in the theaters a year from now, keep an eye open for seemingly incidental characters and Maguffins. They may be the Agent Coulsons and Tesseracts of a larger Star Wars universe, well beyond the nine or twelve movies the Bard of San Rafael envisioned back in simpler, more innocent days.
In other words, don't let the nostalgic touches distract you. This is not your, or your parents' Star Wars. This is a monster that can, and possibly will, outlive every one of us. These are not the sequels you're looking for. Properly speaking, they're not even sequels at all.