Did Futurama predict the Star Wars 9 title in 2000? Of course not - "Star Wars 9-- Yoda's Bar Mitzvah" is a joke - but it's certainly striking this throwaway background detail has become so relevant almost two decades later. Let's explain.
The ninth and final entry in the main Star Wars Skywalker saga is still lacking a title, although with production drawing to a close and both its predecessors having their subtitle revealed by now (Star Wars: The Force Awakens was confirmed in November 2014 ahead of a December 2015 release, Star Wars: The Last Jedi in January 2017 ahead of December that year), the expectation for an official announcement is beginning to really ramp up. Even the stars are getting in on the fun, most prominently prankster Mark Hamill, who recently drew attention to a Futurama background gag that featured a marquee for Star Wars 9: Yoda's Bar Mitzvah.
This comes from the season 2 episode "The Lesser of Two Evils", first broadcast in February 20, 2000, where Bender becomes rivals with a goateed, better-liked doppelganger Flexo. The episode kicks off with Fry, Leela and Bender visiting "Past-o-rama", a 21st-century replica theme park. This is where the Star Wars 9 joke is, in the background when Fry is obliviously mugged. Evidently, in the world of Futurama just like our own, at some point in the 2000s a third Star Wars trilogy was made. Naturally, that the writers guessed this so long ago has caught a lot of people's attention.
Obviously, this is a joke, although it plays very different in 2019 to how it will have originally. Right now, Star Wars 9 feels incredibly present, with the humor coming from the ridiculous title, but upon airing the gag was as much about the idea of Star Wars running for so long as it was the obvious creative failure of a movie about Yoda's bar mitzvah. At the time of Futurama season 2's production, The Phantom Menace has just released, with the prospect of an ever-expanding Star Wars franchise prime for parodying; Lucas had long promised Episodes VII-IX, yet the prospect was so far off it fit a near-future theme park.
This isn't the only time a pop culture joke on a Matt Groening show about a far-off sequel has gained an almost ironic meaning. In The Simpsons episode "Lemon of Troy" from 1995 (where the kids lead war against Shelbyville for stealing Springfield's lemon tree), Bart is trapped in a tiger enclosure and must escape through roman numeralled doors. He does this by figuring out "VII" is seven thanks to the fictional movie Rocky VII: Adrian's Revenge. At the time, there were only five Rocky movies, making this a wink at the ongoing series' ridiculous trajectory. However, in 2015, a seventh film was made: spinoff Creed focusing on Apollo's son, Adonis.
In both cases, what's obvious is that while the guesses in retrospect seem clairvoyant to the franchise' extensions, they're really only applying smart pop culture analysis and then having fun with the titles; Rocky and Star Wars were both movie series that had long since extended beyond their original popularity, so seventh and ninth entries respective, as silly as they seemed, were within the realm of possibility. In fact, that both real resulting movies were considerably more earnest than the joke titles is a show of where the prediction went wrong.
This is true of much of the crystal ball theories relating to specifically The Simpsons; whether it's joking that Donald Trump, who'd been teasing a Presidential run for years, would become President, or that 20th Century Fox would eventually fall under the purchase-happy Disney umbrella, these moments are less evidence of genuine sightseeing than it is a highlight of how predictable the cultural landscape actually is with enough time to see things come to fruition.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019