The opening crawl of a Star Wars movie is an iconic signature…until Rogue One broke with tradition! But did Lucasfilm get it right?
The opening crawl of a Star Wars movie is synonymous with the popular space saga and separates it from its imitators. The famous and iconic text, presented so vividly in the indicative bright yellow colours of the Star Wars logo first appeared on our screens in 1977 after George Lucas, “borrowed” the idea from the popular black and white Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers film serials. They served as the inspiration for many elements of Star Wars saga, and the imagery of the opening crawl, which explained the goings-on of previous episodes ingrained themselves in George Lucas’ thought process from an early age.
It seemed preordained that Star Wars: A New Hope would find itself boasting a similar style crawl to relay the backdrop of events unfolding in Lucas’ own story set in a galaxy far, far away…
The rest as they say is history…and a franchise was born.
In the aftermath of A New Hope’s tremendous success, the continuing tales of the Star Wars universe all boasted the same structure and utilised the opening crawl to inform the viewer of the events that taken place between the episodes. Then, with the completion of the prequel trilogy, Lucas was resigned to retiring the movie element of the Star Wars franchise in favour of focussing his efforts on a range of TV serials set amidst the backdrop of the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars was born, and utilising a somewhat altered opening crawl to the style of the movies, built upon the tales of the war once eluded to by Obi-Wan Kenobi during A New Hope. The series focussed on the lesser known characters of the franchise and served as a platform to add an all new level of depth to the already established personalities made famous by the movies.
From the Knights of the Jedi order to the Clone Troopers of the Republic army, every character received a much-needed boost of exposure that only endured them further to the fans. The show was incredibly successful and went on to receive a devoted cult following, as well as a touching show of support for the new characters introduced amongst its plotlines. This success reinforced the importance of the Star Wars stories in our popular culture and altered the thinking of the legendary creator, who set the wheels in motion for a seventh instalment of the movie saga complete with the original cast.
Lucas was in the middle of informal preliminary negotiations with Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher when the sudden news broke that the Walt Disney corporation had approached Lucasfilm with a takeover bid of up to $4 billion dollars. To the fans horror, Lucas accepted the overtures and relinquished the custodianship of the Star Wars universe to the house of mouse. And in the events following this most unwelcome of news, Disney swiftly cancelled The Clone Wars in favour of their own series set in a time previously unexplored in Star Wars mythology.
The fan reaction was one of outrage, but that did not dissuade the powers that be from announcing their intention to resurrect the movie series and bring Episodes: seven, eight and nine to the big screen. If that wasn’t enough, newly appointed Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, announced the creation of a series of movies set aside from the popular Skywalker saga designed to explore the other stories unfolding amongst the stars.
The first of which was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The movie highlighted the Rebellion’s struggle against the tyrannous reign of the Empire and detailed their adventures to liberate the plans of the first dreaded Death Star. The return to the original trilogy timeline excited every section of the fan base, but the sudden announcement that the “Anthology films” would be omitting the signature crawl from the opening sequence split opinions. The reasoning behind this controversial decision was to set aside the Anthology stories from the principle Skywalker story arc, which was to remain a separate entity. However, this decision did not sit well with many fans, mainly due to almost every other Star Wars medium using the crawl as the basis for the opening of its content. For well over twenty-years, Star Wars video games on all platforms have opened with the famous crawl, despite having very little involvement with the events of the Skywalker legacy.
For example, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, featured the origin story of the popular bounty hunter Jango Fett, and had almost no connection with the Skywalker storyline, but launched its plotline with a traditional opening crawl. The same can be said about the storylines in the Rogue Squadron games. The player assumed the role as ace pilot Wedge Antilles, and took control of a range of rebel star fighters before leading the most elite squadron of the Rebellion on a series of daring, behind enemy lines incursions on imperial installations throughout the outer rim. None of the missions explored in the game involved Luke Skywalker, despite him being named as “Rogue Leader” in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and yet, the game opened with the signature crawl.
And this was not an isolated trend. The opening crawl features widely in many mediums of the Star Wars entertainment vehicle which reached its pinnacle with the novel Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. The book, written by author Steve Perry depicted an adventure set between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and featured the heroes of the original trilogy. Characters like Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 all returned in a brand new story whilst Han Solo, remained encased in his carbonite prison and in the clutches of the sinister bounty hunter Boba Fett.
The story went on to become an extremely popular plotline within the fan base and transcended onto the multimedia game platform with a Nintendo entertainment adventure game. Again, the game was a best seller and cashing in on its popularity, a soundtrack was commissioned to accentuate the events depicted in the story. As was the case with the game, the score composed and conducted by successful composer Joel McNeely, began with the famous opening crawl complete with original Star Wars theme written by John Williams. These synonymous traits of the Star Wars franchise, ensured that Shadows of the Empire went on to be regarded as the closest ever storyline to the original trilogy despite never being filmed as a major motion picture.
With the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh instalment in the overriding Skywalker legacy, the fans looked forward to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with rejuvenated enthusiasm. And yet, the omission of the opening crawl cast a shadow over the entire project for many of the devoted fans around the world. Myself included. Many understood the logic behind the separation of the main Skywalker story arc from the lesser tales of the Star Wars universe, but with every other platform boasting the crawl, it seemed like a bizarre move on the part of Disney/Lucasfilm.
The movie itself, was incredible. Director Gareth Edwards produced a splendid entry into the Star Wars franchise which now takes pride of place amongst the very best of the saga. Fans from all over the world have embraced the tales of Jyn Erso and her struggling bands of rebels, but many have expressed their contempt for the omission of the opening crawl. Upon my first screening at midnight on opening day, I was blown away by the incredible return to the themes of the original trilogy. For the first time since Return of the Jedi in 1983, a Star Wars film had reverted me to my younger self and did what The Force Awakens had failed to do, and rectified any disillusionment I had with the sale of the franchise to Disney.
And yet, the absence of the opening crawl left a gaping hole in my enjoyment of the movie. Despite falling in love with it as a whole, the absence of the traditional opening was a major detraction for me personally and upon further scrutiny, I have decided that the statement issued by the Disney/Lucasfilm pertaining to its removable is contradictory at best.
Its omission is designed to emphasise the difference between the Skywalker storyline and the expanding arcs of the other characters in a galaxy far, far away. And yet, the movie features Darth Vader (formerly Anakin Skywalker) who plays an intricate part in the events of its gripping finale. In addition to Vader’s inclusion, Princess Leia Organa (a Skywalker by birth) makes an appearance to take possession of the Death Star plans before escaping the Empire’s sinister forces.
The movie then climaxes with a blast of the traditional Star Wars theme, re-scored by the movies composer Michael Giacchino, to play over the end credits in the finest tradition of the saga. With these instrumental building blocks included in the movie, it begs the question of how different Rogue One ACTUALLY is from the rest of the saga.
All the elements indicative of a Star Wars movie can be found in Rogue One, from Darth Vader to the Star Wars theme, but the opening crawl’s removal seems bizarre. With the movies’ release on Blu-Ray and DVD, I have had the opportunity to replay it on more than one occasion, and the lack of the opening crawl is profound. Its omission has left a considerable hole at the start of the movie and despite my best attempts, I cannot seem to move past its loss.
Rogue One is a fantastic entry into the Star Wars franchise, one that deserves to be celebrated but if it had employed the traditional crawl or similarly structured introduction, accompanied by the masterful main title of John Williams, it would have been as close to perfection as it could be.
The way it is, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be regarded as a missed opportunity. One that boasts the best qualities of the Star Wars franchise but fails to deliver on one of the most vital elements. This view represents my own personal opinion, and I have encountered many views to the contrary but one thing is consistent amongst the millions of fans around the world…the movie would have been greatly improved by the inclusion of something more than just the standardised introduction: A long time ago…in a galaxy far, far away…
The series returns to its traditional format this December with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but with the untitled Han Solo Anthology movie set for release next summer, pressure will mount on the shoulders of Kathleen Kennedy and the studio heads at Lucasfilm to solve the riddle and bring a level of balance back to the Force.
Until then…the questions will remain unanswered.