- "One of the things we still have to shoot is the opening crawl. Shooting that crawl is actually one of the hardest things on these shows. The artwork itself is only about four feet long and maybe a foot wide. The camera is real low to the ground and we use a tilting lens to eliminate a lot of the focus problems. But everything has to be lined up just perfectly and you spend days running through tests. Every little blemish shows up. Any little bump, any little movement of the camera is going to screw up this big 2,000-frame-long take. It's fun, but pure torture."
- ―Ken Ralston during production of Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi
The Star Wars opening crawl is the famous opening to the Star Wars saga.
Each of the nine episodic Star Wars films begins with nearly identical openings, in which the text "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.…" is displayed, followed by the Star Wars logo over a field of stars. A subsequent downward tilt reveals the film's episode number, the subtitle in all-capital letters, and a three-paragraph summary of events immediately prior to the events of the film.
Two typefaces were used in the crawl: In current releases of episodes I–III and VI, News Gothic bold is used for the main body of the crawl and episode number, and Univers light ultra condensed for the titles of the films. In the current releases of Episodes IV–V and VII, News Gothic bold is used for the main body of the crawl and episode number, but varied versions of the News Gothic font are also used for the titles of the films.
In the widescreen (or letterbox) versions of the Star Wars films, each line of the opening crawl text appears directly in its entirety from the bottom of the screen (with the exception of The Empire Strikes Back). In the fullscreen (or pan and scan) versions, the sides of each line of opening crawl text are visible only after that line reaches the center of the screen. The pre-1995 fullscreen version of Return of the Jedi opted to present the opening crawl unsqueezed, having the entire widescreen image appear in a 4:3 frame horizontally compressed.
Though each crawl is roughly similar, the individual films contain some differences in their presentation. For instance, in Episode II: Attack of the Clones, the camera tilts upwards after the text finishes, rather than downwards as seen in all of the eight other films.
Some words or names are in all-capital letters to stress their importance to the story. The text is in simple, yellow, sans-serif type, and it is pitched at a sharp angle. The text scrolls upward into the distance, toward a horizon located just below the top of the screen. In a trademark of the film series, each title crawl ends with a four-dot ellipsis except for Episode VI, which ends with a three-dot ellipsis.
When originally released in 1977, the first film was simply titled Star Wars, as Lucas was not certain if he would follow the film with a sequel (and 20th Century Fox felt that alluding to a nonexistent "previous episode" would be too confusing). Following The Empire Strikes Back, the film was re-released on April 10, 1981, with the subtitle Episode IV A New Hope. The original version, without the subtitle, was not released, outside of the 1982 Laserdisc version, on home video until the 2006 limited-edition DVDs.
The content of the opening crawl itself, as originally written by George Lucas, was initially different during the production of the first film, and contained the following:
The crawl used in the film itself was a revised version by Brian DePalma and then–film critic Jay Cocks.
The Clone Wars introductory movie, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008), and Anthology Films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), all theatrically debuted without opening crawls.
All three include "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.…" Rogue One then cuts straight to a cold open displaying a shuttle bound for a ringed planet. The Clone Wars uses a newsreel-style narrator in lieu of a crawl. Solo features backstory summaries similar to a crawl's content; these paragraphs are shown in a similar typeface and color to "A long time ago…" over shots of a planet's dockyards and before the title card.
Legends made-for-TV movies (the Holiday Special, Caravan of Courage, and Battle for Endor) contain neither the crawl nor the "A long time ago.…" card, either starting immediately with action or a title card.
The roll-up (alternatively called the "crawl") is an homage to the opening crawl at the beginning of each episode of the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s and 1940s, which Star Wars creator George Lucas enjoyed as a child and which inspired Lucas to write much of the Star Wars saga. It is also for this reason that many of the subtitles of the films have a "pulpy" sound to them or are reminiscent of the Gordon serials.
In a 2005 interview, George Lucas described how the final phrasing of the roll-up in Star Wars came about: "The crawl is such a hard thing because you have to be careful that you're not using too many words that people don't understand. It's like a poem. I showed the very first crawl to a bunch of friends of mine in the 1970s. It went on for six paragraphs with four sentences each. Brian De Palma was there, and he threw his hands up in the air and said, 'George, you're out of your mind! Let me sit down and write this for you.' He helped me chop it down into the form that exists today."
According to Dennis Muren (who worked Episodes I–V), on the audio commentary track of the 2004 original trilogy DVD release, the roll-ups on the original trilogy films—A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi—were accomplished with physical models laid out on the floor. Muren says the models were approximately two feet wide and six feet long. The crawl effect was accomplished with the camera moving longitudinally along the model. It was, says Muren, difficult and time-consuming to achieve a smooth scrolling effect.
With the advent of computer-generated graphics, the roll-ups for the prequel trilogy films—The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith—were achieved much more quickly. However, because nobody had taken notes on how the original ones were accomplished, the design team had to rewatch and piece together the elements to make the new opening crawl.
In other Star Wars media
The West End Games roleplaying game supplement Galaxy Guide 1: A New Hope suggests that the opening crawl from A New Hope was actually written by Rebel Alliance historian Voren Na'al to end his account of the events surrounding the Battle of Yavin. The account includes the phrase, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…"
A large number of LucasArts computer and video games feature an opening crawl. Games based on one of the films usually include the same crawl as the movie, while other games have original crawls. Some of the games' crawls differ from the traditional film versions. Star Wars: TIE Fighter plays The Imperial March over the crawl, while Rebel Assault uses a spoken version, starting with the first paragraph from A New Hope and differing afterward. Dark Forces has an unused spoken version in its cutscene data. The Phantom Menace video game begins with the film's crawl but features a second, original one partway through the game. The LEGO Star Wars games include an opening crawl at the beginning of each chapter, with five to six chapters per movie.
An opening crawl plays when a character is loaded for the first time in Star Wars: The Old Republic. A shortened variation plays every subsequent time a character is loaded, recapping the story so far.
A number of Dark Horse's Star Wars comics have used the same format as the opening crawl to serve as a recap of the previous events in the series. These series include Star Wars: Dark Empire, Tales of the Jedi and many others. Opening crawls also appear in the post-2014 Marvel Comics Star Wars comics, serving to either introduce a story arc or recap events as in the Dark Horse comics.
All of the sourcebooks and adventure books are written for Fantasy Flight Games's Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny roleplaying games include an introductory crawl at the beginning.
With a few exceptions, most canon novels published since April 25, 2014, include a page before the beginning of the novel with a passage providing background or contextual information, written in a similar style to the opening crawl. The Star Wars: The High Republic multimedia project also has an opening crawl.
- The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie uses a crawl to set up the clips of the shorts featured. The crawl reads "A long long long long long…time ago, in a universe far, far, far, far, far…away."
- Airplane II: The Sequel begins with a crawl of the text of an erotic story that is "broken" like glass by a space shuttle flying through it.
- The 1986 Hungarian animated film Macskafogó (Cat City) uses an opening crawl which is a direct spoof of / reference to Star Wars.
- The Mel Brooks film Spaceballs opens with a similar but more humorous crawl, with gags such as "unbeknownst to her, but knownst to us." At the end, in small letters, it reads "If you can read this, you don't need glasses."
- In the first 10 episodes of the DiC dub of the anime Sailor Moon, the scrolling text "From a far away place and time, Earth's greatest adventure is about to begin" is a reference to the scrolling text used in George Lucas' Star Wars films.
- The Red Dwarf episodes "Backwards" and "Dimension Jump" both feature similar, humorous crawls, with the former scrolling too fast to be read without freeze-frame.
- Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me opens with a similar crawl. It is accompanied by a voiceover.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic's "The Saga Begins" begins by turning the opening line of "American Pie" ("A long, long time ago, I can still remember…") into the opening line of the Star Wars crawl, albeit changing the repeated word from "far" to "long."
- In Thumb Wars, an opening crawl is used. At the end, someone yells, "Watch out for that word!" then crashes into the crawl and explodes.
- LEGO Star Wars: Revenge of the Brick uses an opening crawl.
- Those who attended Nintendo's online Camp Hyrule 2006 were greeted with an introductory opening crawl sequence.
- Apple Computer's iMovie software features a similar title effect called "Far, Far Away" in reference to Star Wars. Recent editions of Windows Movie Maker also include a text effect in reference to Star Wars.
- The movie Fanboys starts with a Star Wars–style opening crawl, ending with "Sent From My iPhone." It also features a parody crawl that reads "You are very, very, very, very high" when Linus and the other protagonists have eaten peyote-laced guacamole.
- In Chicken Invaders, Episode III and IV uses the opening crawl that references to Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, and The Force Unleashed.
- The Family Guy episodes Blue Harvest, Something, Something, Something, Dark Side, and It's A Trap! feature an opening crawl. The episodes are retellings of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi using Family Guy characters. The crawl for Something, Something, Something, Dark Side has the same first paragraph as the authentic Empire Strikes Back crawl before adding, "But you already know this story," and devoting the rest to making fun of 20th Century Fox. The It's A Trap! crawl gets as far as "Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine…," at which point it devolves into a tirade against Fox, followed by an apology and admission that the previous comments were drug-induced. The director's commentary for the latter revealed that unlike prior times, this was not intended to be a joke.
- In Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars, a narrator begins to read the crawl but is interrupted by two off-screen voices. They tell the narrator to read the crawl faster, and funnier if possible. The crawl rewinds and the narrator starts over, this time reading at a faster pace while using a goofy-sounding voice. The narrator is then interrupted again. The same two off-screen voices tell him to forget about making it funnier. The narrator starts over once more, this time with his normal voice. The crawl starts out as, "Episode IVa: MAY THE FERB BE WITH YOU." The end of the crawl reads, "And none of this is canon, so just relax."
- When searching for "A long time ago in a galaxy far far away" on Google, users were once presented with the search results in the form of the opening crawl, along with the Star Wars theme song. This has since been discontinued.
- In Garfield's Pet Force The crawl appears as if "A Long time ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away REALLY Far Far Away"
- In Big Idea's Veggietales Episode: Veggies in Space: The Fennel Frontier, Bob Says "Not long ago in a Galaxy far far Away" The same Opening Crawl is used and read by Bob the Tomato.
Notes and references
- How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise by Chris Taylor, 170.
- How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise by Chris Taylor, 171.
- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith DVD commentary
- Pearlman, Cindy (May 15, 2005). The force behind 'The Force'. Chicago Sun-Times.
- Heir to the Empire back cover