With the sole exception of Rogue One, every Star Wars movie begins the same way. There is darkness and silence, and then the words "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...." appear. The crash of cymbals, the fanfare of horns, the ringing of bells, and then John Williams' iconic opening theme kicks in while the long-awaited yellow scroll of text slowly floats across the screen. The first time the Star Wars: The Last Jedi crawl text appears on screen, it's is an emotional gut punch, an introduction to a Star Wars story told anew.
In George Lucas' original screenplay, he describes the text as such:
A vast sea of stars serves as the backdrop for the main title.War drums echo through the heavens as a rollup slowly crawls into infinity.
Those iconic "roll ups" which have since become the "Chapter Openings" for the Star Wars films are not just any old introduction either. For many hardcore fans, they are scripts to memorize and recite on command. So when a new writer comes on board at Lucasfilm/Disney, the prospect of writing the movie begins with the daunting task of creating those opening lines.
The prospect can be so intimidating that some choose not to write them at all. (See also, Gareth Edwards, deciding that Rogue One didn't need a crawl.) But for those doing the core trilogy, they're not optional. Prior to The Last Jedi's release, writer and director Rian Johnson admitted to The LA Times the concept of doing it nearly "petrified" him... but then he just got on with it.
So what is the opening crawl that Johnson came up with? (Or "roll up," to use Lucas' phrase.) Check out this footage from opening night, complete with fan reaction.
WARNING: Literal Spoiler Footage from Star Wars: The Last Jedi follows.
THE LAST JEDI
The FIRST ORDER reigns.
Having decimated the peaceful Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke now deploys his merciless legions to seize military control of the galaxy.
Only General Leia Organa’s band of RESISTANCE fighters stand against the rising tyranny, certain that Jedi Master Luke Skywalker will return and restore a spark of hope to the fight.
But the Resistance has been exposed. As the First Order speeds toward the rebel base, the brave heroes mount a desperate escape....
Trying to describe what it is to write a crawl like this, Johnson said that he found a behind the scenes clip with George Lucas talking about the earlier films, where he likened it to trying to write a haiku.
Johnson said he realized what Lucas meant as he tried to edit his initial drafts down.
We didn’t finish the opening crawl and totally lock it until [just before the film was finished] actually. Because you’re like, ‘Do we need this word, do we need that word, what if we shift?’ It’s like a poem, there’s very little room for error in trying to get it just right. Which is awesome, it’s really fun.
So how did the opening crawl become such an icon? It wasn't exactly new. Lucas was calling back to old school 1940s and '50s Westerns, which opened the same way: an opening chunk of text, silent movie style. In fact, in an interview with Art Of The Graphic, designer Dan Perri name-checks Cecil B. DeMille's 1939 film Union Pacific as the opening that inspired the "roll up" effect for the graphic.
Those plot expositions that set the scene are also where the habit of capitalizing certain important words in the text comes from as well. But by the 1970s, these early era films had dropped such openings, leaving Lucas to revive them for a science fiction generation.
The original crawl was actually opposed by 20th Century FOX when Lucas suggested it. They wanted a narrator to voice over the opening text instead. Thankfully, they relented after director Brian DePalma came in and helped Lucas streamline down the original text to what we know it today.
The icon was born. Eight movies later, those crawls are still getting applause when they arrive ahead of every new Star Wars film. Let it be ever thus.