The Origin Story Of Star Wars' Opening Crawl

The opening crawl to the various "Star Wars" movies has become as crucial a piece to their mythos as much as the Force and lightsabers. It's one of the most momentous parts that come with experiencing the films — especially in a dark movie theater. Those iconic words, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...," materialize before John Williams' explosive fanfare kicks in and we're ready to go. Unfurling into the film's starry-cosmos backdrop, the opening crawl was more than just an exceptional tool for George Lucas to sneak a large amount of context into his films before they began. It helped build the legend around "Star Wars," accentuating the space epic's ancient feel despite its sci-fi settings and technology. But what's surprising is where the idea for the crawl came from, and why it was felt that Lucas' early cut of the first film in the saga desperately needed it at all.

Creating a Space Legend

When Lucas screened a rough cut of "Star Wars" to a small group of filmmaker friends, the film was without the context-laden crawl. One of the guests at the screening was none other than legendary director Steven Spielberg, who spoke with Empire about the night's heated debate between Lucas and his guests. One such tension came from Brian De Palma, the director "Carrie" and other classics, when he expressed displeasure in the film's lack of context, starting a tradition of "Star Wars"-related arguments ruining peoples' meals:

Brian began yelling at George: 'I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOUR STORY! THERE'S NO CONTEXT! WHAT IS THIS SPACE STUFF? WHO CARES? I'M LOST!' And George began yelling at Brian, saying, 'You never made a commercial movie in your entire life! What are you talking about?' And Brian said, 'This won't be commercial. Nobody will get it. It's just a void with stars and some silly ships moving around.'

It wasn't the only criticism the director famously had of "Star Wars," but to De Palma's credit, he wasn't exactly wrong. It's just incredibly ironic that he was the one to eureka from thin air exactly what "Star Wars" was missing — and perhaps more so, that Lucas was receptive to the idea after their shouting match:

"But from that contentious dinner came an idea. Brian said, 'Why don't you start the movie with some kind of legend? You keep saying you want to make this movie into a space serial, then why don't you have a legend like they had in the old days, rolling up the screen and setting out the whole story?' And that idea came from Brian De Palma. George appreciated it, adopted it – didn't stop him insulting Brian – but used the idea and that became the famous crawl at the beginning of every episode."

Talk about finding phenomenal solutions in unlikely places. Thankfully, Lucas took the idea and ran with it because "Star Wars" without the crawl would be a woefully different movie. The film needs that grounding and brief narrative about Rebel spies, of a daring strike on an evil Galactic Empire, and a space Princess carrying Death Star plans. All of those are elements of Lucas' movie, but the crawl has the power to make characters legendary heroes and villains, to turn entire histories into myth long before audiences have seen or heard a thing. It's emblematic of what helped make "Star Wars" not only a revolutionary sci-fi adventure but something archetypal, a timeless fairytale that intersected both deep in our collective past and far into our future.

So thanks for speaking up, Brian De Palma.