This December’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is shaping up to be a very different franchise installment than the ones that have preceded it. As the first standalone spinoff that’s not part of the classic Skywalker family saga, the project is looking to take the series in exciting new directions by blending multiple genres and tones. Director Gareth Edwards has been heavily inspired by war films, and Rogue One is promising to be more hard-hitting than any other journey to the galaxy far, far away. Yes, there will still be some humor, but this is essentially World War II in space.
But the approach to Rogue One isn’t the only aspect that sets it apart from the previous seven movies. To many fans’ chagrin, the film will most likely not feature an opening text crawl, which has become a staple of the franchise since A New Hope premiered in 1977. The crawl is a vital part of Star Wars‘ DNA, establishing a context for the story audiences are about to see while being a great showcase for John Williams’ iconic musical score. The notion of Rogue One not including floating yellow text in space has been blasphemous for some. But is it really that big of a deal? We analyze why Rogue One may not need a text crawl.
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy has discussed the lack of an opening crawl in the past, explaining that it’s an efficient method to clearly separate the numbered saga episodes from the anthology films. There’s a good deal of truth to that statement, and it goes beyond the surface level of simply forgoing the practice in Rogue One. When George Lucas was working on the Skywalker tale, he crafted the films as homages to the old Flash Gordon serials he watched in his youth. It should come as no coincidence that those began with an opening crawl before each installment to set the table for the narrative (sound familiar?) The seven entries in the Skywalker saga are meant to have a space opera tone, so it makes sense that they would pay tribute to the earliest days of space fantasy with this callback.
Rogue One, the young Han Solo movie, and whatever other spinoffs Lucasfilm has planned are conceived with the idea of broadening the franchise’s horizons. Rogue One‘s war elements have been well-documented by now, and recently it was stated that Han Solo would look to be a heist/Western film. Since the anthology filmmakers are playing in different sandboxes, it’s only logical that they follow the rulebook of other genres. After all, Ocean’s Eleven doesn’t begin with three floating paragraphs that inform the viewer who Danny Ocean and Terry Benedict are; Saving Private Ryan didn’t need boisterous fanfare to suck an audience in. The main Star Wars theme instills a sense of adventure in moviegoers, and that tone may not always jive with the vision of the anthology directors. The creative team shouldn’t be forced to include the crawl simply because it’s become an integral part of the series. The fit has to be right.
In pure filmmaking terms, the opening crawl is an expository tool meant to fill viewers in on the state of the galaxy before the movie truly begins. This was an absolute necessity for The Force Awakens, since three decades of history had passed between Return of the Jedi and Episode VII, but can the same be said for Rogue One? There honestly may not be much new information to be gleaned from a crawl in the spinoff. The Galactic Civil War has already been the subject of three blockbuster films, and the marketing materials have done an excellent job of establishing where exactly in the franchise timeline Rogue One takes place. Watching the trailers and TV spots makes it apparent that it’s the Rebels against the Empire. The Death Star has been heavily featured and Darth Vader cameos let the uninitiated know that Rogue One is a prequel. A text crawl would run the risk of being redundant instead of enlightening. By all accounts, the context is set.
In the grand scheme of things, the text crawl is arguably the least significant Star Wars trope that Rogue One could carry over. It wouldn’t have mattered if The Force Awakens‘ crawl was exceptionally written if the movie that followed it was disappointing. All the footage revealed from Rogue One suggests that it will still very much be a Star Wars film that features the jaw-dropping set pieces and emotional character moments fans have come to expect from the franchise. The new film won’t even be the first project set within the universe to not have a crawl (or some other context establishing method). Episodes of Star Wars Rebels just begin and that show has worked out fine, so there’s no reason why the films can’t follow suit.
Ultimately, what’s most important is that Rogue One is a quality film that lives up to the hype. An opening crawl won’t make the scene construction, performances, and dialogue better or worse. The crawl has undoubtedly become one of the more recognizable elements of Star Wars, and there’s no denying that it will be a bit strange to see a movie start sans text crawl (though, perhaps not stranger than no 20th Century Fox fanfare). For those who can’t bear to think of Star Wars without a crawl, Rogue One will maintain the famous “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” title card, so it will have some familiar beats, at the very least.