If anything about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story stirred up more controversy than ILM’s use of digital effects trickery, it was Lucasfilm’s decision to bypass the traditional opening text crawl in the first spinoff. The first seven live-action films in the franchise all included this series staple, which essentially acted as a creative way to handle the necessary exposition and set up the main narrative that follows. Though the crawl has been an integral and recognizable aspect of the property for 40 years, the studio felt they had to do something to differentiate the anthology movies from the numbered episodes of the Skywalker family saga. Cutting the opening text was seen as the easiest way to accomplish that.
Though some felt that this was no big deal, others took great issue with it. Saying that the crawl is very important to millions of fans across the globe, A New Hope crawl designer Dan Perri felt it was “foolish” that Rogue One did not include one. A viewer even took matters into their own hands and wrote one for the standalone, sharing it online. Shortly before the movie’s premiere, it was revealed that Rogue One never had a crawl, but now director Gareth Edwards has stated early in the film’s development, he planned to have one.
While speaking with Empire, Edwards mentioned that the first draft of the screenplay by Gary Whitta (who has a story credit on the final film) included an opening crawl, and things were later changed after a meeting with the studio:
The first screenplay that Gary Whitta wrote had a crawl in it – and you learn doing that that ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ has four dots in it, not three. You get extra marks for that. And then at some point, probably like six months before we were filming, we were in a meeting, and they talked about not having an opening crawl, because these are standalone films, not part of the sagas. And if I’m honest, there was an initial kind of like, “whaaaa? I want the crawl!” The opening sequence is kind of the crawl of our movie. It’s like the setup. And our film is also born out of a crawl – the reason we exist is because of a previous crawl, so it feels like this infinite loop that will never end. It’s a small thing to give up to get to do Star Wars.
The opening sequence Edwards refers to is a cold open set 15 years prior to the action, where Director Orson Krennic comes to force Galen Erso to finish work on the Death Star. Those who read the Rogue One prequel novel Catalyst will have a greater understanding and appreciation of this scene, but for the most part, it gets the job done by covering the broad strokes that audiences need to know. In these minutes, it’s established that Galen worked for Krennic before abandoning his post and gives a relatable reason for why Jyn Erso has such disdain for the Empire. Admittedly, it might be a little too inside baseball for some (especially those unfamiliar with Catalyst), but it’s still efficient and effective and sets the plot into motion.
For all the hullabaloo caused by Rogue One axing the text crawl, it doesn’t seem to have any ill effects on its overall appeal. The film earned positive reviews from critics and is now the second-highest grossing film of 2016 domestically with $439.7 million. In all likelihood, 2018’s young Han Solo prequel will also start without a crawl, since a formula for the spinoffs has now been created. The crawl is arguably more at home with the space opera vibe of the saga installments, and as long as the main episodes keep it intact, there shouldn’t be any problems.