After the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." appeared on the screen in May 1977, the first thing audiences saw wasn't a Rebel blockade runner or an Imperial Star Destroyer flying over their heads. Accompanied by John Williams' rousing musical score, the now famous Star Wars opening text crawl was what first immersed viewers into the universe, setting the stage for the film to come in three short paragraphs. Since then, it has become a staple of popular culture and is instantly recognizable as an integral part of the franchise. During the buildup to The Force Awakens last year, many were anxious to see what the crawl stated - perhaps even more so than what the movie actually entailed.
It's hard to imagine a Star Wars film without yellow words running up the screen, but fans may have to make some adjustments when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters in December. As many know by now, the film is the first live-action spinoff in the series, its narrative separate from the core Skywalker family saga that has been the driving force for the previous seven films. Lucasfilm has a tall task ahead of them to differentiate the saga installments from the standalones, and nixing the opening crawl could be one of the ways they accomplish that.
During EW's massive breakdown of Rogue One details, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy was asked about how they're approaching the anthology film. She mentioned that the studio is currently in the process of figuring out which aspects of the franchise should be exclusive to the numbered episodes:
“We talk about that all the time. It’s something that we’re right in the midst of discussing even now, so I don’t want to say definitively what we’re doing. The crawl and some of those elements live so specifically within the ‘saga’ films that we are having a lot of discussion about what will define the [stand-alone] Star Wars Stories separate and apart from the saga films. So we’re right in the middle of talking about that.”
As sacrilegious as it sounds, it may be for the best if Rogue One drops the text crawl in favor of a unique opening. That would perhaps be the easiest and most effective way of demonstrating to casual moviegoers that this is not part of the main storyline they have been following for nearly 40 years. Director Gareth Edwards could establish the context of the conflict through different means, and that would be appropriate in this case. By the time Rogue One arrives, most will understand it's about the Rebel Alliance stealing the original Death Star plans, so there wouldn't be that much for a crawl to do besides reiterate what fans already know. This isn't like Episode VII, where roughly 30 years of history had to be covered before the First Order landed on Jakku.
On the flip side, opening text (or some variation of the idea) has been present in just about every piece of Star Wars media. The novels all begin with their own three paragraphs to outline the basic story beats, and the Clone Wars TV show had old fashioned newsreels play before each episode to catch viewers up on the latest developments. It seems to be an inherent part of the franchise's DNA. Even if fans don't hear the iconic main musical theme playing over the standard yellow text, chances are there will be something in Rogue One to ease audiences into the movie - perhaps a passage that details the states of the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire. That could be useful for the moviegoers who are not caught up with the Star Wars canon materials, some of which cover this period of time.
It will be interesting to see which elements are carried over into the spinoff films. Will a character have a bad feeling about something? Will we hear "May the Force be with you" at some point? There honestly isn't a whole lot the filmmakers can do to make the saga films and anthologies independent of one another (outside of mixing things up tonally). Eliminating the opening text crawl and making that an exclusive part of the episodes could be the best route to go. If Rogue One, the young Han Solo movie, and other standalone projects are meant to break away from the traditional space opera/adventure feel (which Williams' score clearly invokes), crafting an opening that is apart from what's come before would be smart.
NEXT: New Rogue One Images
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in U.S. theaters on December 16, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15, 2017, the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25, 2018, Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019, and the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.