The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Rogue One’ has no opening crawl. That was the right call.


“It’s like a poem.”
— George Lucas, on the opening “Star Wars” crawl

IF A STAR WARS film is going to announce its departure from many of the franchise’s traditions, nothing trumpets its independence quite like eschewing the opening crawl.

In tossing aside that rolling title, “Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards did absolutely the right thing.

That’s because “Rogue One” — which opens with a static opening graphic that reads, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” — not only is making plain its divergence from the episodic “Star Wars” “saga” films, but also nodding in homage to a George Lucas source just as pure as the one that inspired the iconic rolling graphic.

The dramatically tilted crawl was one of creator George Lucas’s overt nods to World War II-era “Buck Rogers” and “Flash Gordon” movie serials that he watched in reruns as a kid — both of which starred Buster Crabbe and were based on popular newspaper comic strips.

In the late ’30s and early ’40s serials, the instruments blared with a propulsive force as the long introduction propelled up the screen, a twin effect bolstered by a space background that immediately pulled you into the action. For Star Wars, Lucas captured that feeling and modernized the aesthetic beautifully, with a design by Dan Perri (in News Gothic fonts) and some camerawork by ILM veteran Ken Ralston.

Yet when Lucas screened the film in early 1977 for a few close filmmaker friends — including Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma and John Milius — the long-winded, then-six-paragraph crawl was no immediate hit, even set to John Williams’s inspired score.

An exasperated De Palma “agreed to help Lucas rewrite and re-shoot the opening crawl,” Brian Jay Jones notes in his new biography, “George Lucas: A Life.”

Yet as every true fan knows, the roots of the “Rogue One” story are found in that original “Star Wars” crawl, as the Rebel Alliance has stolen Death Star plans.

Edwards is deeply reverent of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” but his decision to go with a static opening graphic has proved controversial with “Star Wars” fans, including Perri.

Yet fans should be reminded: The static graphic is precisely what the original “Flash Gordon” serials used in the Depression era. It was an elegant title card — which Lucas would have watched, too.

Clearly, nothing is without deep thought in “Rogue One,” including where the road in the Scarif trees shall diverge.