Updated: Dec 9, 2019
“Once upon a time..” was the way storytelling began. Star Wars gave us “A long time ago in a galaxy far away..” The crawl became the Star Wars signature - drawing viewers into a world they would soon grow to know and love. George Lucas had the crawl in, as a tribute to the 1930s and 1940s space serials like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon that he grew up with.
Buck Rogers has the familiar crawling tilted text that we now know only as the Star Wars crawl and so did the final serial in the Flash Gordon Trilogy Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. In fact a lesser known inspiration could have come from Forbidden Planet starring Leslie Nielsen before Airplane made him famous. There’s also the movie Union Pacific , that film title designer Dan Perri, credited as inspiration. He had previously worked on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Exorcist and was brought on by Lucas to work on the titles.
The crawl gave us a foretaste of things to come - some good, some bad, but mostly what the title promised ... A New Hope.
It did go through some changes - a 1976 draft had this version as outlined in Star Wars: The Annotated Scripts:
“It is a period of civil wars in the galaxy. A brave alliance of underground freedom fighters has challenged the tyranny and oppression of the awesome GALACTIC EMPIRE.
Striking from a fortress hidden among the billion stars of the galaxy, rebel spaceships have won their first victory in a battle with the powerful Imperial Star fleet. The EMPIRE fears that another defeat could bring a thousand more solar systems into the rebellion, and Imperial control over the galaxy would be lost forever.
To crush the rebellion once and for all, the EMPIRE is constructing a sinister new battle station. Powerful enough to destroy an entire planet, its completion spells certain doom for the champions of freedom.”
It’s pretty much the same thing, but then when you have a look at the final version crawling across the screen you realise what a difference a little word-smithing can do. George Lucas with help from his friend Brian de Palma chopped and changed it to the power wording that ended up on the screen. Lucas gives Brain credit when he says:
“Brian was the one who actually sat down and helped me fix the roll-up, he and Jay Cocks,” Lucas said. “The next day we rewrote the roll-up; Brian dictated it to Jay. He typed it up and it got rewritten a couple of times after that.”
After The Empire Strikes Back, was released the original film was re-released in 1981, with the subtitle, Episode IV: A New Hope, added to the opening crawl.
With references to 'civil war' and 'Death Star', the crawl set the stage for the saga to follow.
With a closing line about ‘freedom to the galaxy...’ the battle between good and evil, the face off between the Force and the Dark side the crawl gave us a foretaste of things to come..some good, some bad, but mostly what the title promised ... A New Hope.