There’s been a great disturbance in The Force, and as per usual in this era of rabid fan speculation, the great ripple was generated by a rather small event. The recent kerfuffle over the scheduled reshoots for director Gareth Edwards’s standalone Star Wars movie, Rogue One, have been silly, but the response to those doomsday rumors have shined an informative light on the process of making a hugely anticipated blockbuster. It seems like things are still very much in the air on how much the standalone Rogue One will rely on the iconography of the main saga; in particular, people are wondering whether this film will employ the beloved opening crawl that’s been in every episodic Star Wars movie so far.
We won’t know the answer for some time, but one thing is certain: It doesn’t matter, and the film doesn’t need it.
Star Wars fans’ ears first perked up when Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy did some damage control about the Rogue One reshoots to Entertainment Weekly, which has become the go-to source for Lucasfilm announcements these days. When the subject turned to how Rogue One would separate itself from the other Star Wars movies, Kennedy said the approach to distinction was still in flux.
“It’s something that we’re right in the midst of discussing even now, so I don’t want to say definitively what were doing, she said. “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.”
It’s obvious why fans would want the opening crawl for Rogue One, given the fact that it has been in all seven Star Wars films and remains one of the franchise’s most distinctive elements. But it won’t necessarily work for every single Star Wars property.
Sure, an opening crawl has accompanied many Star Wars novels, comic books, and video games. But it always seemed superfluous, like an obvious and lazy connection to the better, more recognizable movies that each were emulating. As of now, the closest thing to the non-episodic theatrical release of Rogue One is the 2008 animated Clone Wars movie, which began with the “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” title card and a logo. But that movie shot right into the action with an opening narration instead of the crawl. It’s admittedly a lazy alternative, but something Rogue One could improve upon.
Kennedy’s words seemed to hint at the internal tug-of-war about just how different Rogue One should be from the other episodes. In that same EW interview, Kennedy said, “These Star Wars stories [are] embracing the uniqueness of the different genres, and we’re very deliberately leaning into the various styles of directors that were approaching so that each of these movies will very intentionally have a very different tone and style from the saga films.”
Rogue One will most definitely differ in tone, and how much of a war movie feel the movie will ultimately have was reportedly at the heart of the reshoot controversy. The opening crawl motif is derived from the Flash Gordon Saturday morning serials that first inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars in the mid-1970s. Rogue One is not a an exaggerated Saturday morning serial, and only takes its inspiration from them insofar as it simply co-opts the characters and designs created by Lucas for his own space opera.
The proof is in Gareth Edwards’s visceral style, which was on display in the film’s first trailer. That handheld shot of what is presumably the team of outlaw Rebels led by Jyn Erso running and scattering from AT-AT fire is unlike anything that has been seen in a Star Wars movie before. Rogue One doesn’t seem like it will be classically staged like the main episodes, and you can’t simply adapt this space opera style — opening crawl iconography and all — to a movie with a completely different tone.
Even as a piece of exposition, a Rogue One crawl is not necessary. The primary job of the opening crawl is to ostensibly explain where we are in the ongoing story. If The Force Awakens opened without explaining that Luke Skywalker was missing and Poe Dameron is on Jakku looking for him on Leia’s behalf, we’d be a bit confused and it’d take us out of the experience.
Without an opening crawl, the argument goes, there could be some confusion about when Rogue One takes place. But this is a problem for the marketing, and not the movie itself. A fan’s knowledge of Star Wars will fill in certain obvious blanks, but the idea is that seeing the entire saga shouldnt have to be a prerequisite to enjoy Rogue One. Non-Star Wars fans can and should enjoy them too.
Adding an opening crawl to baby the audience presupposes that the audience wouldn’t be able to figure anything out for themselves while watching the actual movie, and that Edwards’s filmmaking wouldn’t be able to convey simple visual exposition.
Rogue One is a different kind of Star Wars movie, and it should embrace that. The pressure is on to set a precedent for the standalone movies, and trying to make a unique offshoot of the biggest franchise ever is a nearly impossible task. But Edwards, Kennedy, and the Rogue One team should set their own iconography instead of resting on what came before them. It’s obvious; the fundamental nature of the standalone movies is that they should stand alone.