For seven films, the opening crawl has been a key part of the Star Wars moviegoing experience. It elicits a near-Pavlovian response in audiences, cueing them up for an adventure in a galaxy far, far away — and it helps the story jump right into the action.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first of the films not to feature an opening crawl. For the man who spent months creating the crawl for 1977's Star Wars, that's a disappointment.
"Frankly, it is a huge mistake, because the image is so iconic and it's so important to tens of millions, hundreds of millions of fans," title designer Dan Perri tells Heat Vision." I couldn't imagine it starting without that. It's foolish."
The filmmakers have said Rogue One doesn't feature a crawl because its story — about a group of brave Rebels who steal the plans for the Death Star — actually comes from the original crawl Perri created. Perri has not seen Rogue One or a Star Wars film since the original ("There are too many things to do and there are too many film out there to see," he explains).
It took a lot of work to earn Star Wars creator George Lucas' stamp of approval for the opening titles. It was just months before the May 1977 release date, and Lucas was under immense pressure to complete the film. Perri would drive to Lucas' Van Nuys office and wait for hours for the director to have a few minutes to look at (and reject) his latest attempt.
At the time, Perri and many 20th Century Fox executives did not realize Lucas had a world-changing hit on his hands.
"I had no idea what he was doing, so it was just this stupid space film. I didn't think anything of it," says Perri. "Everything I showed him, he didn't like. So I was constantly going out there with new ideas, and he would tell me to look at certain films. The Buck Rogers films and all the serials from the '30s that he was using for inspiration."
Perri came up with the idea of the crawl when he saw the 1939 film Union Pacific (see below).
"He liked the idea, but then I had to start shooting and testing and setting type. I went through 20 or 30 or 40 different type styles before I settled on one. Once we did that, I shot tests for weeks and weeks and weeks," says Perri. "It was all on film. You shoot a test on black-and-white film and then it had to be developed the next day or late that day. I'd rush out to Van Nuys with it and wait for him for hours to show it to him and he never liked it, and it just went on and on and on."
Eventually, it all worked out, and Lucas was happy.
"He accepted it and they cut it in. By then, it was only maybe a month before the release," says Perri. "The day I delivered it, it was such a relief to drive away from there knowing, 'Wow, it's done finally.' "
But there was no time to stop to savor the moment with Lucas.
"He had so many things on his mind, he was so busy. He took a few minutes to look at it and he went right back to whatever other problems he had that day," says Perri.
Perri is a legend among title designers, with credits including dozens of films, such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Airplane. He is currently planning a hardcover coffee table book that will detail 27 films he's worked on. The book will feature storyboards, commentary on his design process and stories on the different directors he's worked with, with a Kickstarter planned for next year.
"When I think back on it, it wasn't fun," Perri says of his time on Star Wars. "It was a difficult project, but I'm happy with the results."
Here's the original opening crawl: