Now that the Skywalker Saga is finished, it remains to be seen what will happen to the opening crawl we’ve grown accustomed to in Star Wars films. The standalone movies haven’t had them, and I’m not sure what will happen with future movies. But either way, a staple of the Star Wars saga films has been the opening crawl, which establishes the context and setting of the film right from the start.
So in this article, I thought it would be fun to rank all nine opening crawls! Let’s dive in:
9. Attack of the Clones
“There is unrest in the Galactic Senate.”
This opening crawl helps us demonstrate why it is such an effective way of beginning the film, because it fills in the gaps on what happened over the previous decade since The Phantom Menace. It explains that several thousand star systems have aligned themselves with the Separatists, under the leadership of the mysterious Count Dooku. This establishes both the state of the galaxy at the time of the film, as well as the mystery and intrigue that runs throughout. So this crawl absolutely does its job on informing you of where things are at, but it doesn’t do a whole lot by way of building excitement for what’s about to happen.
8. The Phantom Menace
“Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic.”
Similarly, this opening crawl sets the stage for where things are at, since it’s in a time period we had never known before. We read of the Trade Federation blocking all shipping to Naboo, and of the Chancellor secretly dispatching two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle things. I find this one pretty similar to Attack of the Clones in that it tells us important information we need to know in order to better understand the film, but it doesn’t do as well as other crawls at establishing a level of excitement as we open. However, with this being the return to Star Wars after the opening trilogy, George Lucas’s inclusion of the Jedi Knights being the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy is a really nice touch and sets it a notch above AOTC in my rankings.
7. The Last Jedi
“The FIRST ORDER reigns.”
While I’m not totally in love with the opening crawls for either Attack of the Clones or The Phantom Menace, I think the remaining seven are all really, really good – thus The Last Jedi being number 7! This is a great crawl, all things considered, but the one thing that holds it back is the fact that it’s the least essential crawl of the entire saga. This film picks up almost immediately after The Force Awakens leaves off (which is a great decision and one almost necessitated by the ending to the previous film), but that also means that the viewer is familiar with the state of the galaxy. But the tremendously well-written nature of the crawl still manages to build excitement, establishing the dire state of the galaxy, the heroic Resistance, and the hope that Luke Skywalker will restore a spark to the fight – something that will be a running theme and pay off in an incredible way in the final act. But now, while we wait for that, the Resistance has been exposed, and the First Order is headed their way.
6. The Empire Strikes Back
“It is a dark time for the Rebellion.”
This crawl begins by telling us that even though the Rebellion struck a massive victory in the previous film (destroying the Death Star), the Empire still is winning the war. They’ve been driven from their hidden base (on Yavin IV) and forced to relocate to Hoth, a remote ice world. But we get the sense that it won’t remain hidden for long, since Darth Vader wants to find Luke Skywalker and has dispatched thousands of probe droids across the galaxy in an attempt to do so. This crawl does a good job of setting up the reality that this film further developed: the Rebellion is on the run, and it seems the Empire is just too powerful to defeat. But of course we will eventually learn that isn’t true, and that’s why I think Luke Skywalker is so prominent in this crawl: despite what the crawl says Luke isn’t the leader of this Rebellion, but he is the one Vader is obsessed with finding – and the reason why the Empire won’t ultimately win the war.
5. Return of the Jedi
“Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.”
This crawl both explains the situation but also builds excitement. When last we saw Han Solo, he was frozen in carbonite and being taken to Jabba the Hutt – and so right from the start of this film, we learn that Luke Skywalker is going to rescue him! Alright, let’s go! But while that’s encouraging, we also learn that the Empire is building another Death Star! This is the first we’ve learned of that, and we are told that it’s even more powerful than the first one! It sets up a contrast between the good (Luke’s going to save his friend) and the bad (the Empire’s building a machine intent on killing), and it raises the stakes for the Rebellion that had already been devastated in The Empire Strikes Back.
4. The Rise of Skywalker
“The dead speak!”
The Rise of Skywalker relies on the opening crawl to do some heavy lifting, telling us that Emperor Palpatine has… returned? We’re told that the galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast in his voice, that General Leia has sent agents searching for secret intelligence about this, that Rey (the last hope of the Jedi) trains for battle, and that Supreme Leader Kylo Ren searches for the phantom Emperor, wanting to destroy any threat to his power. This crawl pits mother against son as the leaders of the rival factions, both seeking information about a potentially larger villain lurking in the shadows. This is one of the more important crawls in the saga, because the film lets the crawl explain Palpatine’s return rather than dive into it too much afterward. “The dead speak!” is one of my favorite lines from any opening crawl, and it immediately raises the stakes by thrusting us into a story in which the greatest villain may have returned, with both sides desperate to find out more.
3. The Force Awakens
“Luke Skywalker has vanished.”
If you want to talk about a provocative opening line that immediately tells us the state of things and makes us incredibly interested, here you go: Luke Skywalker has vanished. The hero of the previous war has now, decades later, disappeared – and in his absence, the First Order has risen to power from the ashes of power, seeking to destroy Luke – the last Jedi. Leia Organa is still around, though, leading the Resistance, and is determined to find her brother, needing his help. So she has sent her most daring pilot to Jakku, where a clue has been discovered about where Luke is at. This crawl is amazing. Luke is gone, and we aren’t told where, but this establishes that both sides are intent on finding him – which is something that the movie is propelled and driven by. Even though the Jedi Master doesn’t appear until the final scene, his presence looms large throughout the whole thing – right from the start. We are told enough about the state of the galaxy so that we’re not too confused right away, but there’s enough that is left a mystery to keep us incredibly intrigued and excited as the film starts.
2. A New Hope
“It is a period of civil war.”
Part of the reason this crawl is so high is surely because of its significance, since it was the one that started it all, and part of it is because of what Rogue One added to it, but the crawl is also very good in and of itself. This is the first introduction we are given to the galaxy far, far away, and we are told that it’s a civil war just starting between a Rebellion (fresh off their first major victory) and the evil Galactic Empire. That victory was one in which Rebel spies stole the plans to the Death Star, which is a space station with enough firepower to destroy an entire planet! These plans are now in the hands of Princess Leia, who rushes home while pursued by the Empire, with the plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy. Talk about a great crawl! We’re immediately told the background to this film, and the crawl does enough to give us the sense of sheer desperation felt by the Rebellion and by this Princess Leia – and of the improbable odds they face, because of the Death Star! And, of course, this crawl is so much richer because of Rogue One, which is a terrific film that seeks to give context to this crawl by showing us the victory in which the Rebellion stole the Death Star plans.
1. Revenge of the Sith
While so many of these crawls are great and deserving of this ranking, in my opinion the best opening crawl in Star Wars belongs to Revenge of the Sith. It begins with a single word – “War!” – and we realize that we are thrust into the middle of a full-out war (the Clone Wars we’d long heard about). The Republic is crumbling under Count Dooku’s ruthless attacks, and “There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.” What a fantastic line!! That’s the general context of the state of the galaxy when this film begins, but then we are given the more immediate context in the next two paragraphs: in a stunning move, General Grievous has actually swept into the Republic capital and kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine! And so as Grievous attempts to flee with Palpatine as his hostage, two Jedi Knights lead a desperate mission to rescue the captive Chancellor. This is the prime example of both informing (as it tells us the general state of the galaxy as well as the immediate context of this film) and exciting (as we realize the stakes are high, this mission is desperate, and we’re about to be thrust right into the middle of a war). Couple this with the transition right into Kenobi and Skywalker flying into the heart of a massive battle raging above Coruscant, and you couldn’t ask for a better crawl to begin a movie than this one.