The Origins of Rogue One

Who would have thought a long time ago in a warehouse somewhere in Van Nuys, California the title sequence to the 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope which was painstakingly hand-crafted by title designer Dan Perri, would provide the total premise for Rogue One nearly 40 years later, or has Gareth Edwards said “This film is born out of a crawl. The thing that inspired this movie was a crawl and what was written in that,”

“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….”

It was this title sequence crawl that set the tone of that 1977 film, as well as introduce audiences to the fantastic world envisioned by George (The Maker) Lucas, it certainly operates as a classic title sequence. But the Star Wars main title sequence is so much more than that. It has simultaneously become one of the most iconic pieces of film branding ever created and one of the most indelible moments in all of cinema. In 1977 it was, quite simply, unlike anything our planet had ever seen..and one which gave John Knoll his idea for Rogue One 35 years later,

Knoll’s idea for Rogue One was borne from contemplating the opening crawls of the Star Wars films. The text for the original trilogy which had been painstakingly shot on film with a camera dolly system; the monumental crawls for the prequel trilogy were personally made by him, entirely digitally, on his own computer. “Just a fun project to tackle,” he says .) But this got him thinking about those never-seen covert spies, Knoll began conceiving of a story that, compared to the sprawling space opera of the trilogy films, would be fast, focused, gritty and jam-packed with the ‘WAR’ in Star Wars.

Who wouldn’t be inspired by this opening sequence as it starts after a thunderous Twentieth Century Fox fanfare and Lucasfilm logo, the movie then begins with a phrase suitable for any tale of Good Vs Evil: ”A long time ago…” The Lucasfilm text was tinted light blue in order to make the subsequent main title reveal all the more dramatic. Fade out and let the magic begin. Composer John Williams’ triumphant overture blasts the title card into frame and off to infinity as the crawl rolls into view…Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

George Lucas describes the opening titles in his screenplay:

A vast sea of stars serves as the backdrop for the main title.
War drums echo through the heavens as a roll up slowly crawls into infinity.

The typography was inspired by sci-fi serials like Buck Rogers, highlighting certain names and places in all caps to emphasize their importance to the narrative. Like the rest of the Lucas’s script, this text went through countless iterations before it could be put to film. Fox initially opposed the idea of an opening crawl altogether, suggesting that a narrator could convey the same information more effectively, but the studio relented after Lucas’s friend, filmmaker Brian De Palma, helped the writer/director rewrite and streamline the clunky exposition.

But lets not forget that oh-so-recognizable Star Wars logo? The classic branding loomed large not just in the film’s opening titles, but on posters, t-shirts, lunch boxes, and every imaginable type of merchandise. Designed by artist Suzy Rice under the direction of Lucas, the logotype was then adapted for use in the opening. Rice’s logo design, originally created for the film’s studio presentation brochure and other print materials, was ultimately chosen for the movie’s main title sequence after being revised by ILM’s Joe Johnston. After Star Wars hit theatres though, Rice’s logo design became standard on nearly all merchandise and marketing materials.

All these elements combined for us fans experiencing those opening moments of Star Wars was like finding a key in our childhood, unlocking a hidden door to our future creativity and what can be achieved.

But beyond all my Star Wars nostalgia, beyond all the hype, that original Star Wars opening is quite simply great filmmaking. It’s a potent combination of music, typography, and sheer cinematic scale. As awesome as those screen-sized titles first appear, they are quickly dwarfed — both on-screen and in our imaginations — by the galaxy that was about to unfold, both then and now with Rogue One.


IMAGE GALLERY

An excerpt from George Lucas’s third draft of “THE STAR WARS” which details the main title reveal and a very different opening crawl
An excerpt from George Lucas’s third draft of “THE STAR WARS” which details the main title reveal and a very different opening crawl

Inspired by Union Pacific (1939)

A handwritten outline of the opening sequence
A handwritten outline of the opening sequence
Suzy Rice’s original Star Wars logo design.
Suzy Rice’s original Star Wars logo design.
Image set: Star Wars teaser posters showing the evolution of Rice’s logo design
Image set: Star Wars teaser posters showing the evolution of Rice’s logo design
ILM Cameraman Richard Edlund, who worked primarily in opticals and miniatures, works on an early version of the opening crawl used as a placeholder
ILM Cameraman Richard Edlund, who worked primarily in optical and miniatures, works on an early version of the opening crawl used as a placeholder

Post inspired by  Dan Perri’s book on his career in title design and Suzy Rice’s work on Star Wars  THE “STAR WARS” LOGO DESIGN.

Reference Material : Art of the Title Sequence

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2 thoughts on “The Origins of Rogue One”

  1. That ‘Union Pacific’ clip is incredible, I never knew there was an inspiration for the crawl, though I suppose it should be obvious since so much of it was inspired by classic serial shorts.

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