Introducing a Saga: The Impactful Storytelling of Star Wars‘ Opening Scenes

StarWars.com looks at the themes and meanings behind the first imagery of the Star Wars episodes.

For Star Wars fans, few things excite the imagination more than the opening crawl of a new film and the subsequent introductory scenes. Beginning with A New Hope, starships have become the traditional symbols which herald the arrival of the latest Star Wars episodes. While visually captivating and appealing, these scenes also establish crucial plot elements and set key events in motion for each film.

The Phantom Menace opened with a Republic Cruiser carrying two Jedi on a diplomatic mission toward a blockade of Trade Federation starships surrounding Naboo. The sight of a small consular ship approaching a massive fleet appeared daunting, but it also captured the notion that the Galactic Republic perceived the assignment to be routine rather than one of utmost urgency. This reflected that neither the Republic nor the Jedi Order realized the web of manipulation spun by Senator Palpatine surrounding this situation and the government as a whole. The small trade dispute over a single planet ultimately led to the ousting of Supreme Chancellor Valorum, Palpatine’s rise to prominence, and the reemergence of the Sith.

Attack of the Clones began with Naboo starfighters escorting a Royal Cruiser as it entered the atmosphere of Coruscant. The convoy traveled to the capital so that Senator Amidala could attend the vote on the formation of a Republic military, but several members of Amidala’s entourage ended up dead following an explosion detonated by bounty hunter Zam Wesell. While the opening scene initially seemed even more serene than that of Episode I, the violence that ensued foreshadowed the hostilities that initiated the Clone Wars later in the film. Without this assault, Padmé may not have permitted Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker to guard her, and it was the investigation launched by the Jedi that led to the discovery of the clone army, the revelation of Count Dooku’s location, and the first battle of the Clone Wars at Geonosis. Much as the trip to Coruscant began peacefully for Amidala’s convoy and ended in flames, Attack of the Clones started with a routine mission of diplomacy and ended in war.

The sight of a Republic Venator-class attack cruiser, followed swiftly by the entrance of a pair of Jedi starfighters and the reveal that a battle raged over Coruscant, informed the audience that a full-scale war gripped the galaxy in Revenge of the Sith. On a rescue mission to free Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Obi-Wan and Anakin piloted their fighters to a showdown on the Separatist flagship where Skywalker ruthlessly executed Count Dooku. The murder of Dooku paved the way for Anakin’s ascension as Palpatine’s apprentice and the culmination of the Dark Lord’s plan to establish the Galactic Empire. In a sense, the flight from a Republic cruiser to the rescue of the future Emperor symbolized the government’s transition from Republic to Empire at the end of the film.

As it introduced the Star Wars universe, an Imperial Star Destroyer’s pursuit of the Tantive IV over Tatooine following A New Hope‘s title crawl stands as an iconic moment in the saga and in film. The battle introduces the escalating conflict between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, as well as the apparent futility of the Alliance, as its tiny cruiser is engulfed in the hangar of the massive Imperial warship. The size difference between the vessels and the ease of Tantive IV‘s capture mirrored the numerical odds and uphill battle stacked against the Rebellion. This disparity presages the film’s crescendo of a moon-sized Death Star facing off against ragtag squadrons of snubfighters. The successful defense against the Death Star at Yavin 4 compared to the easy defeat of Tantive IV demonstrated that the Rebellion’s struggle against the Empire progressed in a positive fashion from the film’s beginning to its end.

The Empire Strikes Back‘s depiction of an Imperial Star Destroyer launching probes let it be known that the Empire endured the loss of the Death Star and began to go on the offensive against the Rebel Alliance. The presence of a Star Destroyer in the opening moments of both Episodes IV and V established that, from the Empire’s perspective, their grasp on the galaxy had not faltered between the previous pursuit of Tantive IV and the current search for a Rebel hideout.

If a Star Destroyer’s appearance represented Imperial prestige in Episodes IV and V, then the view of the Second Death Star over Endor and the fleet of Star Destroyers heading in its direction implied that the Empire’s power may have even increased by the time of Return of the Jedi. This falls in line with the somber tone that pervaded the end of The Empire Strikes Back, where Han Solo’s capture brought nothing but misery to the Rebellion. Darth Vader’s visit to the Second Death Star also set up the impending arrival of Emperor Palpatine and commenced the deception that the battle station would not be operational for some time. These factors combined to make victory seem even more elusive for the Rebel Alliance, which in turn added suspense to the Battle of Endor and its surprising resolution.

The serene orb of Jakku quickly became marred by the ominous outline of the Finalizer, the Resurgent-class flagship of the First Order, in the early moments of The Force Awakens. The visage dissuaded any thought that the fall of the Empire brought with it everlasting peace. The ensuing battle on Jakku revealed that Poe Dameron and the Resistance stood in opposition to the First Order. Aside from introducing the First Order, the Finalizer and its deployment of stormtrooper transports exhibited the power of the organization and its distant connection to the ashes of the Galactic Empire.

From the iconic status of A New Hope‘s starship chase to the debut of the First Order in The Force Awakens, the post-title crawl sequences of each episode stand as unique scenes that provide insight into the plots and characters of the films. (Rogue One may stand outside of the Skywalker saga and forego the opening crawl, but its first scene still follows the pattern of introducing vital plot information.) Every fan holds a favorite introduction close to their hearts, whether out of nostalgia for a specific movie or the content of the scenes themselves. Which opening scene is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

Jay Stobie is a science fiction writer who admits he has a perfectly normal obsession with Star Wars, Star Trek, and the various starships that inhabit those two universes. He can be found on Twitter at @CaptStobie.

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