There’s nothing quite like the first minutes of a Star Wars movie, after the 20th Century Fox fanfare (now, sadly, gone) plays, the Lucasfilm logo appears, and the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” fade. Those first moments when you see the words Star Wars and hear the notes of the main title start to play make you feel like you’re about to join an amazing adventure! The scene for each episode is then set by an opening crawl before the camera moves through space to start us on what we always hope will be an unforgettable journey.
There are many different elements that come together for these epic Star Wars openings. From the wording of the opening crawl to the first scene to the music that follows the main title, all of these pieces play a key role in making the beginning of an episode great. In my opinion, among the seven current main Star Wars films some openings are definitely better than others. So which ones stand out from the rest? Here’s how I would rank the beginnings of all seven Star Wars films.
Which Star Wars opening is your favorite? Tell us in the comments!
The Phantom Menace
While I enjoy The Phantom Menace a lot more than many Star Wars fans probably do, I can’t deny that the opening to the first prequel film leaves something to be desired. The opening crawl certainly doesn’t capture the excitement of the movie right away. How can it, with a second line like “the taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute” and a second paragraph mentioning shipping? These are things I think the movie handles better through showing us what’s happening than the crawl does in telling us what’s happening. It’s only the last paragraph that is really interesting as it finally mentions the Jedi Knights before the camera moves to follow a ship approaching the blockade.
What follows the crawl starts off slow as the ship lands and the two Jedi are escorted to a room by TC-14. The music follows suit, remaining soft and in the background. Once the Jedi’s identities are revealed and we learn it’s a young Obi-Wan Kenobi saying the familiar line “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” things start to get more exciting. The opening might lay the necessary groundwork for entering the film after so many years away from Star Wars, but until the Jedi start to fight for survival the rest just doesn’t stand up to the way the other movies start. It takes too long to get going. Even the music after the main title doesn’t really stand out. It’s subtle, distinctly Star Wars, and classic John Williams, but unlike music in other installments it’s not something you’ll probably want to revisit and listen to repeatedly all on its own.
Attack of the Clones
It pains me to put Attack of the Clones ahead of The Phantom Menace on any list, since I think the movie is clearly the worst out of all seven. However, I have to give it points for doing a tiny bit better in the opening. While the crawl discusses politics, it does so in a better way than Episode I did. It’s easier to understand, slightly more interesting, and introduces a new intriguing character in “the mysterious Count Dooku.” It ends by connecting us to a familiar character before panning to follow familiar looking Naboo ships to a beautiful and foggy Coruscant.
The music is light and enigmatic while growing tenser as the ship lands. You know something bad is going to happen even before Captain Typho states, “I guess I was wrong. There was no danger at all,” but even though you see it coming from a mile away, at least when the ship explodes, it does feel like things were building to that point a bit. It establishes the dangerous situation our characters find themselves in and the emotional toll it will take through the now Senator Padmé Amidala’s reaction to the death of one of her handmaidens. Moving to a stressed conversation between Chancellor Palpatine and the Jedi, the opening is a decent set up that unfortunately is not followed by a decent movie.
The Empire Strikes Back
Episode V has a great opening crawl, but even though this is my favorite Star Wars film, I have to say the sequence that immediately follows the crawl just isn’t as good. The first line we read (“it is a dark time for the Rebellion”) is fantastic, immediately getting across to the audience that even though we previously saw the Rebels win one battle they are still far from winning the war. With the Empire and Darth Vader in hot pursuit, you know you’re entering a story where everything is on the line for the Rebellion. From there we’re greeted with the sight of a Star Destroyer releasing the mentioned probes and follow one to an icy world that is obviously Hoth.
The probe rises and then we’re treated to an amazing view of Hoth as the camera gives us a wide look at the landscape before introducing us to a rider on a tauntaun. The Luke Skywalker reveal is obvious, but made better by the music rising from its soft place in the background to play a familiar theme. After the events of the last film it’s fun to hear Han and Luke working together and as soon as Luke says he’s going to check out a meteorite you’re just waiting for him to discover the Empire’s probe droid, until events take an unexpected turn when a Wampa smacks him in the face! It is a solid opening, but the main crawl is stronger than the other initial elements in the film. Looking at it as a whole, I just don’t think it’s as spectacular or intriguing as others in the franchise.
The Force Awakens
Picking up 30 years after Return of the Jedi meant there was a lot riding on The Force Awakens and, for the most part, it delivered in doing an amazing job of bringing us back to the galaxy far, far away. Luckily, that all started with a great opening. The crawl succeeds in bringing us up to speed on what’s happening in the galaxy without getting complicated and remains vague enough for us to have lots of questions we eagerly want answered. From Luke Skywalker vanishing to General Leia Organa leading the Resistance, the crawl is a thrilling return to the world of Star Wars.
Once the crawl ends, we see what looks like the familiar outline of a Star Destroyer before following a transport carrying some new threatening-looking First Order Stormtroopers towards Jakku.Then, we move to the planet with BB-8, Poe, and Lor San Tekka, where Poe seems to be receiving the clue alluded to in the crawl before things get serious with the arrival of the First Order and Kylo Ren. As I mentioned in my ranking of the soundtrack, the music here is also very interesting, though not the best from the Star Wars openings. It definitely succeeds in feeling like the Star Wars we know and love while introducing a new adventure with new themes and setting the atmosphere for these new characters. All of the elements are basically strong here, which solidifies the opening of Episode VII as one of the best.
Return of the Jedi
Following the cliffhanger of The Empire Strikes Back, Episode VI’s crawl informs us that Han Solo is still in need of rescue, and while Luke Skywalker is going after his friend, the Empire is building an even larger Death Star that could mean the end for the Rebellion! While the weapon is a repeat from the first film, the crawl succeeds in making it sound like a much bigger threat than the one that came before. The way it’s worded doesn’t sound repetitive or boring. It does an excellent job of telling us what’s going on since we last saw our heroes before moving to show us the imposing incomplete Death Star.
If anything, another Star Destroyer entering the picture feels a bit repetitive, but that changes when we follow an Imperial shuttle on its approach to the Death Star. The music here is much better than other openings, mostly thanks to Williams’ "Imperial March" factoring into the mix. We easily get a sense of the scale of the Death Star as we move closer and get a sense of Imperial efficiency as Stromtroopers and officers line up to wait for Darth Vader to disembark. Seeing him walk down the ramp is reminiscent of the opening of A New Hope. Clearly, nothing good is going to come from his visit! It then ends brilliantly with Vader stating, “the Emperor is not as forgiving as I am” before the "Imperial March" swells to a new high. It’s a great set up for what we all thought would be the final chapter in Star Wars.
Revenge of the Sith
Revenge of the Sith has the best crawl of all the prequels. Starting off with “War!,” it tells you immediately what this movie is going to be like. It could have easily become bogged down with specifics of the Clone Wars, but it very simply states how things are not looking good for the Republic and yet, that doesn’t mean they are completely the good guys in this situation. I would also argue that this crawl is probably the best at setting the scene for what is going to follow out of all the movies. It spells out exactly what’s happening leaving us well-informed and left to wonder about little. It doesn’t open the door to many questions about what’s happening before moving to a stunning shot of the sun glaring across Coruscant.
Steady drums draw us along with a Republic Cruiser traveling across the screen before we are suddenly following two quick moving fighters and are immersed in an epic battle above the city planet. The battle is an example of CGI done right in the prequels and looks amazing as we move through it before it’s revealed the two Jedi in the fighters are Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker. Helping to set the grand scale of the battle we’re entering is amazing music by Williams with a military edge and familiar motifs worked in. What follows shows us how large the war has become, how much the Jedi have become military leaders, and the relationship that has grown between Anakin and Obi-Wan, as well as Anakin’s continued trouble with attachment. It’s an exciting opening that’s hard to beat, and in my opinion only one film succeeds in doing so.
A New Hope
A New Hope doesn’t make the top of my favorite Star Wars movies list usually but, when it comes to openings, the first film outshines the rest! The very first crawl had to introduce us to a world we’d never seen before and to the important players in it. It accomplishes this through its simple language and not getting too specific about the state of the galaxy. Everything we need to know is there: There’s an evil Empire with a giant deadly weapon and some Rebels, including Princess Leia, are trying their best to stand up to the bad guys. While Star Destroyers and ships play an important role in every opening, nothing can beat how the camera moves from this crawl to showing us a small ship clearly being attacked only for a much, much larger looming Star Destroyer to appear at the top of the screen and grow as it pursues the other.
It’s clear this larger ship belongs to the Empire and it’s stunning how it grows to consume the top of the screen. We then move into the pristine corridors of the Tantive IV, where the first characters we meet are droids and running Rebels. C-3PO helpfully informs us things are not looking good before the music swells and the Empire arrives! The scene brilliantly builds the tension of the incoming Empire in numerous ways from the music to the faces of the waiting Rebels. When the Stormtroopers finally come through and basically tear down the Rebels you know you’re in for a story where the heroes are going to be fighting an overwhelming force. It’s a spectacular opening that is fascinating, funny, exciting, and memorably introduces characters from Darth Vader walking through the smoke as a menacing figure surveying his Stromtroopers’ handiwork to Princess Leia as a mysterious figure in white giving something to a droid before taking down a Stromtrooper to avoid capture.
With more Star Wars films on the way, hopefully we’ll receive even more fantastic openings that masterfully draw us into this galaxy. Beating the original, though, is one thing I’m not sure any Star Wars film, no matter how many are made, can ever do!