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It’s one of the most iconic moments in science fiction cinema, that black screen with the blue words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and then the Star Wars logo pulls back and we get the opening crawl of A New Hope. A move lifted from the serials of George Lucas’ youth that inspired the films, it’s been aped and spoofed, but it’s also synonymous with the beloved space opera. And it was almost very different.
What appears in the original 1977 film is the product of Lucas and Brian De Palma, who helped edit down the initial text some. Over at Imugr there is a collection of rare and behind the scenes Star Wars photos, and one of them shows a page of the original script with the first attempt at the crawl. Read it for yourself here:
It is a period of civil wars in the galaxy. A brave alliance of underground freedom fighters has challenged the tyranny and oppression of the awesome GALACTIC EMPIRE.
Striking from a fortress hidden among the billion stars of the galaxy, rebel spaceships have won their first victory in a battle with the powerful Imperial Starfleet. The EMPIRE fears that another defeat could bring a thousand more solar systems into the rebellion, and Imperial control over the galaxy would be lost forever.
To crush the rebellion once and for all, the EMPIRE is constructing a sinister new battle station. Powerful enough to destroy and entire planet, its completion spells certain doom for the champions of freedom.
The actual movie that we know and love starts out with this (it just wouldn’t be the same without the music):
On the surface they may appear very similar, and they are in many respects, laying out the main conflict between the Rebels and the Empire, and all of that. The finished version, however, is sharper and more on point, and sets you up so you can hit the ground running. It introduces Princess Leia into the mix, tells you the Rebels have the plans, and it also lets you know exactly what the Death Star is capable of with greater specificity. By the time it’s circling Alderaan you’re already well aware of what it can do without anyone having to say a word, and the origins of that tension have already been introduced well in advance.
Comparing the two is a prime example of how powerful a few seemingly minor word choices can actually be in reality. A tweak here, a switch there, and you can get a lot more work out of your words.