I think by now we probably take this opening for granted, not stopping to appreciate how much good storytelling is crammed into this one “silent cinema” shot. (But when you see the prequels, you realize with stunning clarity just how wrong such moments can go.) I was six when this movie came out, so this film is embedded deep in my brain not as a film, but as a reality. I was 6, it was real! To this day, I can hear parts of the score and it’s not music, but an emotional window into an alternate universe.
Meanwhile, my friend Beth Grant went to the premiere of Star Wars back in ’77, having no clue what is was about. In fact, she said she’d had the misconception it wasn’t even sci-fi, but a story of feuding Hollywood celebrities. But she exclaims she’ll never forget the moment when this first shot came on screen – the place erupted into applause. They’d never experienced anything like it. 2001 had had similar effects up to that point, but this was a whole new ball of wax – the immortal music, the amazing sound effects, the dramatic premise. Beth says it was truly a spiritual experience, “we were awestruck and thrilled to the core.”
George Lucas, a long time ago
So the shot itself. Man, George sure doesn’t make ’em like this anymore. After the famous crawl floating through space, which sets up the plot, we’re treated to a slow TILT DOWN from the stars to the planets — not 1 but 3 (how about the music hit on the reveal of the visually stunning, NASA-grade image of the third and closest planet) — and a small ship on the run, lasers blasting at it and from it. Explosions. Cool sights and sounds. The score. (Technology was limited back then, or we might have been assailed with 250 ships.) But then, the Empire barges onto the screen and what a reveal. That mammoth war ship goes on and on, dwarfing the little guy. And thus the players, the entire nature of the conflict, the setting and tone, in short, the world is established in one fell swoop.
No wonder that first audience dirtied their collective pants at this one shot. Here it is –