As the only major franchise to begin nearly every installment with an opening crawl, Star Wars is pretty well known for its beginnings. With the exception of the spinoffs, every Star Wars movie also starts with the signature fanfare by John Williams. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm, the Mouse got the rights to the Star Wars franchise. As a result, from 2015-2019 there was one new Star Wars movie each year. Now that the Skywalker Saga is complete, and spin-offs have moved to the series format on Disney+, it’s time to reflect on the feeling of sitting down in a theater to watch a Star War.
Once the fanfare has kicked in and the opening crawl recedes, a Star Wars movie takes its audience into the story in a way that typically reflects what they’re in for, whether that be political intrigue, heists, or all-out war. The secrecy typically surrounding Lucasfilm productions increases the hype and leaves viewers excitedly dropping in on new planets, unaware of what’s to come. But just like the movies themselves, some of the opening sequences stand out more than the rest.
11. Solo: A Star Wars Story
As one of the spinoff movies operating somewhat tangentially to the central saga chapters, Solo doesn’t start with the signature Star Wars fanfare and opening crawl. Instead, viewers are given the sentence: “It is a lawless time.” before being dropped right into the action. Roughly ten years before the events of A New Hope, a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) has just stolen a speeder and some valuable coaxium to get himself and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) off of the crime-ridden planet Corellia.
Like the rest of the movie that follows, the opening of Solo is really, really dark. Like, enough to make you think you need to turn up the brightness on your TV. This could have been done with the intention of reflecting the illegal underground nature of Han’s dealings, but it really just makes everything that’s happening on screen really hard to see.
The worst offense is the extremely cringe-worthy (and frankly unnecessary) explanation of how Han got his last name. As he’s trying to join the ranks of the Empire, he’s told he needs a last name for the records. He’s asked who his people are, and replies that he has none. “Han… Solo!” says the man, taking down his information, and I die inside a little.
The upside? Ehrenreich gives a great performance that avoids crossing over into an impression of young Harrison Ford. The score is great as well, upbeat and adventurous in a way that feels very Star Wars while also sounding different from what we’ve heard before.
10. The Rise of Skywalker
The Rise of Skywalker’s opening crawl infamously starts with the line: “The dead speak!”, which is either gloriously or horrifically campy, depending on who you ask. Some time has passed since the events of The Last Jedi, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) reigns as Supreme Leader of the First Order. When he hears word of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) being alive somewhere in the galaxy, he searches for a Wayfinder that will lead him to a Sith temple on Exegol.
The movie’s first location is apparently supposed to be Mustafar, which isn’t at all clear. However, it’s at least visible, which is more than can be said for Exegol, where Palpatine shows his fondness for dim lighting, probably to hide how busted he looks after decades of living an underground zombie life.
Like much of The Rise of Skywalker, the editing is frenetic in a way that comes off rather bizarrely. Palpatine’s survival of being electrocuted, thrown down a hole, and then being blown up in space is explained by a quote from Revenge of the Sith: “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be… unnatural.” Which… okay, sure.
The worst sin of The Rise of Skywalker’s opening is the re-introduction of J.J. Abram’s obsession with finding Rey (Daisy Ridley) a daddy. But there’s stuff to enjoy here, too. Before depriving us of his handsome face yet again, Abrams lets us watch Kylo savagely fight off a group of masked nobodies in super-hot slow-mo. There’s a great shot of him igniting his lightsaber as he approaches the temple on Exegol, and there’s a horror-movie feel to Palpatine’s lair that would be cool if it were visible.
9. Attack of the Clones
Attack of the Clones’ opening crawl kicks off with a sentence that will thrill political science majors and baffle small children: “There is unrest in the galactic senate.” Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) and her people arrive on Coruscant, where the ship carrying the Padme decoy is immediately blown up, killing the decoy and establishing that Padme’s life is in danger. This would-be tragic moment is undermined by unintentionally hilarious timing.
Padme’s guard cheerfully declares that there was nothing to worry about after all seconds before the ship explodes. To make matters a little confusing, a dying Corde tells Padme that she failed her. Maybe go easy on yourself, dying girl. While the should-be serious scene does come across as a bit goofy in execution, it does the job of orienting the viewer right away. Plus, that opening shot looks really pretty.
8. Return of the Jedi
Return of the Jedi’s opening sentence is more factual than attention-grabbing: “Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.” Bit of a mouthful, but forgivable since the sequence in question ends up being so much fun.
Instead of catching up with our heroes, Return checks in with Vader first, as he himself is checking in on the progress of the new Death Star. It’s short and- well, definitely not sweet, but it’s a solid intro. Also: “The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.”? Still rules.
7. The Force Awakens
Definitely one of the more attention-grabbing openers: “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” The Force Awakens leaves this mystery for later, and introduces Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Kylo Ren, and Finn (John Boyega). Poe is on a mission for the Resistance to deliver a map that leads to Luke’s whereabouts. Just as he’s secured the map, the First Order catches up to him on Jakku. There’s lots of cool stuff in this opening scene: Kylo stops Poe’s blaster bolt in mid-air, Kylo’s costume makes him look like a dark prince, and Kylo’s theme establishes him as a villain different from Vader, despite his best efforts.
6. The Phantom Menace
Lots of people give The Phantom Menace a bad rep for its opening crawl being all about trade disputes, but all of that comes after a more exciting declaration: “Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic.” Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice, a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are aboard a Trade Federation ship on a diplomatic mission. Already, Darth Sidious is shown to be pulling the strings behind all of the political conflicts, and Padme is introduced via the Star Wars version of a Zoom call.
The dialogue is stilted in a way that not even the original trilogy was. However, despite this constraint, the actors are giving solid performances that mostly work to sell George Lucas’s vision. This is a different time for Star Wars, and it shows. Everything from the dialogue to the wardrobe choices set the prequel era apart from what fans had already seen.
5 – A New Hope
“It is a period of civil war.” Rather than waste time figuring out how to have the characters explain the state of things, the first-ever Star Wars movie just spells it all out for you before jumping right into the action. Darth Vader, one of the most iconic villains of all time, marches onto a captured Rebel ship and interrogates Leia (Carrie Fisher), who slips the Death Star plans to R2D2 before she’s captured.
There’s so much about A New Hope that’s become iconic just in the opening sequence. There’s a shot of Leia giving R2 the plans, the first time audiences heard John Williams’s opening fanfare, and the set design of the Rebel ship that would influence the sci-fi genre for years to come.
4 – Revenge of the Sith
The final chapter of the prequel trilogy wastes no time and gets right to the point: “War!”. And with that, we’re dropped right into the middle of a battle. Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan are on their way to rescue Palpatine from General Grievous and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee).
By this time, the prequel trilogy had really hit its stride. Sure, there’s still that cheesy, awkward feel that’s part of the DNA of all Star Wars movies, which fans sort of have to accept in order to love the movies. Right out of the gate, Revenge of the Sith establishes itself as confident and headed towards the inevitable conclusion. John Williams creates an electrifying score for the opening battle, which kicks off with a long tracking shot following Anakin and Obi Wan as they fly through the fight. And as a bonus, Anakin cut the braid, grew out his hair, and got a cool scar! Why? Cause it’s hot! What else do you need?
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One boasts one of the most impressive casts of any Star Wars movie. It opens with Imperial forces, led by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) marching up to the home of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) to demand that he return to the Empire to finish his work on the Death Star. Galen is found laying low with his wife and daughter on the planet Lah’mu.
The Icelandic location is absolutely gorgeous, and the costumes are striking. Krennic strides across the landscape in a white Imperial outfit complete with a cape, and is flanked by troopers outfitted in shiny black. Michal Giachinno’s score is beautiful as well, echoing the work John Williams has done to make Star Wars sound unique, but giving Rogue One’s score a unique feel of its own.
2. The Empire Strikes Back
The original dark middle chapter opens with “It is a dark time for the rebellion.” The audience is clued into the Empire’s waiting position before catching up with our heroes. Luke is out on his own and quickly gets into trouble, while Han and Leia argue about their relationship as he teases his plan to leave the Rebels. The gang has been hiding out on Hoth, a stark contrast from the desert of Tatooine.
In terms of action, the opening of The Empire Strikes Back is fairly slow. However, the new locations and the chemistry between Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford more than make up for it. With a little bit of banter, one of the most iconic Star Wars couples is born.
1. The Last Jedi
“The FIRST ORDER reigns.” The Last Jedi’s opening sequence is basically perfect from start to finish. Poe distracts General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) so that the Resistance can escape the First Order looming nearby. Ignoring Leia’s orders (and setting up his arc for the movie), Poe carries out a full-on attack, losing many lives in the process. Most notable is Paige Tico (Veronica Ngo), whose death is gorgeously shot, scored, acted, and just heartbreakingly beautiful.