When I was eight years old, I had one of the most formative typographic experiences of my life. I would only have five more like it: three, six, 22, 25, and now 28 years later (in other words, just after midnight tonight). Of course I’m referring to my first glimpse of the opening titles of Star Wars, way back in 1977. Not having seen a lot of old Flash Gordon serials, I had never seen a movie start off like this.
Everyone (okay, every Star Wars fan) remembers the seemingly endless opening shot, in which a very small spaceship is chased by a very big spaceship. And everyone (okay, every Star Wars fanatic) knows that those two ships were Princess Leia’s Rebel Blockade Runner and Darth Vader’s Imperial Star Destroyer. But before those ships ever showed up on screen, I knew something was different about this movie.
There were no names of actors, producers or even the director — no credits of any kind. All I saw were these motionless yet evocative words in blue Trade Gothic (since changed to Franklin Gothic — see below), then a very cool logo (designed by Suzy Rice of Seiniger Advertising) flying away from the camera, and finally a monumental opening crawl that set up the story and stretched into deep space. Cool.
I often cringe when George Lucas goes back and makes a change to the old movies (Han shot first!), but some changes do make sense. The movie I saw in 1977 was just called Star Wars. Now that it’s a part of a larger story, it’s called Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and its opening crawl was updated to reflect that change. So why not fix the horrendous word spacing? I guess in the Star Wars universe it’s not just the Force that lasts forever.
Update — Jan 12, 2014: Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the films, recently posted a photo of the crawl in production: