Star Wars: Opening Crawl

There’s a completely ignorable paragraph in FFG’s Star Wars RPG core books’ “GM tips” chapter that suggests you write up an opening crawl for your game. You know, the thing when a Star Wars movie starts with the episode number and title and some portentious text.

Ignorable but it’s a really interesting exercise. I did it for my game (the actual crawl is here: ), and doing it well is a) not easy and b) a terrific focus exercise.

First you’ve got the episode line. I kind of punted on this, came back around after I was done with the rest, and just went with “Session 1.” Easy. But it did get me thinking Lucas-y thoughts about his decision to go with “Episode IV” the first time around. Powerful story-making decision there.

Then you’ve got the title line. Hard, very hard. It was the last thing I did. Needs to be short. I don’t love mine.

Finally you’ve got the meat of the crawl itself. These things don’t write themselves! In fact I was having a hard time remembering how they all read, so I found them in one place:

First off, reviewing them really makes the tones of the prequel trilogy, original trilogy, and TFA stand apart from each other. For me, the structure jumps out strongest in III and IV: it’s downright old-timey. 

The first graf of the crawl is the big picture, as if it were introducing a news reel from WWII or something. This is where the first couple episodes’ crawls fail for me. That first sentence, too. Damn. You get just a few words to nail down the Big Picture. Episode III: “War!” Perfect. Episode V: “It is a dark time for the Rebellion.” Perfect. The first sentence of I, II, and VI stand out as exceptionally weak, a bad break in tone. Second sentence of the graf is a little more context, mostly color. Feel sympathy for the heroes because they’re going through some tough stuff.

That second graf is where the movie’s specific setup shapes up. It explains what has happened that has set the story you’re about to see in motion. This is huge! Deceptively difficult to do, too. What just happened that explains what you’re about to see?

That third graf throws you straight into the action. If your first scene doesn’t directly follow on from what that third graf just said, you’re doing it wrong. It even ends in an ellipsis! Always with the ellipsis. It’s not decorative.

I poked at a lot of folks’ efforts to do opening crawls for their Edge of the Empire games and, not surprisingly, they’re uniformly weak. Sometimes they didn’t even notice that it’s always 3 grafs. Or that each graf is, at most, 2 sentences. In fact they’re almost always one sentence. 

Setting up a scenario in three (very specifically paced) sentences is way harder than it looks. Give it a try.

Other thoughts:

* Love the ALL CAPS thing explaining the one important bit of woo-woo in each episode. DEATH STAR. ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC. Abrams hammers at it with three all-cap woo-woos. I think it works both visually and structurally. I definitely prefer the crawls that tell you you’re gonna want to pay attention to this bit.

* Going through the process put me right into a Flash Gordon head space (, and that pulpy urgency is just about the starwarziest thing I can think of. Hence the turgid, leaden tone of lines like “The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute” falling so very flat.

Anyway, it was a neat exercise and very specific to setting up a pulpy space adventure. Cut through the setup, give the players the bare minimum to understand why they’re in the middle of the action, then start shooting at them.

21 thoughts on “Star Wars: Opening Crawl”

  1. If you don’t do a crawl for your Star Wars game you’re a chump. However, there are things you can do to make it better:

    1 – Always, ALWAYS make the Episode some insane number, and ALWAYS title the Episode something stupid-sounding. The best Star Wars movie has the shittiest title, we only love “The Empire Strikes Back” because we have read/said/heard it a billion times with a Leigh Brackett glow in our hearts.

    2 – Always, ALWAYS use caps for IMPORTANT PEOPLE and THINGS

    3 – Always, ALWAYS be thinking of what spaceship will fly past after it’s done

    4 – Never, EVER use John Williams for the crawl music, always use Hideki Naganuma.

  2. Daniel Swensen That is bonkers. I absolutely remember the EPIV opening in ’77. That’s crazy. 

    But maybe I’m the crazy one! I believe Despecialized opens with IV as well…hold on let me look…

    Holy shit. It does not open with IV or ANH. Mind: blown.

    There ain’t nobody more committed to OG Star Wars than the Despecialized folks. Learn something new errry day.

  3. I saw Star Wars in theaters in 1977.  There was no “episode 4”.
    Lucas didn’t start to talk about the “9 episodes” concept until years later.
    The structure of the first movie is complete adventure, from star to finish, with no hint of being in the middle of anything.
    Even Lucas’ claim to have followed Campbell are very dubious. He probably copied Darkseid, tough.

  4. Well…I now have a lot more sympathy for the folks who honestly believe Greedo shot first. 

    Anyway, opening crawl. Good exercise, harder than it looks to do well. Do a Google search and find some hilariously bad ones.

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