Correction: After our interview, writer Gary Whitta admitted that he misremembered this. While he told me the crawl was never in the script, he realized it was in the very first draft of the very first script, and was then taken out during the first revision. The original posts follows.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first Star Wars film not to have an opening crawl. Gary Whitta, the first screenwriter on the film, did write one—but it was never actually in a script.
Earlier this week, Rogue One’s director Gareth Edwards good-naturedly threw Whitta under the bus during a Reddit AMA when asked about the crawl.
“Gary Whitta actually wrote one in the first draft. You’ll have to pester him for it,” Edwards wrote. “I do believe that those opening crawl words are actually floating out there in space somewhere. We just have to fund NASA well enough so their deep-space telescopes can find them, let’s crowdfund it and make it happen.”
We spoke to Whitta soon after that was said and the internet blew up with speculation.
“Gareth misspoke,” Whitta told io9. “It was never actually in a draft of the script. It’s just in a document, like a story document that I wrote.”
Here’s the story, according to Whitta.
“Literally in the very first days working on the film we were asking ourselves those questions. Like ‘What makes these standalones different? Do they have opening crawls? Do they have John Williams music? Do they have all the same furniture and trappings? Do you do the Kurosawa wipes? Or do find your own language?’
Initially Gareth, a hardcore Star Wars fan, was like ‘You’ve gotta have an opening crawl.’ We wanted to have all the things we grew up with. And so as an experiment, purely because it was fun to try and write one, I wrote one. But it was never in a script. It was never actually in a draft.”
Whitta wouldn’t comment on if his crawl was a broader universe thing or just a description of the film’s current prologue, but it almost doesn’t matter. The film he wrote didn’t even have Chirrut Imwe, Baze Malbus, or Bodhi Rook in it. Those characters were all added by the second screenwriter, Chris Weitz. As we all well know, Rogue One changed a lot throughout the production process.
Either way, Whitta believes not having a crawl was the right call to set the tone for this new kind of movie.
As we started to embrace the idea more and more that these films were going to be different, and they didn’t have to be beholden to all the same laws as the original films, we were like, ‘You know? We’re better off without it.’ And I understand there are some people out there that really want things the way they want them, and they’re upset there isn’t an crawl. But I feel like it was a really great way to make the bold statement at the very beginning, literally the very first frame of the film: this is not like the Star Wars films you’ve seen before.
Rogue One hits digital download on March 24 and Blu-ray April 4. The next standalone movie, the untitled Han Solo film, opens May 25, 2018. No word if that film will have a crawl but, since Rogue One didn’t, I’d imagine it won’t.