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Entertainment & Arts

‘Star Wars’’ Rian Johnson on crafting the crawl for ‘The Last Jedi’

Meredith Woerner interviews Rian Johnson at D23 on July 15 in Anaheim.

“Star Wars” canon dictates that all episodic films in the Lucasfilm franchise must begin with four things. First the intro (“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”), then the “Star Wars” logo accompanied by John Williams’ bombastic score and finally the crawl.

As if gliding through space itself, a collection of carefully crafted, bright-yellow words float upward across the screen, explaining what has happened and setting the stage for the upcoming action. The writing sets the tone. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” for example, the crawl readied fans for a slightly heavier film with the ominous sentence, “It is a dark time for the Rebellion.”

When “Star Wars” debuted in 1977 the crawl helped introduce a whole new universe with phrases like “Galactic Empire,” “Princess Leia,” and “Death Star.”

Some may see the crawl as more mandatory than cutting edge, but there’s an art to its creation. Plus it remains the first thing viewers see of any new film so clearly, there’s a lot riding on a handful of sentences.

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Director Rian Johnson (“Looper,” “Brick”), who is taking on the next episodic film “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” is new to the “Star Wars” universe, but he appears acutely aware of the tedious joy of piecing together the larger-than-life introduction.

Gwendoline Christie, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Rian Johnson, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benic
Gwendoline Christie, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Rian Johnson, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" on stage at Disney's D23 Expo in Anaheim.
(Jesse Grant / Getty Images for Disney)

At Disney’s recent D23 Expo in Anaheim, Johnson presented a behind-the-scenes sneak peek of “The Last Jedi” to a cheering crowd of thousands. Afterward, we asked Johnson about the pressure of creating the perfect crawl.

“That was petri… Actually, you know, I just did it.” Johnson said. “I just started writing the draft. I wrote something, and it was terrible. And then I was watching one of the behind-the-scenes things and Lucas said, ‘It’s like writing a haiku.’”

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“I realized as I was refining it what he meant. We didn’t finish the opening crawl and totally lock it until a few weeks ago actually. Because you’re like, ‘Do we need this word, do we need that word, what if we shift.’ It’s like a poem, there’s very little room for error in trying to get it just right. Which is awesome, it’s really fun.”

But was there a particular phrase or word he was most proud to sneak into the first moments of “The Last Jedi”?

“It would be funny if it was ‘poop,’” he said with a grin. “Which is a first for the ‘Star Wars’ universe. That’s the whole crawl, just the word ‘poop.’”

Then he answered seriously, turning to the side to avoid being caught on camera mouthing even one word from the highly secretive script:

“Decimated,” he said, and he looked quite proud.

“The Last Jedi” hits theaters on Dec. 15.

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meredith.woerner@latimes.com

Twitter: @MdellW

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