Meet The Design Legend Behind The Star Wars Opening Crawl

For over 40 years, typographer Dan Perri has been gracing celebrated films—including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and 10 Martin Scorsese movies—with title designs that instantly convey a sense of their tone and spirit. As Little White Lies explains in a new interview with Perri, he has always been dedicated to giving each film a unique typographical style. While most of his iconic films have distinctive title designs, one project has emerged as his career-defining achievement: the first Star Wars movie.

In addition to its striking title design—one that has now been featured in countless movies, TV shows, video games, etc.—Perri was responsible for designing the text crawl that introduces the film. As you might expect, George Lucas got Perry on the right track by introducing him to serials from the 1930s and ’40s, but his greatest inspiration came from a little-seen Cecil B. DeMille feature. “Only after I saw the movie Union Pacific, a 1940s film about the railroad, did I know what I wanted to do,” he said. “The opening shot looks down the track and the titles roll up the track towards the camera. I visualized that in outer space with the titles rolling away from the camera.”

Working with a long block of text, rather than a handful of words, took Parri out of his comfort zone, but he eventually discovered an approach that would continue being used for decades to come—and well into the foreseeable future. “I tried a few different methods and the effect that gave the best perspective was achieved by rolling the text out from underneath the camera toward an invisible horizon line. The logo comes just ahead of that, blasting on to the screen and then travelling back towards the horizon pulling the legend that follows into shot.”

For the last couple decades, most fans have been watching Star Wars in special edition form. For a quick reminder of Dan Perri’s 1977 contribution, check out the original opening crawl below.