"Star Wars" creator George Lucas has said that the signature opening text crawl in the beloved science-fiction saga was inspired by "Flash Gordon" film serials from the '30s, but Steven Spielberg tells a different story in a new HBO documentary (simply called "Spielberg") that premiered Sunday night.
According to the "Jaws" director, who was close friends with Lucas and other now-iconic filmmakers (known at the time as "the movie brats") during their early days in Hollywood, it was actually director Brian De Palma ("Scarface") who suggested the "Star Wars" prologue after a screening of a very early cut of "A New Hope."
"We were consulting with each other and unabashedly giving opinions about each others' works,” Spielberg said while talking about his friendship with the "movie brats," which Spielberg described as a "fraternity" of filmmakers. Martin Scorsese ("Raging Bull") and Francis Ford Coppola ("The Godfather") were also in the Hollywood clique.
"George showed a bunch of us 'Star Wars' for the first time, and there were no effects in yet -- it was just World War II stock footage intercut with blue screen production color footage," Spielberg said. "And then showed that movie to us expecting us to be able to see the movie."
While Spielberg was enthralled from the start, De Palma was not and did not hold back his criticism.
"We all went to a Chinese restaurant after the film was over and Brian [De Palma] stood up and started to descry about, 'What's going on around here? I don't understand this story. Who are these people? Who's the hairy guy? Where do they come from?'... Brian went off on George," Spielberg said in his best De Palma impersonation.
"But out of all that, something great came: Brian basically said, 'You need like an old-fashioned movie to start the picture with a foreword, and all these words come on the screen and they travel up the screen and the foreword tells you what the Hell you're looking at and why you're in the theater and what the mythology is. Tell us what this world is and then we can enjoy the picture And that was birth of the famous prologue."
Spielberg's "birth" story of the "Star Wars" prologue, however, differs from other stories about De Palma's involvement in the crawl. Lucas said in a 2005 interview that De Palma helped him edit the the text after Lucas "showed the crawl to a bunch of friends."
Author Peter Biskind's 1999 book "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" backs up that story. "The crawl at the beginning looks like it was written on a driveway," De Palma reportedly told Lucas. "It goes on forever. It's gibberish."
De Palma refuted that quote during a 2016 Business Insider interview, but he did say, "The crawl didn't make any sense at all. And I kept kidding him about the Force. I was like, 'What is the Force?' But you have to understand, we used to look at each other's movies in order to be helpful. We might say some things that weren't nice."
At least all parties seem to agree De Palma's criticism wasn't very nice. The question then is whether the fellow movie brat straight up told Lucas to start off "Star Wars" with a prologue, per Spielberg, or just edited the one Lucas originally had.
Skywalker Ranch Publicity, which handles requests for Lucas, declined to give TooFab any comment.