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“A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away”

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A halogen blue font glowing across the inky blackness of space, dappled with softly glimmering stars. A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away. Queue John Williams, the triumphant Star Wars credits theme, and the long vertical scrawl in light gold of the latest episode’s pulpish backstory.

Like many people who grew up watching the Star Wars movies, that opening explanatory sentence didn’t necessarily mean anything to me: it was just a mantra, a chant, a part of the ritual of going to see a Star Wars film. It has a mystery and majesty to it, true, but I didn’t bother thinking about what the sentence accomplished, or what it meant. It was like the opening sentence of the Lord’s Prayer for sci-fi fans: you only actually parse its meaning as an adult, after you’ve repeated it numbly and ritualistically a million times before.

A few years ago, though, I actually thought about it, and how revolutionary that sentence was at the time. “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Consider this: how much science-fiction featuring aliens and spaceships have you seen that takes place not in the future or the presence but the past? There may be a few films here and there that take that tack, but when Star Wars did it in 1977, it was a revolution to the way we think about sci-fi.

That the films happened in “a galaxy far, far away” meant that humans, as we know them, would never enter the picture. Darth Vader would not invade Earth. Luke Skywalker would not be from Idaho. Star Wars may be the first sci-fi film that doesn’t feature a single human.

The opening sentence quickly and firmly establishes that we are about to watch a film of ancient, alien myths, in a universe where Earth and the affairs of humans are completely unimportant. As an adult, I simply marvel at how radical an idea that was… in 1977 as it is today.

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