May 10, 2016 – Did Star Wars: The Force Awakens err in using the wrong font during the opening crawl?
Director J.J. Abrams had emphasized his commitment to duplicating the look and feel of the original Star Wars trilogy, from shooting on film (instead of digital) to using more real-world models and less CGI gimmickry.
Inadvertently, however, Abrams and crew may have used the wrong font during the opening crawl as compared to that used in the previous six live-action films. Here is a side-by-side comparison:
The erroneous font used is some condensed version of News Gothic, likely Ultra Condensed News Gothic. The font type used in the previous six movies is called Univers. While News Gothic is rounder and easily readable, Univers “gives the title of the film some stately heft — telegraphing the impression that the events about to transpire are carved in the stone of destiny”, according to medium.com’s author, Fix the Crawl, which first reported the error. As an example, if you look at the ‘S’ and ‘R’ glyphs in the TFA crawl, you may notice they are boxier.
Curiously, promotional ads for TFA used the correct font. So why the subtle change in the film (if that was intentional) or the error (if it truly was a goof)?
When George Lucas produced the prequels, he assigned Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll with the responsibility of duplicating the original Star Wars crawl. Keep in mind that the first prequel, The Phantom Menace, was released in 1999 – a full 16 years after the release of Return of the Jedi (1983). And so a major problem, as John Knoll explains, was that “nobody took precise notes when they were shooting those (original) sequences.”
Said Knoll, “For the classic Trilogy, a high contrast film of the text was laid out flat on a long lightbox (a transparent table lit from underneath), with a camera set up on rails running parallel to the lightbox. The camera was controlled by a computer to make sure the scrolling speed remained constant: that’s what we call a ‘motion-control camera’. To create the illusion of text disappearing on the horizon, the special effects guys tilted the camera at an angle and ran it down the track. A star field was later optically added to complete the footage.”
A decade and a half later, Knoll and his team had to painstakingly reverse engineer the exact fonts, taking into account the curvature created by the 24mm camera lens. All of this had to be recreated in their computers whereas the original trilogy used a tilted panning camera running over a long lightbox.
The answer for the slight font change is still a mystery. Lucasfilm Story Group head Pablo Hidalgo says that the crawl “that was approved by the director changed things around.” Well, yes, we know that. But why the change?
We suspect that, as with many things, there were last-minute edits and the pressure of looming deadlines which allowed the changed font in. (See, for example, the mysterious now-you-see-Rey-wearing-Finn’s-jacket-now-you-don’t footage, which Abrams readily admits was an editing error.)
Most fans won’t notice these so-called errors or even care, and that’s fine. But Star Wars purists love these technical aspects – something else to keep you up late at night. Or not.
Font Type for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (7 Nov 2014)
Star Wars Font “Aurebesh” (31 Jan 2014)