69

Most of the Star Wars movies, and many of the EU works, feature an opening similar to this one:

Screenshot of the text “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....”

Screencap from the opening crawl of "A New Hope"

However, generally, ellipses have only three dots, as confirmed by Wikipedia:

Ellipsis … is a series of dots (typically three, such as "…")

Is there some creative reason Lucas chose to have four dots in the opening, or was it just a typographical error?

  • 14
    If you want to know if it was/wasn't grammatically correct, you could always ask English Language & Usage. – user31178 Nov 16 '15 at 0:18
  • 9
    Just an FYI showing how it was done along time ago.... – user35594 Nov 16 '15 at 1:11
  • 3
    The four-dot ellipsis also appears in the yellow text opening crawl, apart from Return of the Jedi, which only uses three. – alexwlchan Nov 16 '15 at 8:01
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    It’s a galaxy far, far away. They do things differently there. – Paul D. Waite Nov 16 '15 at 8:47
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    I cannot believe I never noticed this... – iamnotmaynard Nov 16 '15 at 16:16
86

Perhaps because Flash Gordon did it?

According to Wikipedia, Lucas was influenced by Flash Gordon and similar programmes – he watched them as a child, which lead him to write his own space opera. Quoting the article:

Lucas has stated that the opening crawl was inspired by the opening crawls used at the beginning of each episode of the original Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers film serials, which were the inspiration for Lucas to write much of the Star Wars saga.

It cites the Revenge of the Sith DVD commentary, which I don’t have to hand, so I can’t check myself.

Here’s the final paragraph from the opening crawl of an episode of Flash Gordon:

enter image description here

Notice that it ends with four dots, not three.

And maybe it’s just me, but it looks like the third and fourth dots are closer together than the first three – which might lend credence to the theory that the fourth dot is really a full stop. I misjudged it – see @NeilSlater’s comment for a more plausible spacing explanation.

I can’t find anything with Lucas acknowledging this, but there’s a good chance he used a four-dot ellipsis because that’s what Flash Gordon did.

  • 108
    I see a single . followed by a group of ... closer together. To me it looks like the last sentence ends as normal, and the ellipses cover "some more sentences" which are of course where the film narrative takes over from the text. – Neil Slater Nov 16 '15 at 8:31
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    @NeilSlater So the SW opening sequence is an example of bad kerning. Go figure. – Raphael Nov 16 '15 at 17:41
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    This just goes to show you that you should never expect a question on this site to not have an answer.... – jpmc26 Nov 17 '15 at 7:38
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    @jpmc26 "...." I see what you did there. Well played. – Rogue Jedi Nov 17 '15 at 13:18
  • Maybe when making Flash Gordon they wanted to fill the whole line and the best fit was an ellipsis and a period. It certainly looks like the best fit to me. Maybe 4 periods didn't fit. – xdhmoore Nov 19 '15 at 8:11
49

A rule that I remember (from school?) is that, if an ellipsis occurs at the end of a declarative sentence, you use four periods — the ellipsis itself, followed by the period at the end of the sentence.  The Wikipedia article that you cite says something similar:

An ellipsis at the end of a sentence with a sentence following should be preceded by a period (for a total of four dots).

  • 18
    But "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away" isn't a complete sentence.... – Micah Nov 16 '15 at 0:21
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    "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away."  isn't a complete sentence — part of the sentence has been omitted, as denoted by the ellipsis! – Peregrine Rook Nov 16 '15 at 1:21
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    Agreed. But that means that the ellipsis isn't occurring at the end of a declarative sentence — it's occurring in the middle of a declarative sentence, and replacing the rest of it. – Micah Nov 16 '15 at 3:17
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    If it replaces an entire sentence. So if you're quoting someone saying "Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Therefore Socrates is mortal." and you want to elide the middle sentence, you'd say "Socrates is a man. . . . Therefore Socrates is mortal." In this case, though, the complete sentence would presumably be something like, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away, some stuff happened." Since "some stuff happened" is part of the same sentence as all the rest of it, it doesn't need the fourth dot. – Micah Nov 16 '15 at 3:59
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    It doesn't "replace an entire sentence". You use three dots when you are taking things out of the middle of a sentence. You add the fourth dot when you are replacing everything up to the end of a sentence. "This is a sentence with extraneous bits that I am making shorter." --> "This is a sentence... that I am making shorter." As opposed to: "This is a sentence that I am going to shorten by removing the final extraneous bits." --> "This is a sentence that I am going to shorten...." – Roger Nov 16 '15 at 14:54
13

An "ellipsis" specifically refers to a set of three periods to indicate that some section of a quote has been omitted. As mentioned in the accepted answer to this question on the English language & usage stack exchange, when periods are used to indicate a pause in speech--which is what is presumably going on with the Star Wars opening crawl--they are called "suspension points". That answer quotes the Collins English Dictionary as saying:

Suspension point - mainly US one of a group of dots, usually three, used in written material to indicate the omission of a word or words. Compare ellipsis (sense 2).

If the group "usually" consists of three, that seems to indicate that it isn't absolute, and it might be acceptable to use more to indicate a longer pause.

It may be that this distinction between an ellipsis and suspension points is a fairly new one, though--this page seems to say The Chicago Manual of Style only started making the distinction in 2010:

Describing this other role of ellipses, The Canadian Style (2nd ed., 1997) says that they denote "a silence in dialogue, hesitation or interruption in speech, a pause in narrative, or the passage of time" (section 7.05). The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed., 2010) says, in section 13.39, that in dialogue the points show "faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion or insecurity."

Mini-digression: In the 16th edition, Chicago eschewed simplicity and elected to use two different terms for ellipsis points, calling them ellipsis points when they indicate a real omission and suspension points when they show faltering or suspended speech or thought.

  • What would have been omitted? It seems like it leads right into the following sentences. – user31178 Nov 16 '15 at 0:24
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    I think that's his point. Nothing was omitted so it's not an ellipsis, it's merely a "suspension point" indicating a pause in the story-telling. – KutuluMike Nov 16 '15 at 0:26
  • Yes, exactly--I edited my answer slightly to try to make that more clear. – Hypnosifl Nov 16 '15 at 0:31
  • @MikeEdenfield Even the definition for suspension point indicates it's for an omission, so it muddles the second quote about them. – user31178 Nov 16 '15 at 0:34
  • @CreationEdge - That's a good point, I think the intent there is that "suspension point" can also be use when a sentence trails off so whatever words might have been originally intended are omitted, but that definition doesn't seem to cover the case of "suspended speech" that is mentioned as part of the Chicago Manual of Style's new usage of "suspension points" in the second quote I posted. – Hypnosifl Nov 16 '15 at 0:56
11

GetItWriteOnline.com: Ellipses states, "The fourth dot stands for the period at the end of the sentence that we have not entirely quoted; it lets our reader know that the quotation borrows from more than one sentence of the original text."

I know this answer is similar to some others, which indicate that 4 periods get used if the quote matches the end of a sentence, or if multiple entire sentences are removed. However, the rule stated here is slightly different. This rule indicates that if the quoted part comes from multiple sentences, then a fourth period is appropriate.

If we assume that this was done intentionally (rather than a grammar error), then this simply implies that the part after "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" is a story that is much longer than simply a partial sentence.

5

I would say that it was simply typographic license. There are other examples in the crawl where exact proper grammar and punctuation has not been used correctly.

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    Can you name the examples? – Rogue Jedi Nov 16 '15 at 0:21
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    The only thing I can see is the all-caps notation of "ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC", "DEATH STAR", and "GALACTIC EMPIRE" in episodes 2, 4, and 6, respectively. However, as noted by Wikipedia, that notation has been common for quite some time, and only with (relatively) recent advances in computer markup languages and high-quality personal printers has the notation been largely deprecated. – MichaelS Nov 16 '15 at 10:28
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    This is of course the correct answer. Sometimes, just in casual writing (say, email), you put in a LOT of dots.............like that. It's not really an ellipsis. It's more of a suggestion "wait for it!......" or "And then something happened........" It would be incorrect to say "it is a typographical error": because it is not really an ellipsis. It's just a string of periods, which is often used to suggest "and then...". Note that indeed these days in most WP when you type three dots, it (sometimes annoyingly) converts it to the single ellipsis character. (Not actually three periods.) – Fattie Nov 16 '15 at 13:16
  • I would not do that in an email. Sounds like a juvenile thing, not specifically tied to a medium. – JDługosz Nov 17 '15 at 4:35
4

According to this article on the matter of four ellipses, it seems that they are to be used when an entire sentence has been removed. I am not entirely sure how relevant this is though!

More to the point, the Wookieepedia article on the Opening Crawl makes the observation that the Opening Crawl itself was influenced by the opening crawl of Flash Gordon; possibly Lucas derived it from there. This is just speculation and I haven't found anything to support it, but it is certainly possible.

  • 1
    punctuation != grammar – user14111 Nov 16 '15 at 0:12
  • Is there any comparison of the all the original openings/remastered ones? The OP claims that all of the movies have this problem, but your answer is the only one that seems to refute that claim. – user31178 Nov 16 '15 at 0:28
  • @CreationEdge realised that page says that the opening crawl ends with that, not the 'a long time ago' bit! – Often Right Nov 16 '15 at 1:07
  • the article on "four dots mean a missing sentence!" can only be described as "totally wrong". I cannot think of any style guide, any house style, that uses that (or where it would even be relevant). – Fattie Nov 17 '15 at 4:25
0

The straightforward answer is:

it is not an ellipsis.

It's that simple.

Much as Colbsdotcom suggests.

Note that an ellipsis has very specific meaning and purpose, that something has been omitted.

Indeed, note that these days in most word processors, when you type three dots, it (sometimes annoyingly) converts it to the single ellipsis character. (Not actually three periods...there's one single glyph which is an ellipsis.)

In complete contrast to an ellipsis ("something missing"), it's common in casual writing to do something such as the following: the car approached the wall and then......................bang!

For me a "lot of periods" kind of suggest "time passing" or "we're about to tell you the punchline" or "wait for it.....". We all do this all the time in casual writing; and it has nothing to do with an ellipsis.

Indeed the famous "Long time ago" example is indeed perhaps the most famous example of using "a lot of dots" like that (just as one very commonly does today in texts or email.............for various reasons such as in this sentence separating a "payoff" phrase. Or, to leave the reader hanging..............)

So, quite simply, it's not an ellipsis (it has nothing to do with "omitting something"); it's a "lot so dots" symbol, which is indeed commonplace in casual writing...........particularly emails or QA forum posts.

  • 3
    "Aposiopesis (...) is a figure of speech wherein a sentence is deliberately broken off and left unfinished (...) To mark the occurrence of aposiopesis with punctuation, (...) an ellipsis (…) may be used." Not necessarily accurate, but worth considering. After all, the dots mark the omission of the rest of the sentence such as in "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away [, the following happened:]", so it doesn't seem valid to claim 'it has nothing to do with "omitting something"'. – O. R. Mapper Nov 16 '15 at 18:16
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    Hi OR! I think the situation is quite clear (1) it is not omitting anything. (2) it is suggesting "something is coming.....". – Fattie Nov 16 '15 at 19:10
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    The remaining words required to form a complete sentence are omitted, so obviously something is being omitted in (1). Unless you insist (1) is a sentence that omits some words so as to be incomplete, and ends with a marker that looks like an omission mark, but that is none, because the sentence is intentionally incomplete ... classical Occam's razor situation. (2) is technically a complete sentence, but the dots seem to indicate that it is directly followed up by what happens on screen, so something like "... and this is what ensues:" is omitted. – O. R. Mapper Nov 16 '15 at 19:17
  • @O.R.Mapper I rather like Joe's point. The purpose isn't "and restore freedom to the galaxy [blah blah blah] screen events", omitting "blah blah blah", it's "and restore freedom to the galaxy. [pause for drama] screen events" - (Also, I think the numbers (1), and (2), were two points being made for both examples? But it's pretty unclear.) – DoubleDouble Nov 16 '15 at 20:28
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    "The remaining words required to form a complete sentence are omitted" that's wrong. Much as "once upon a time" is a complete phrase, the Lucas variant is a complete phrase. Note critically that everything about "sentences" is irrelevant. It is not a sentence, is not meant to be a sentence, and has no connection to sentences. Advertising slogans, headlines, lines of dialog in a script, introductory statements, and indeed 95% of written speech has no connection at all to "whole sentences" and is not related. – Fattie Nov 17 '15 at 4:23

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