It’s hard to imagine what shape “Star Wars” might have taken without that opening scene. From a storytelling standpoint, the scene serves several practical functions, including the introduction of important (now, famous) characters like Vader, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2.
The scene furthermore gives the movie an action beat to help immediately engage audiences. It also lays the groundwork for Leia’s holographic message to Obi-Wan Kenobi, which, in turn, gets him and Luke Skywalker involved in the whole rescue mission for her aboard the Death Star. Seeing what she went through to smuggle that distress call out through R2-D2 gives their mission stakes it might not otherwise have.
It feels like if you pulled out that opening scene, the entire thread of “Star Wars” would start to unravel, and what’s left would be a movie that begins with C-3PO and R2-D2 meandering around the desert, having already exited their escape pod on the planet Tatooine.
Of course, those are creative issues, and the bean counters at the studio weren’t concerned with the domino effect that pulling out the opening scene might have. All they cared about was having Lucas bring in “Star Wars” on schedule. Lucas had trouble getting the film financed in the first place, and it was only by the grace of Alan Ladd, then president of Fox, that he was able to get it done.
Fortunately, Lucas and his crew believed in the project so much that they were willing to work extra hours to complete as much of it as they could before the studio’s deadline. Though “Star Wars” may operate like a well-oiled droid, its production required a great bit of ingenuity to get it over the finish line, and we’re lucky that it made it across intact.