Affect as a Cinematic Force

Star Wars. The very name of this legendary film series carries so much connotation for everyone whether they have seen the films or not. I could write a whole separate blog post about what it is that makes Star Wars so special, why it is deserving of all its hype and fandoms, but what I want to focus on is the ‘force’ behind Star Wars (get it?) and the emotions that it finds deep within us. If you are interested in reading further into what makes Star Wars successful from a narrative and ability to adapt to a modern day context, as well as many other great reads regarding narrative story telling, take a look at my former college lecturer and Obi-Wan to my Luke Skywalker on my journey into university Craig Weightman’s blog.

Back in 1971, George Lucas approached Universal Studios with concepts for American Graffiti and Star Wars to form part of a two-picture contract between him and the studio, however, they rejected Star Wars during its early concept stages. When George Lucas began the process of re-creating and explaining the story of Star Wars, he could have had no concept of just how big of a phenomenon he was creating at the time. Despite this, whilst writing the first film he began to realise that actually he was writing multiple films.

“It wasn’t long after I began writing Star Wars that I realized the story was more than a single film could hold. As the saga of the Skywalkers and Jedi Knights unfolded, I began to see it as a tale that could take at least nine films to tell—three trilogies—and I realised, in making my way through the back story and after story, that I was really setting out to write the middle story.”
George Lucas

I like many of you I’m sure waited eagerly for the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer to pop up the other week, and i’m sure like many felt a tingling sensation as we watched it. But how does this trailer cause this physical affect on our bodies? The first thing I want to talk about is the choice of music. John Williams again brings his magic to the Star Wars franchise here with a modernised version of the original Star Wars theme tune. What this does is appeals to our memories, links this to something that we have already taken to our hearts. The trailer opens with these high pitched singular notes that almost feel like pin point pokes. This high level of contrast between soundtrack silence and high pitch sudden sounds puts our body on edge, a natural reaction when we may feel shocked or startled. This immediately captures our attention and in a way draws attention to the soundtrack itself, a decision made intentionally so that we would notice the classic tune later on in the trailer. Subtle differences from the original theme tune include the female vocals and the intense drum beat that picks up towards the end that all build us up to a climax that settles with a familiar and warming tone, which is ultimately what Star Wars represents; a heart warming story of your every day guy taking on the big bad guy.

One of the things that I liked most about the original trilogy, and something I hope has survived through into the new trilogy, is the simplicity of the soundscape and how it really allows iconic sounds to shine through to the audience. Whilst most films would seek to have an overly convoluted soundscape to compliment their film Star Wars simply didn’t require it. This also allowed us to focus more on our main characters rather than absorbing the surrounding chaos of a setting. For example, theres not many Star Wars fans who wouldn’t recognise the iconic and terrifying sound of a Tie Fight swooping in for an attack. The deep breathing of Darth Vader in a contemplated and menacing fashion. The whirring and beeping of a frightened R2-D2.

Now the visuals, something many people were worried about the moment news broke that Star Wars had been placed in the hands of J.J Abrams. The visuals are so crucially important to the Star Wars franchise, the original trilogy did them brilliantly utilising practical effects, costumes and make up over the prequel trilogies tendency to be over dependent on CGI. Thankfully, it seems J.J Abrams has made a conscious decision to try and use as many practical effects as he could to keep the appearance of Star Wars true to its original form. I do however still feel that some of its CGI feels overly flash when it has no need to be, in particular the scene where the Millennium Falcon twists and weaves across Jakku being chased by Tie Fighters. I mean, I know this Han Solo guy has some moves but I don’t remember the Millennium Falcon spinning around and upside down in the original series, and personally don’t see why you would want to for the risk of loosing your sense of place and crashing? Rant over.

Take a look at the above super trailer from the original trilogy and take note of what you think makes it successful. A friend of mine actually tried to illustrate to me today the difference between the two trilogies, she challenged me to describe Han Solo without describing what he wears and what he does, I described him as a roguish man living life for himself the way he wants to but by the end of the trilogy he has progressed through the Heroes Journey and changed. She then challenged me to do the same thing, but this time for Qui-gon Jinn and Queen Amidala, and boy did I stutter and fret as I tried to think of anything to say other than “he’s Liam Neeson” and “she’s bossy”.

But lets also look at the use of colour here in the original trilogy. You might notice that, despite being the ‘evil’ of this film, much of the Empire is portrayed in pristine white colours such as the Stormtroopers and interior of the Star Destroyers. At first I was unsure why this decision had been made but then it occurred to me that this carried two purposes. Firstly, it represented the loss of personality the Empire forced upon others and the strange level of efficiency this tyrannical rule brought along with it. Secondly, this only emphasised the blacks of Darth Vader and the Emperor giving audiences a clear indication of the villains at play. In fact, colours are essential to Star Wars in displaying the good or bad status of its characters; blue and green lightsabers for Jedi, red for Sith, black robes for the Sith whilst whites and browns for the Jedi. The one exception to the last rule of Jedi wearing whites and browns is Luke’s costume in Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi in which he is dressed in black. Again, I think this was a conscious decision as it is during this film that Luke comes into conflict with Vader and the Emperor and with the questions raised by the cave scene from Empire Strikes Back fresh in mind, it is unsure whether Luke can fight off the temptation to give in to the dark side and these colours further leave us to question subconsciously if he will strike down Vader in anger as the Emperor commands.

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