Monday, January 25, 2016

Symbolic Lighting: Star Wars Movies Need Symbols

This post contains SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens--You have been warned

The movies included in the Star Wars franchise find their strength from not only their well-developed characters and their deeply engaging story lines, but also from the symbols included within most of the movies. I would like to discuss the symbolism used within the characters faces in both Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Notably, the characters of Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren.

At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker faces off against his father, Darth Vader, at the behest of the Emperor. They duel, but eventually Skywalker chooses the Jedi path, the path of non-violence and hides from Vader. Darth Vader reaches out into Luke's mind and we get this amazing closeup of Luke's face.
Luke's face is half covered by shadows and half illuminated by the light. I am pretty sure that this was not one of George Lucas' ideas, but rather the terrific work of a intelligent director. From a symbolic standpoint, Luke is being torn into two directions. He is feeling the pull of both the light side of the force and the dark side. At this point he needs to make a choice, and you can see it because of how his face is lit. You might not have noticed this while initially watching this movie, but your brain does. Our brains are very adept at picking up these little details, this is why directors include them.

Now, I cannot find a picture of Kylo Ren's symbolic face lighting in The Force Awakens--I assume because the movie is still in theaters--but I will try to describe it as best I can. This lighting is so very similar to the lighting in Return of the Jedi. Towards the end of The Force Awakens, Han Solo faces off against his son, Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo). He pleads with his boy to return with him, to be good again, to come back to the light side. Han asks Kylo Ren to remove his helmet and initially his face is shadowed very similarly to Luke Skywalker's--half in dark shadows and half in red shadows. Then as he decides to kill his father, Kylo Ren steps forward and his face fully becomes bathed in red light, symbolizing that he has fully embraced the dark side.

These two scenes are what Star Wars is about. This is what makes Star Wars good--little things like this. Unfortunately, George Lucas lost sight of these little things when he was working on the prequel movies. It really is a shame too because if he had focused on elements like these those movies would probably have found better long term acceptance.

No comments: