“Star Wars” was arguably the first in a new breed of high concept, high budget sci-fi action films. It was directed by George Lucas and originally released in only a few cinemas in 1977. However, the buzz around the film grew, and it is now one of the highest grossing films of all time, and along with its sequels, prequels and re-mastered re-releases, has a large cult following. I feel this is because of Lucas` ability to engage the audience through careful use of sound and camera technique;
The use of the scrolling story in space sets up many audience expectations, that the action will be set in space, and that it will base around a struggle between the rebels and the Empire. Narration is a fairly formal method of exposition, linked to the old style fairytale format, preparing the audience for a classic narrative and easily recognizable characters, and expectation that is fulfilled throughout the film (Leia is the princess needing rescue, Vader the “baddie” and Han Solo is the knight and shining armour for example). However, the traditional fairytale narrative also dictates that there should be a happy ending with all the loose ends tied up. This is not the case, for whilst the film ends on an up beat note, the ultimate threat of the Empire has not been neutralized, and has to be dealt with in a separate film.
The opening section begins with what appears to us to be a large space ship, flying in from the bottom of the screen at great speed, instantly creating the enigma of who it is moving away from and why they are being fired upon. The next thing we experience is a truly huge battle cruiser gently fly in from the same direction, dwarfing the one seen before. This sets the audience up to expect grand scale- big ships and big battles.
The ship rebel ship is relatively battered and older looking. This shows the rebels as the underdog, endearing them to the audience, and insinuates that this has been a long drawn out battle, preparing the audience for the fatigued chaos we see inside the ship. This contrasts sharply with the slick, cold battle cruiser, with a blue tint used to show the coldness of the empire. Because of the obvious superiority of the empires ship, we feel that it is a mismatch of power and begin to resent the empire for persecuting the rebels.
The non-diagetic sound of firing used throughout is cold and artificial, making it sound like they are using some unknown technology. This sound is heard almost constantly though the section and so only becomes conspicuous through its absence, and reinforces the relentlessness of the battle.
The parallel editing from a shot of the ship sustaining damage to the people inside reacting to it help to link the outside battle with the following scenes in the rebel ship. Throughout this section, almost all shots of the rebels involve movement, conveying panic and inciting it in the audience as we realize that this is building up to something big.
The walls of the rebel ship are bright white, and are fairly spacious. This contrast with the dark black interior of the empire ship we see later as the droids try to escape. The whiteness has almost heavenly connotations, making the audience feel like they are in a “good” place, and relatively secure. The black walls of the empire ship give a claustrophobic feel, and make the audience uncomfortable and want to escape.
The constant non-diagetic background music is a march, based around horns, a traditionally powerful instrument, typically used to provide music for war films. It also mimics the raised, panicked heartbeat of the rebels. It subconsciously raises our own heartbeat, making the audience feel like they are part of the rebel “team”
The CU’s on the rebel’s faces allow the audience to recognize the rebel’s terror, increasing their own anticipation. By seeing their faces, it humanizes the rebels and prepares the audience to be on their side, instead of the cold, expressionless masks of the empire.
During these rebel shots, there are MCU’s on the two robots, a technique used throughout the sequence and indeed the film to distinguish the central characters. We also realize they are important because their bright metallic colouring makes them stand out from the background of uniformed rebels.
Their voices are quite comical; C3P0’s English accent is so camp and inappropriate to the action packed setting that the audience find themselves laughing. R2D2’s language is not easily decipherable, and so many laughs are gained by inferring what he has said by C3P0’s response. This section introduces the audience to the idea that these characters will provide the comic relief for the film, and indeed, their presence in this section allows the audience to relieve a little of their tension by laughing, this is important because of the family based nature of the film, parents do not want their young children to be too scared.
The camera moves to a tight shot of the door, framing it within the screen, showing that all attention is now diverted to it. The sparks from the cutters are exaggerated , to emphasise their importance, and run around the screen, creating the impression that the intruders are breaking into the audience’s real world, further allying them with the rebels.
The Storm troopers break through, and an eye line shot from their perspective is used to show the rebels firing back; connoting a “new perspective” has arrived. The cutters continue, and when the camera cuts back, they have created a smoke screen , and enigma is created as to what will appear next. At this point, all sound cuts to silence, leaving the audience with the sound of their own raised heartbeat and breathing and intensifying the anticipation.
When Vader steps through, only his exaggerated breathing is heard, focusing all our attention on him, making the audience question why he needs a respirator. Vader is instantly identifiable as “evil”, the shot place him at the center of the screen, and he is dressed head to toe in black, as opposed to rebel white ship, a symbol of the goodness of their principles and their “purity”, they have no need for masks or machines.
The non-diagetic music then begins its “Empire” motif, an easily recognizable section used whenever Vader is around or to imply his involvement. This contrasts with the rebel motif that was heard at the very beginning of the section, and is one of the most easily identifiable pieces of film music in
history. The use of these motifs enhances the binary opposition of good and evil by giving them completely different music. It also helps build an international cult following, because the iconic music is assessable to all. This makes the audience feel smug at being part of a community that recognizes these motifs.
Cut to POV shot, C3PO watching R2D2 receive the message from Leia. Leia is instantly recognizable as a princess- she is shot in soft focus and gentle non-diagetic music plays, to mirror the implied gentleness of her personality. The long shot used means we cannot see her face, so it establishes an enigma as to who she is, whom she is sending the message to and what the message is.
During this sequence, the gentle non-diagetic music and the lack of firing sounds allow the audience to feel relaxed for a short moment. This is a classic act of retardation as they are immediately confronted with Vader, in a MCU two shot with his commander. The way that Vader dominates the frame shows his superiority over the commander.
Vader’s voice is very deep and rasping, and sounds processed. This makes him appear “other worldly”, and the deepness of his voice is traditionally linked to big characters, such as monsters or giants. This makes the audience feel very small and insignificant
The CU of the soldiers legs is shot from a low angle, further emphasizing Vader’s stature and Making the audience aware of his dangerous strength and his Jedi powers, which sets up an audience expectation about use of “the force”
The CU on Leia’s face is a contrast to the strength and brutality of the last, as it is once again in soft focus. The conversation between her and Vader is a montage of eye line shots and FS’s, with them at either side of the screen. The eye line shots are very confrontational, designed to make the audience feel as if they are right in the middle of their argument. The full shot conveys to the audience that their views oppose each other, and reinforces the binary opposites- black vs. white, empire vs. rebels, young vs. old ect.
By showing us the droids entering the escape pod, it creates an unrestricted narrative; the audience knows what is inside. Because of this knowledge, we feel superior to the empire troops, who let it pass, further reinforcing our allegiance to the rebels.