"That malfunctioning little twerp... this is all his fault"*
For my contribution to the 3oth Anniversary Star Wars Blog-a-Thon, I had intended to write about Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia. That won't surprise regular readers since I have read all of the woman's novels and am a card carrying actressexual to boot. But as is often the case in the past two months, I find I'm haunted by this random screengrab I pulled for my 20:07 series *
[Edited to add: Unfortunately, as it turns out my DVD player or the DVD itself, a rented remastered copy of the 1977 film, has some sort of glitch. I can't get an accurate read of the time (it jumps from 3:32 at the end of the text crawl to 10:29 and the first glimpse of the spaceship, thus rendering the clock unreliable from then on -apologies, editor]
But anyway... If you're an irregular reader and just here for the 'thon, I'll fill you in: as an experiment in visual blogging, I've been stopping movies at a random point, the 20th minute and 7th second and posting the screenshot with dialogue. Sometimes this leads to revealing giggles and other times to fascinating meta-criticism. Occasionally the random image pulled makes me ponder the movie in a whole new way. And, though I couldn't get an accurate read on this Star Wars disc, this image I grabbed from my skipping disc is haunting me anyway. The more I tried to pull myself away to talk Princess/novelist, the more I found myself lost in this image of the desert vista on Tatooine.
The beauty of the image is this: there's next to nothing there. Its simplicity is vast. We've just witnessed one of the most exciting opening scenes in film history: a text crawl has informed us that we've arrived in the middle of a story! We've seen an outer space attack, a princess, an evil cloaked villain, and two droids narrowly escaping armed soldiers. And here we are marooned on a desert. George Lucas couldn't have chosen a smarter locale to toss a curious audience into. There is so much that's unknowable, even alien about a desert... and yet its a familiar and static image. There is no distraction. Your mind is then free to wander, to wonder, to fill in the possible details. There's nothing to look at and you want to see everything. What kind of creatures live on this planet? Is there only desert? How will these machines (C-3PO pictured and R2-D2 dissed) make their way in this world? What will become of the Princess's message, already embedded in the malfunctioning little twerp?
The simplicity here got me thinking about visual schemes in the entire Star Wars series. It isn't just the desert that's low key. The color palette is largely black (costumes, Vader, space) and white (costumes, Storm Troopers) with abundant beiges (costumes, endless sand) and grays (spaceships). The Empire Strikes Back is similarly muted in its color schemes. Instead of the desert we begin on an ice planet (also familiar yet alien and wondrous to the eye). Return of the Jedi adds a forest moon and with it more greens and browns. These fantastical worlds are really quite generously familiar and plain. It's our imagination, fully engaged, filling in the details of this galaxy far far away. We're intimately engaged in the mythology because we're helping to create it as we watch.
This desert image from the 20th minute of the first film solidifies for me this partially inchoate notion I've had about what went wrong between the first set of films (1977 to 1983) and the later ones (1999 to 2005). When we first return to Tatooine in The Phantom Menace it's still a desert but there's more detail. Technological advances fill every frame with ... stuff. The new worlds created are bizarre (who lives under water or on lava?) and the costumes are explosively colorful and odd. The second trilogy (Chapters 1 through 3) is so visually detailed as to be entirely cluttered and muddy. The audience's imagination has no work left to do. There's so much to look at that there's, metaphorically speaking, nothing to see. It's certainly alien but the humanity has gone right out of it.
* I use a VLC DVD Player on an iMac for my screenshots. All 20:07 images in the series are from this system (unless other wise noted from guest images) Not all DVD players match in their internal clocks.