By Sartaj Singh
From when I was little, Star Wars has sparked my passion for cinema, and my favourite sequence from George Lucas’s epic six picture saga, still continues to remind me about the power of the movies. The sequence in question comes from the original picture- Star Wars, now dubbed “A New Hope”, it is the famous and iconic last battle- “The Battle of Yavin”
This twelve minute sequence remains the pinnacle in great spectacle. This is because every aspect of it, from the editing, direction, scripting, effects and music all work in harmony to create an exciting climax. To contextualise the scene, from a narrative point of view- the Death Star is fast in approaching the Rebel base, Yavin, with destruction on the mind. The Rebels meanwhile, have hatched a plan to destroy the Death Star, based on plans that Princess Leia has stolen. Luke Skywalker and a group of brave X-Wing pilots take to their vehicles for this daring run.
On a scripting level, the sequence sounds very ambitious on the page, due to several moving parts. But what director George Lucas, does very well in constructing it, is give a great coherence to the events. So for example, at the beginning of the scene, we get a great establishing shot of the X-Wings. This is for the purpose that the audience knows the exact amount of ships, so that when the onslaught begins, we are not confused by who is who. This is further helped by all the pilots calling in their wings names, soon after the aforementioned shot.
While Lucas`s dialogue has always been accused of being trite or unspeakable, I find that the dialogue in this stretch of the picture really works. It is efficient and gets point across quickly. In fact the dialogue, almost does not matter other than letting the audiences know of upcoming dangers and status reports. In addition, it has this matter of fact flavour and matches the style of what George Lucas is going for, which is these retro war films. Most particularly- World War Two pictures, he showed footage from that period to his editing and visual effects team, in order to illustrate some of cutting of the footage, and the style he wanted for the actual battle itself.
The effects, are out of this world, there is a great combination of rear projection, use of models, and miniatures. This combined with great speed to the cuts result in the action being very exciting. In addition to this, the design of the X-Wings and Tie Fighters are inspired. The former having this great, slick elegance, while simultaneously being run down, and having a great urban look to them. You get the feeling that the red stripes have almost been spray painted on, as opposed to elegantly constructed and painted.
This is in contrast with the latter, which are quite imposing, because of of their size, shape and colour scheme of sharp blacks and metallic silver. This is further punctuated by the front window on them, it gives them an extra dimension of being an ominous presence, throughout the sequence. This is because, you can see the pilot in full view, they are dressed from head to toe in black and you can’t see their eyes. It gives them, a not quite human quality which psychologically is great for striking fear into the heart of enemies. It truly does complement the design of the ship.
The sound design in these scenes are quite exceptional, thanks to the great work provided by Ben Burt. The conception on the part of George Lucas was to have an organic soundscape, in to make the world more believable. This was a far cry, from prior work done in Science Fiction, which were mere electronic sound effects, a good example being the communicator in the original Star Trek series.
The sounds contribute in giving the ships, weight, motion and threat. The best example being when Darth Vader is chasing down some X-Wings, you get this great sharp noise of the formation of his ships coming closer. Then you get a sound of the X-Wings being targeted, on their computers. Just through a simple, inconsequential ping sound, combined with the visuals, provides tension.
John Williams`s score is incredible in these series of scenes because it is not mere one note, battle music. It has many moments of calmness which is expressed through light melodies. A great example of this, is when we cut to a brief scene of a status report on the Death Star, with Governor Tarkin looking on. Instead of this, overpowering, villain march, we are treated to a soft piano theme. This gives the impression to the viewer, that the Empire are so confident of their victory.
This is in stark contrast to the heroic theme which is a great use of bombastic trumpets, that signify the gravity of the Rebel`s plight. There are even moments, when John Williams score is not used and we are just listening to the sound design, which signifies a great amount of care on the filmmakers`s part.
Finally, this sequence is quite important from the point of view of what it does for several characters, in terms of development. While, it may be obvious to point out the external event, that happens to Luke in this scene, I think that what is going on internally, really matters. We see Luke start to trust his intuition and this is a minor step, that blossoms into the kind of Jedi he will become. A Jedi who is sure, confident and absolutely certain of his convictions, even if it means death.
For Han Solo, who appears in the glorious final moments. We observe, that he is not just concerned about himself, he cares about Luke, to the point of delaying his trip to pay Jabba the Hut. In addition, through one piece of dialogue, we get the seeds of Darth Vader`s arc in the next picture.