“ Even Obi Wan was blue in this”
Cover story from Issue by Belinda Hall
FANTILIGY (THE ART, THE FILM OF THE FANTASTIC)
Fantiligy issue 3: The Empire Strikes Back
Why colour palette alone makes this film great.
There are many reasons why Empire Strikes Back (we don’t say Episode 5 here) is not only the greatest Star Wars film, but perhaps, one of the greatest films of all time. You could argue that it is the story; the hero facing the villain only to find the villain is his father; the love story, (perhaps the only time ever a love a story was done convincingly in a space adventure setting) or the fact that this sequel subverted expectations by being the first adventure film to lack a positive resolution.
At the time of its release, proponents would also have praised the technological feat both in sound and image and to this day, applause is still heard for its seemingly effortless placement of music to character to moment, but I believe just as great as these is the prolific colour palette which I would say is in the blues or the cyans if you want to be specific and the absence of red.
I have nothing against red.
Red is warm, final and fatal. It is the colour of fire, passion and fury. It is what we seek after we endure the cold, the mechanical, the loss. It is so strongly denied us in Strikes Back. In this film, we open on an ice planet where the hue of blue makes its way out of the white. Han’s Jacket is blue, the AT AT walkers are blue. Above the blue glow of the planet, Star destroyers Stretch the Hue and on board the ship, no warmth in sight. If the feeling is blue on the planet of Hoth, it is just as Blue on the Vader ruled mother ship. There is no Tarkin here, no “Vader release him” followed by a “As you wish” only a fatal death pinch and it occurs many times.
Exit to the Millennium Falcon; Han still in b, followed by blue asteroids, being pursued by bounty Hunters (with not a strip of red). Luke goes to the blue lit swamp planet where he meets the Cyan hued Yoda and is visited again by Obi Wan, who is I might add, very blue in glow by now.
How much blue can we bear? Off to the city in the clouds where the warmer hue is but a backdrop; signifying that it is almost unobtainable. Its operator, Lando wears blue and we are taken to a carbon freezing unit where the yellow floors will not even take up a third of the blue walled room. Enter look in a Greyish blue combat uniform; blue lightsabre. Vader ignites his. Hooray, a splash of red! But it is merely the size of hair strand on the negative as he wields it in blue room after blue room. Finally the hand of Luke is severed: No red blood. He falls and seems to suspend in what seems like the most non-blue shot of the film; amidst the yellowish clouds.
This is the light one sees when they have reached death.
But it is not to be, he is rescued by Lando and provided bedding in the darkened Millennium Falcon. Final shot, Luke, Leia and co look out to the blue universe before we are hit with blue credits.
We won’t be needing red, thanks.
Now I have nothing against red in movies. Some of my favorite images are in red. The Dracula cape in Bram Stokers Dracula, the Red and Yellow costume and set design of Flash Gordon. The red jacketed titular character in Baron Munchausen. But the designers of Empire, expertly teased the audience with the promise of scarlet only to keep us waiting effectively for the next film: Genius.
I think, subconsciously, such adherence to a palette has become the norm. I was just watching the rather underrated Underworld rise of the Lycans and saw red substituted for black, but never before Empire or indeed after has the promise of red hovered above us like the promise of rain in a drought and is perhaps, one of the many elements which contributes to the splendor of this great film.