SceneKid#8: Binary Sunset

Watching Star Wars drunk is guaranteed to result in a bit of Tatooine sand getting in your eye…

Star Wars
Dir: George Lucas
Original Release Date: 25 May 1977

Part One of a Star Wars SceneKid series special.

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The everlasting joy of Star Wars is that it never fails to move you. Its gripping, emotional value is something one learns to appreciate multiple times over while growing up, mainly because of the range of both age and state of mind that a slightly obsessive fan will watch it during their lifetime. I myself, as anyone who reads my pieces has probably guessed, fall nicely into this dedicated fanboy category. As a kid, Star Wars was all about the action, the excitement, the flashes of red, blue, and green. A lot of the deeper, emotional, perhaps what you would call more subtle material (you know, the adult talky scenes/anything lacking lasers) tends to go over the head of an eight year-old. That’s not to say our subconscious wasn’t aware of and taking in what was going on, rather that such scenes failed to spark the same reaction they did when viewed again and again later in life. Any break in the proceedings related directly childhood fantasies brought out impatience, even during a film such as Star Wars.

Fast forward to a few months back (if that makes sense): a random Friday night. Finding myself home alone, save for a six pack of rather strong British Columbian IPA, I decided the best course of action was to kick back and watch the original theatrical release of Star Wars (one at a time, ladies), something I’d been meaning to do for a while. In fact, it had been a long time since I’d sat down and properly watched any version of the film from start to finish. Continuing through the already opened six pack at a pace relative to the break neck speed of the movie’s opening salvo, by the twenty-five minute mark I was happily and heavily rounding tipsy. All of a sudden one of those scenes that barely registered as a child hit my less than sober-self smack bang in the face, as Luke Skywalker trudged silently from his desert igloo to stand and contemplate life beneath the slowly setting haze of Tatooine’s binary sunset…

Now recognition of the emotional value and content of this scene was hardly new to me, but a combination of not having seen it in a while, hand in hand with the booze and the fact that this was the original theatrical version – the one I first viewed on VHS while sat cross-legged on the floor of my primary school hall circa 1996 (“A few teachers are away? Sit ‘em down in the hall, wheel the telly in and stick a video on, that’ll shut ‘em up”) – must have stirred something in me (now recounted safely for you good people in the month of May, effectively the official month of Star Wars, rather than by way of me talking someone’s uninterested ear off while under the influence at a house party). As John Williams’ quite frankly phenomenal score (considering how ridiculous all this must have looked to him in 1977) came rolling in, I found myself welling up to the point where there the slightest of chokes escaped, forcing me to quickly reach for the IPA. This was the umpteenth moment when I  remembered just how truly fucking awesome Star Wars was/is, ironically during a moment that was likely relegated to the subconscious during my former years of action-indulged youth.

The genius of the scene, as elsewhere throughout Star Wars, is simplicity coupled with creativity. Whilst Lucas may have been a massive overachiever who was regularly way out of his depth as a director in one sense, when he got it right in the old days, boy did he get it right. The man truly was a visionary at one point. His team too, editors in particular, who no doubt had far more input and impact than they did from Return of the Jedi onward, when Lucas’ desperation to have a firm hand in pretty much everything began to take over. Just like the opening Star Destroyer shot (dissected to perfection by Mr. Plinkett/RLM), the score sets the heart string-tugging tone, while the visuals tell us all we need to know, all without dialogue, any over the top dramatic gestures from Mark Hamill, or interference from any other characters. By now we feel we know our protagonist, and, crucially, we share in the emotional torment he feels at the prospect of having to stay on another year on, quite frankly, one of the worst places in the galaxy. His burning but seemingly forever doused desire for adventure, deep in the echelons of space, far away from the only place he’s ever known, is reflected by the extinguishing heat of the setting suns he knows all too well, which, in turn, is itself also a sign of one of the cool design-related aspects of the scene. Instead of having a standard sunset, Lucas and co. took the opportunity to make the whole thing just that bit more interesting. How about two suns? Sure, why not, after all this is a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. It’s all played just right. Simple, but incredibly effective.

Star Wars has been analysed to death over the years, and to this day it remains one of the most popular, most important films ever produced, dual realities that show no signs of abating with the forthcoming release of Episode VII. However, like Citizen Kane, The Godfather parts I & II, Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas et al., plus of course its very own sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, it’s difficult to ever overanalyse a piece of art so deeply rooted in all that is right in the world of the reel. What makes it so engaging is not one set moment, scene, or line, but rather an array of cinematic talent, technique, and execution, both in front of, and behind the camera. All of this allows a specific sequence, such as the binary sunset – a thirty second cut of a few shots with very little too them on the surface – to become the subject of deep, alcohol-influenced emotional reactions and subsequent film-based philosophical text almost forty years on from when it was all first put together. Next time, it’ll be another scene, and the time after that a different one yet again, experienced not only by me, but by countless viewers the world over; young and old, noobs and fanboys alike.

All in all, it’s more wealth than you can imagine.

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3 thoughts on “SceneKid#8: Binary Sunset

  1. Pingback: SceneKid#9: “That boy is our last hope…” | In Layman's Terms...

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