This week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot takes Star Wars: The Force Awakens as its object of study and I must confess this was an assignment I was dreading. This is a film everyone has written about in the past six months, either to praise it, analyze it, deconstruct it, and decry it as a senseless failure of cinema or a new blockbuster masterpiece. Even I have written extensively about it, with a review, several articles about its costumes and, of course, my coverage of its Oscar nominations. In summary, I do believe have nothing new to say about this particular work, and for that I beg the reader’s patience and forgiveness.
Actually, not quite. You see, upon reading that Nathaniel was thinking of featuring in this series the latest entry in the most popular space soap opera of modern cinema, I immediately though of choosing a shot from what to me was the film’s most visually impactful sequence, the light saber battle during a snowstorm that marks the climax of the film. But such ideas became completely redundant upon reading Daniel Walber’s magnificent article about the set design featured in the sequence in question (go read it).
I still love that scene, especially its visceral quality, the way in which the heat of the blades visibly contrasts with the iciness of the landscape and the exhaustion that transpires from the bodies in conflict. But considering most of what I what to say about it was already so elegantly verbalized I decided to focus my attention elsewhere: the very beginning of the film.
From a scene of volatile colorful light and sinewy anguished humans, we arrive at a space tableau so stark it’s almost monochrome minimalism. A planet stands in the middle of the empty darkness of space. It’s reflected light and natural spherical shape are quickly violated when an alien silhouette cuts through the image, seeming to plunge the audience into a blackness even more consuming than that of the airless void of space.
It’s an image of such simple symbolism than one can almost call it infantile. Good versus evil, natural world versus militaristic artifice, roundness versus sharp angular lines, light versus shadow. Such dichotomies are simplistic, sure, but they’re also at the core of Star Wars, which has always been much more a romantic fantasy than any kind of cerebral sci-fi opera (I’m ignoring Lucas’ intentions regarding the prequels, as its the convention for sane people).
Look at the first film in the saga, for example, where the separation between what is good and what is evil can be almost solely deduced by who dresses in white and cream colored clothing and who dresses in rigid, black and grey costumes. The Force Awakens doesn’t just borrow narrative structure and plot points from the previous films, but also the back bone of its visual discourse. Though, unlike the much criticized nostalgia infused screenplay, the visuals do this in a much more elegant manner, while still creating a world of blatantly delineated dichotomies.
Here that dichotomy is presented in perhaps its most visually synthetized manner and it serves as a brilliant and starkly simple reintroduction to this world and prelude to a new adventure. It may be a bit too self-consciously composed and created as a visual statement for the beginning of the film, but it’s undeniably powerful and beautiful. In one gargantuan broad stroke the filmmakers have presented the world of their story and the conflict that propels it; while, at the same time, finding grandiosity and monumental scale in an image that could be described simply as a black triangle covering a white circle.
Bonus shot (or the actual best shot of the film, for mostly extracurricular reasons):
Is this the face that launched a thousand slash fanfics and set ablaze the hearts (and other bits) of many besotted moviegoers? Well, obviously, just look at him.