The factions of good and evil are effectively shown in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. The creators use a variety of techniques, such as symbols (signifiers), camera angles, props, costumes, lighting (including colours and shadows), music (and sound effects), and even the expressions and movement of the actors themselves. These features of film language all contribute to the aims of the film, and showing the conflict between good and evil. The film is based on different worlds, in a ‘galaxy far, far away’.
It is quite an early epic into the science fiction genre, when the technology of films were still quite fresh, and yet the creators still managed to produce such an exciting and good-looking film as this. This was the second film in the ‘Star Wars’ series, but is now the fifth due to the inclusion of a ‘trilogy of prologues’. The main characters for good are: Luke Skywalker, a freedom fighter and trainee jedi knight; Han Solo, Luke’s close friend and fellow Rebel; Princess Leia, friendly to both Luke and Han Solo, also a Rebel.
They are part of the ‘Light Side’ and are against the ruling and domination of the ‘Dark Side’. There are two main evil leaders: The Emperor, who is a mysterious shadowy figure giving orders; and Darth Vader, notorious dark lord who is bent on finding Luke. An important scene in this film, is the scene of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader’s first meeting, when Luke enters Cloud City to rescue his friends, and ends up in the ‘carbon-freeze chamber’ with Vader. In this scene the director is portraying to us the idea of Darth Vader being huge and powerful, while Luke being small and weak.
This is achieved by a variety of techniques. Firstly, the angle of the camera is used effectively by giving a high angle shot of Darth Vader, followed by a low angle shot of Luke. The effect of this is that we see Vader as large and powerful because he is looking down on us. This upwards view makes us seem weak and insignificant, looking up at him, while it magnifies his power. It is effective because it involves us as viewers and not just Luke Skywalker. The low angle shot on Luke makes him feel small and weak, because we are looking down on him.
It is also effective, as it shows him looking up, so we feel his insignificance. Lighting is also used to portray Vader’s ‘evilness’ and power – the glow from below is highlighting his features in an eerie and sinister manner – and it is a red light, which proposes evil. It is effective because we associate red with evil, and the light emanating from below is effectively creating a scary atmosphere. The smoke ‘whooshing’ around behind him is also extremely effective as a signifier for emphasis; it creates an emphatic effect on Vader, which an audience will almost always associate with evil.
Costumes are also used to create a good and evil setting. Vader is dressed all in black (he always wears the same costume throughout the movie). He has his trademark mask with the emphasised breathing – a feature of evil Vader is that we can always hear him through his breathing before he is shown. This mask makes Vader emotionless; i. e. we can never see any of his physical emotions. This helps to keep his distanced from us ‘regular’ people, as are most evil characters. It enhances the mysteries of evil surrounding him.
When he is first shown in this scene, all we can see of him is the silhouette of his black cloak and the evil features of his mask. The effect of all this ‘blackness’ and his ‘samurai-style’ mask and his silhouette is more or less the same – to make him seem more threatening. And it is very effective, especially in this scene, because he steps forward and is bathed in the mysterious red glow. If there are any two colours perfect as signifiers for evil, they are red and black. In contrast, Luke is dressed in brighter colours, which signify good and happiness. His costume is lively and orange.
This is a polar difference compared to Vader’s darkness. It is effective in conveying the difference between Vader’s evil black and Luke’s good, bright orange. However, the red glow on Luke does affect his orange uniform, and this may be proof of Vader’s evil influence onto Luke’s good soul – and as we know Vader will try later on to convert Luke to the Dark Side. Luke’s expression is grim in this scene – a common feature of the good people; they will go through what they have to do with grim determination even though it may pain them. This helps define the faction of good, and helps us identify it in this film.
In comparison to this scene, there is a scene in which good is effectively portrayed. After Luke’s escape from the snow monster (Wompa), he is treated back to full health. The scene where he is resting and recovering is an important scene in the film for highlighting good. In the opening shot of the scene it begins with a close-up of Luke in bed. The music is very slow, light and calm, emphasising his state of rest. This creates a light mood and atmosphere, which is a signifier for good and safety. It is effective in portraying good due to the way the music unconsciously affects us.
It is highly different to the loud, sharp, and exciting music heard in the scene mentioned above; the light sabre battle between Luke and Vader. In comparison of these scenes, the music when we see Vader is effective in creating a tense, exciting atmosphere. Another difference is the lighting – the total darkness, dull glows and smoky shots, with Vader’s silhouette and the red ‘underglow’, compared to the bright, light setting in Luke’s recovery room. This lighter lighting is effective in conveying good because it is a powerful signifier for good and ‘cheerfullness’.
The atmosphere is cheerful – Leia and Han Solo joke as they enter the room: “you managed to keep me around for a little longer” says Solo, Leia is mockingly offended. This scene is shot with a mid angle shot switching between Leia and Solo. The sociable mid angle shot is effective in conveying good as well, it shows the manner of how they socialise. It is enhanced by the really light, low music almost undetectable in the background. The costumes are also bright – Leia wears white, Luke and Solo in cream, etc. This emphasises the ‘lightness’.
The expression of ‘fake smiling shock’ is effectively used by Leia to further lighten the mood and help show the nature of good. Luke’s body language when Leia kisses him is also significant in emphasising this ‘joky’ atmosphere – he puts his hand behind his head and half lies back, to mock Solo. This is totally different to the costumes, emotions (or lack of) and body language in the evil fight scene, where the costumes are affected by the smoke and ‘blackness’, with the eerie red glows and blue lights; which on the other hand conveys sinister evil.
In conclusion, we can see from this analysis of two scenes, that the makers of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ have effectively used signifiers (black Vader costume and smoke), camera angles (mid angle socialising of Leia and Han), costumes (totally black cloak and mask of Vader), lighting (red glow from beneath Vader and Luke), music (sharp and exciting music when we see Vader or the Imperial Cruiser), and expression (Luke’s determined grim expression when fighting Vader) to convey the conflict between good and evil. In my opinion it has been cleverly done and the movie quite clearly depicts the themes of good and evil, which helps to make this great film.