Storytelling is an art. Just like there are few Da Vincis and Michelangelos, there are few who can touch the master craftsmanship of one George Lucas. Opinions of how he did it aside, it is undeniable that every single thing George Lucas tried to do he excelled at.
Jump forward over a decade past Lucas making his last Star Wars film, and we have new filmmakers trying to fill the plaid shirt of the Maker. With The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams foreshadowed many things, most of which Rian Johnson tossed in the air, kicked around, and took into a whole new direction with The Last Jedi. Nonetheless, neither JJ nor Rian, and arguably not any storyteller in history, used foreshadowing with such masterful brush strokes as did Lucas.
Foreshadowing as a storytelling motif started from the very first Star Wars film. In A New Hope, Lucas uses light and dark colors to signify the good guys and the bad guys. Classic fairy tale stuff there. But what is more intriguing is the blowing up of the Death Star. The Death Star, intentionally, is dark, grey, and foreboding. When Luke blows it up, literal light comes into the picture. Through Luke joining the galactic conflict, hope now burns bright in the galaxy. The light of the Rebellion has truly arrived.
Two films later, in Return of the Jedi, light again explodes into the galaxy via the defeat of the second Death Star. This time, though, it is not the hope of the Rebellion exploding out; in this case it is the light brought on by the New Republic which, according the Bloodline, will bring a relative peace for some 20 to 30 years.
Not everything was this simplistic, though. In Empire Strikes Back, we see the story start with Luke being attacked by a wampa. Wampas are white. Hoth is white. White is the color of hope and goodness (just look at Luke’s attire in A New Hope). White brings pain and destruction to the Rebellion. Something is wrong here.
Good things do not happen for the majority of this film. Most prominent is the betrayal of Lando, who should be a friend. Like the light and hope of Hoth betrays them, so does Lando. Like the wampa, the first white colored creature we see in the Star Wars saga, is actually the cause of great pain, so will the hope of our heroes cause them great pain.
To add to the mix-up and confusion, we get the reveal of all reveals: Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Remember that when this was revealed, we did not have the backstory of Anakin Skywalker. Now we have the most evil person in the galaxy (again remember that we did not know the Emperor at this time) and he is in fact the father of our hero. The dark, black, evilness is the reason that Luke, our pure, white, hope, joined the greater conflict. The contrast between Vader and Luke reflects, and foreshadows, the conflict we will see within Luke in the next film.
If Lucas mastered this skill of foreshadowing using color schemes and and juxtapositions in the original trilogy, he put on the crown as king and ruler during the prequels. In fact, this particular storytelling tactic is the base for much of the prequel trilogy. The prequels, even more than the original films, are designed to be a silent film, which means the visuals play a very critical piece.
Nowhere is this more on display than in Revenge of the Sith. While Episodes I and II do use the tactic, Revenge of the Sith relies on it. The first act, for instance, shows Anakin and Obi-Wan going to save Chancellor Palpatine. While doing so, Anakin lands a giant ship on Coruscant. But he does not do so in a traditional fashion. Instead, he literally drives a dagger into the heart of the Republic, all in order to save Palpatine, who Anakin views as the one who will help bring an end to the war. What do we see later? Exactly. Anakin is the dagger that Palpatine will use to kill the Jedi, bring down the Republic, and carve the Empire.
This transition of Anakin from Jedi to Sith takes place throughout the film, but there is one point in particular that foretells of the damnation of The Chosen One. When saying goodbye to Obi-Wan for what will, unbeknownst to the characters, be their last time talking as friends, Obi-Wan is in the light of Coruscant, while Anakin is hidden away in the shadows. The light vs. the dark tells of the future relationship between these two characters.
The coronation ceremony for Lucas’s new rule as the (completely made up by yours truly) “King of Foreshadowing” comes in the form of Anakin’s relationship to Padme. She is his driving motivation throughout the entire trilogy.
Once again Lucas foreshadows the future of their relationship with the use of color. During the scene where Anakin is waiting alone in the Jedi Council chambers, we see the sun setting over Coruscant. The sun is literally setting on the Republic. But more importantly, the sun is setting on Anakin. The light is disappearing from his life, just as the setting of the sun takes the light from a planet.
Concurrent to that, we see Padme in her apartment. Yet we do not see the sunset itself. This is happening at the same time, but we do not see the sunsetting on Padme. She is washed in light. In hope. Lucas is showing that the choices Anakin makes he makes to cling onto the little light he has left, when in fact the light that can really save him is Padme. Yet she becomes the light that destroys him because he mishandles the situation. Hope dies with Padme, until Luke comes into the picture.
There are numerous other instances wherein color is used to give clues to the journey of the characters, from Anakin watching another sunset on Mustafar to the use of shadow and beyond. It is easy to forget these things because most fans have seen the movies so many times that the images become second nature. They become a part of us, and so we become comfortable with them. This is not a negative thing, but if we do not take the time to step back and see the brush strokes Lucas used, we foreshadow a future wherein the art he created no longer informs our fandom, nor does it inform future filmmakers. If we do not pay attention the the way the story is crafted, the sun will set on fandom as well…
10 thoughts on “Light, Dark, Shadow: A Look Into Foreshadowing in Star Wars”
I have just read this on The Star Wars Listeners Society, really great read and I look forward to reading some more, followed 😎
Wow! Thank you very much! We also have podcasts if you’re into that as well.
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I will check it out.
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Also of note, is the fact that Mustafar’s moon eclipsing it’s sun may represent the empire eclipsing the republic.
Definitely a possibility, although I tend to look at that as metaphorical more than foreshadowing, but that’s splitting hairs.
Also of note, is the fact that Mustafar’s moon eclipsing it’s sun during the verbal part of Anakin and obi-wan’s feud may represent the empire eclipsing the republic. There is still sunlight as they argue and still a chance for Anakin to redeem himself, reassure padmé and apologize to obi-wan. He decides not to and allows his anger to eclipse his heart (as later his mask eclipses his face). Once the physical battle begins, there is no sunlight and totality means the totalitarian rule of the empire has taken root.
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Thank you for positive colours here…I am old Star Wars….and only when I took the time on DVD to review the prequels did I come to appreciate all that it had to offer…I love all the acting and I know all the line by heart…and yet, I may have issues with the Last Jedi, I know I will come to enjoy as always when I get to review the DVD and understand all the clues – or misguided information….still the prequels are 10 to me.
Star Wars movies definitely take time to digest. There are so many layers
As always – killing it with your posts. You might want to check out a series I did where I go into a discussion of Luke, Leia, and Han’s costumes through IV-VI…it’s kind of along the same lines, but how their outfits reflect the characters.
Adding that to my reading list!
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