While it’s true that The Force Awakens is still many months away, the early footage and story information we’ve gotten has us cautiously optimistic. Understandably, living in a post-Phantom Menace world has made everyone guarded. Sure, the excitement for a new Star Wars movie is difficult to shake, but what if we have another disappointment like the prequel trilogy?
Well, we can’t speak for the quality of the story, acting, or character work. However, one thing we can judge from the trailers released thus far is how the movie literally looks. And so far, it looks very, very good.
I dunno, the Prequel trilogy looked pretty good too in its trailers…
At the time, perhaps, but if you really go back and look at the Prequels you’ll find a lot of bland camera work combined with questionable green screen compositing, a consequence of making the decision to use CGI created worlds. The simple fact of the matter is, even with the full power of ILM behind them, the Prequel trilogy just isn’t that interesting to look at because everything feels small and confined… because of how it’s shot.
If you read our Empire Strikes Back article from last week, you’ll remember that in order for a shot to have fantastic depth, there needs to be an object of interest in the foreground, middle ground, and the background. Typically, the object in the middle ground is the subject of the shot. It also helps to have contrasting points of color that help draw our eye to the objects, but it isn’t always necessary. For example, you’ll see this shot in A New Hope that we talked about in the last article.
To quickly reiterate, we have Luke’s homestead in the foreground (where he came from), Luke as the subject in the middle (where he is), and the horizon in the background (where he wants to go). All three are relevant to the emotional journey of the character and the story that draw out eye from one to the other from left to right. Most shots of this nature aren’t this good, but they should always be striving for something similar.
Based on the criteria above, it’s safe to say The Force Awakens does not feel small or confined like its prequels. Don’t believe us? Check out the comparison below.
The Bad Guys
Let’s start off with something small. Remember this shot from The Phantom Menace?
It’s one of the few close ups we get of Darth Maul, and it’s pretty bad ass in theory. Overall, it’s actually one of the better shots of the Prequels, with the lightsabers clashing in front of Maul. That’s two points of interest, but where’s the third? The background, sure, but it doesn’t particularly add to the image, as it’s out of focus and flat.
Unlike the shot of Maul, this still of Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens is very cleverly composed. While there aren’t any contrasting points of color, it does have three points of interest that draws out eye from left to right: Kylo Ren’s hand, his face (mask), and his lightsaber behind them both. All are essential parts of the character who is clearly fixated on something important in that moment.
In The Pilot’s Chair
Here’s another close up from the prequels, specifically Anakin from the opening sequence of Revenge of the Sith.
And… all in all it’s a flat image. It’s just a head in front of a wall. Often, close ups can be flat, but at this moment he’s driving a star fighter in a space battle. We shouldn’t feel so confined.
The Force Awakens on the other hand uses the geometry of the cockpit to give us a sense of depth. If you notice, the lines of the cockpit push behind the actor and grow closer together… which draws out eye behind him with forced perspective. It communicates the freedom of flying, all the while inside a box.
Speaking of flying, check out this squadron of fighters from Revenge of the Sith:
All the fighters are clustered together on the same plane of the image. There is a Star Destroyer behind them, but because of all the clutter in the foreground it’s very hard to get a sense of scale. The image is so pushed in on the fighters, a massive battle in orbit of a planet has become incredibly claustrophobic.
In this shot from The Force Awakens trailer, the fighters are split apart as the move in different directions instead of being in a tight cluster. Meanwhile, the ocean spray from the engines gives us another dynamic element that also acts as a point of depth between the land and the fighters.
In Attack of the Clones, Jango Fett chases Obi-Wan Kenobi through an asteroid field, which you think would present an opportunity to present depth in every shot of the chase.
In this shot, however, the asteroids really only act as a flat background. Instead, it is another two subject shot: Slave 1 and Obi-Wan’s starfighter. Behind them is simply a background of asteroids which happen to have nothing to do with the ships.
The shots of the Millennium Falcon chase scene from the newest Force Awakens trailer, however, are very three-dimensional. This one in particular is fantastic, with the Tie Fighter (the pursuer) in the foreground, the Falcon (our subject) being chased in the middle, and the engine (the destination) in the background. All three points of interest, along with the alignment of the engine upon a diagonal line, create a fantastic sense of depth moving left to right.
Here’s one last example in what is probably the closest shot comparison. You may remember we talked about this shot of the clone trooper army in Attack of the Clones from the last story.
There are really only two planes in this image, as the clone troopers and the ships are the only real points of interest. Thus, what should be an epic frame becomes a little flat.
In contrast, this stormtrooper rally from The Force Awakens uses contrasting color to its advantage. The red banner with the black figure draws your attention as the point of interest in the middle of the image, with the stormtroopers providing an excellent foreground image. For the background, the snow covered mountains also work as a great contrast to the gray structure. Because all three points of interest are distinct from each other, they enhance the depth of the image and come across as epic.
Hopefully we’ve convinced you the movie is, based on the footage we’ve seen, very well shot. We can’t speak for the story, acting, or characters, but it’s very clear they’re putting more effort into at least one particular aspect of The Force Awakens than they did with the last trilogy.