The Extreme Settings of the Original Star Wars Trilogy
In the Star Wars universe, each planet is usually made up of one specific kind of environment. This is an interesting choice on the part of Star Wars writer George Lucas because, in addition to providing each location with different sorts of perils to accentuate the suspense, these very extreme choices of setting also contribute to a certain mood present in each film. The extreme settings (that is, areas with only one specific far-reaching, all-encompassing kind of landscape) of the original Star Wars trilogy create different moods that correspond with the thematic elements of each film.
The first extreme setting we encounter in Star Wars is Tatooine, Luke’s home planet in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Tatooine is entirely composed of a desert landscape. Tatooine, with the exception of a few villages and a few farms, is lifeless and barren, contributing to a feeling of death as well as a loss of spontaneity and excitement. We definitely see this lack of excitement in a much more noticeable way when Luke complains about having to stay on his family’s farm while his friends are fighting in the rebellion. So, Tatooine’s “dead” landscape corresponds with Luke’s feelings that his existence is at a dull “dead end.”
Furthermore, the deserts of Tatooine contrast sharply with the much lusher and more life-affirming landscape of Yavin 4, where Luke spends time before the film’s final fight, the attack on the Death Star. Unlike his life on Tatooine, Luke’s life here now has meaning. Luke feels that he now has a sense of purpose and goals, and the more lively surrounding forests of Yavin 4 reflect his new lease on life.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back opens on the snow-covered Hoth, another extreme and very lifeless settting. Instead of giving us a comforting snowy landscape, Lucas makes Hoth treacherous and foreboding (a mood that is established right from the start with the opening shot of the ominous probe droid emerging from the snow). This setting establishes a mood that is relentlessly grim throughout the whole film. The Empire Strikes Back is definitely the darkest film of the original three films. To quote the character Dante from Clerks, the film “ends on such a down note” (Smith). The danger of the deadly Hoth environment foreshadows the danger and anguish that will be seen in the film’s later scenes.
The environment present in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is, like Yavin 4 in A New Hope, much more life-affirming. The moon of Endor is entirely made up of forests. Endor is full of life, complete with both plant life (very tall trees) and animal life (the Ewoks). This foreshadows the film’s triumphant ending and creates a mood of optimism. Also, Endor is very much symbolically tied to the rebellion because the Ewoks, who fight alongside the rebellion, live there. We can see that the natural, harmonious environment of Endor is a representation of what life will be like following the defeat of the empire.
It is true that these varying settings lead to exciting situations for the audience to watch. But, it is likely that these different settings were created in order to provide the audience with a sense of triumph or despair depending on the situations in each film.
Kershner, Irvin. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. 20th Century Fox, 1980. Film.
Lucas, George. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. 20th Century Fox, 1977. Film.
Marquand, Richard. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. 20th Century Fox, 1983. Film.
Smith, Kevin. Clerks. Miramax, 1994. Film.
(Image courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SW_binary_sunset.png)