Certain characters in the Star Wars trilogy are closely identified with certain colors, with Darth Vader’s all-black outfit being the most obvious example. Vader’s black makes a stark contrast with Luke’s all-white clothes in A New Hope, hearkening back to the serial westerns of the 1940s and 1950s, in which the good guys had white hats and the bad guys wore black. Leia wears an all-white costume in A New Hope as well, signaling the goodness of her character and linking her visually with Luke, her (unknown) brother. The Jedi Masters Yoda and Obi-Wan favor brown, a warm color recalling a monk’s robes and the earth itself. Han Solo, meanwhile, wears a white shirt with a black vest for much of the trilogy, in an apt reference to the initial ambivalence of his character. Luke’s outfits continue to emphasize his characterization in this way throughout the trilogy. In Empire, for example, when Luke journeys to Bespin to rescue his friends, his fatigues are a light gray, showing that Luke has traveled a bit from the innocent idealism of his youth and that he has placed himself in peril of straying to the dark side. By the time we get to Return of the Jedi, Luke has adopted an all-black wardrobe, though this does not mean that he has gone over to the dark side. Instead, the black robes he wears recall a priest’s garb and link him visually to his father, with whose fate he is so deeply concerned.
John Williams’s thematic compositions for the Star Wars trilogy have been justly acclaimed, and the films use the soundtrack expertly to heighten the drama and intensify the mood. In many ways, the full orchestral accompaniment provided by Williams and powerfully performed by the London Symphony Orchestra is a throwback to the symphonic scores of classic Hollywood films, at a time when pop music was being used more and more in film soundtracks. There is an intensity and excitement in the Star Wars music, especially in the heroic opening theme, with its instantly recognizable fanfare, which contributes greatly to film’s overall effect. Another dramatic musical moment is the Imperial march introduced in The Empire Strikes Back as the theme music for Vader’s pursuit of Han and Leia. The march’s rhythm is driving and relentless, capturing Vader’s own relentless progress through the story. Williams’s score can also be delicate and humorous, introducing themes for tender moments and minor characters and mixing in passages from the main themes in minor keys to emphasize crucial moments of dramatic tension.
Although it may be hard to believe now, one of the things that set the Star Wars movies apart from the very beginning was the speed with which the stories moved and the speed with which certain scenes took place. Each of the films has at least one set-piece moment that is meant to make the audience members grab their armrests to steady themselves. In A New Hope, it is the trench runs during the attack on the Death Star—this scene was like nothing else that had come before, and it had theater viewers swaying as if they were on a roller coaster. Though this scene is comparatively slow by today’s standards, it is the reason no action movie seems complete now without one super-fast air trip shot from the pilot’s point of view. The EmpireStrikes Back featured Han’s vertiginous flight through the asteroid field, while Return of the Jedi sent Luke and Leia zooming through the forest of Endor on speeder bikes. Such scenes had many critics comparing the films, disparagingly, to amusement park thrill rides, but for George Lucas, such a comparison was hardly a criticism—more like an indication that he had achieved the effect he was after.