Lighting in The Last Jedi trailer and that scene we are all talking about.
Like many of you that last bit of the trailer had me screaming at the tv. After the initial freak out phase had passed, I began to slowly shift into the what if phase, meaning– are they baiting me? Now there are several theories out there about who Kylo is holding his hand out too. Some say its Leia and not Rey. What if I told you the proof is in the shot itself?
I am about to give you a quick lesson in lighting, visual storytelling, and cinematography.
Let’s go back to The Force Awakens as a reference guide. The lighting on Starkiller base bridge you know that scene where he kills his dad?
Lighting was something they made sure to get right in this scene. Notice how Kylo’s face is half hidden in shadow and the other in light. Signifying his split.
JJ says this “ And you see the light go away. And now they’re in this darkness. And darkness takes over.”
The play with light was even more apparent when Kylo and Rey face off against the edge of the cliff.
Now I’m about to throw some cited literary sources about Film and Lighting just so it’s importance is established.
“In visual storytelling, few elements are as effective and as powerful as light and color. They have the ability to reach the viewers at a purely emotional gut level”(Brown, 2012, p. 8).
Light becomes mood that gives its tone to a film. It calls upon our memory to react to physical phenomena such as cold, rain, fog, sun, or dryness, and come up with psychological equivalents such as annoyance, sadness, mystery, fear, anguish, comfort, joy, gaiety, etc. As these effects produce immediate impressions in viewers, the cinematographer is able to obtain psychological reactions out of mere technical means (Geuens, 2000, p. 153).
Architecture and Film both use perceptual psychology to get people to see spaces in a certain way. Architecture lighting designers skillfully illuminate buildings and rooms with psychological intentions.
Lighting designers think about a psychological response and how behavior is affected by lighting. Some examples are:
1. Visibility of vertical and horizontal junctions aids orientation.
2. People follow the brightest path.
3. Brightness can focus attention.
4. Facing wall luminance is a preference.
5. Lighting can affect body position (Ginthner, accessed April, 2013 p.2).
Just as lighting designers light spaces to stimulate human mood and behavior, Cinematographers light the space inside a movie frame with the intent to persuade a viewer’s perception. The way objects are lit in the frame will focus the viewer’s attention, the amount of shadows cast will limit perception, and changing lights can indicate a change in a character or opportunity (Brown, 2012).
However, unlike film, architecture has had a psychological study on how different light in a physical space effect human arousal, concentration, memory, work productivity, and Mood.
If you take any type of filmmaking class, this is one of the first things you learn. Nothing is a mistake in these films everything is as designed to serve a purpose.
So let’s dive into the scene in question.
First of all, let us talk about how these two shots are framed. They are close up only showing the faces of our characters.
Close up shots typically contain just the face and shoulders of a subject, with a little headroom above. This prevents ‘floating head syndrome’ as the shoulders suggest to the brain that there is a body below! These shots are the most common of all as they can convey a real sense of emotion and help the audience to connect with the subject.
Second, let’s talk about the choice of lighting.
They are both in a warm fiery glow.
You can judge the quality of light in a film scene through the hardness or softness of its shadows. Hard quality light has dark shadows with sharp edges and often feels more raw than soft quality light. Soft lighting, often used in older films, has lighter, diffused shadows and tends to feel more sentimental.
And with advances in film technology, sharp shadows can also be quite romantic. Case in point, this still from the end of the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice:
Third, let’s talk color
Color temperature is one of the first things to note when studying the lighting in a romantic scene. Is it orange? Bluish? White? Most often, warm colors add to an inviting, romantic atmosphere. For example, the warm light in the sunset scene in Titanic draws the audience in, unlike the cold, blue lighting later in the movie, after things get dire.
Forth let’s talk context.
This is not the same scene with Kylo. Rey is still wearing her resistance clothing. This is the beginning of the film.
The context matters especially in this scene where Rey is talking about needing someone to show her where she belongs. Is this romantic? The answer is, no. Is it intimate? Yes. The scene can be set up this way without any romantic implications. But it is definitely meant to be intimate. Rey is vulnerable at this moment and is speaking from her heart to Luke. Please show me what to do with myself.
Now let’s move to Kylo’s scene which is no doubt at the end of the movie (because his scar is healed.)
Our big bad villain is bathed in nearly the exact same lighting and color as Rey’s shot, even the framing is the same. In no other shot ever has Kylo Ren been depicted in these colors. Not in the teaser and not in TFA. Kylo is always in red or dark. The context of this shot is very very important. He is reaching out palm up as to take someone’s hand. He does this slow and gentle. His face is soft with what I would say a plea.
Yes, this is a call back to Darth Vader asking Luke to join him on the Darkside in Empire Strikes Back. But if you go back and watch that scene it is intimately framed (remember context matters), but the colors are pale. Lukes’ face is in agony. Vader extends his hand it’s rigid and forced.
Before I get into more examples, I want to point out that yes trailers are meant to give you an idea, and intrigue you but they are also meant to misdirect.
Trailer Misdirects/Visual Storytelling and Dialogue
The misdirect of this scene is to make you believe Rey might join the dark side with Kylo or at least first glance. General Audience viewers casual fans who do not give it any second deep thought will accept this and move on. However, more dedicated fans will step in and try to dissect the scene by looking at the image and not the overall meaning behind everything we discussed above. The trailer isn’t designed to give anything away. Which leads me to say this is very smart editing on Rian’s behalf. While it doesn’t give us the answer of will, she or won’t she? It provides us with the question that we will inevitably discuss in length until the movie is released.
I would also like to point out there is a visual storytelling aspect of this trailer when it comes to the dialogue.
One example of this not related to the scene in question comes from Poe Dameron. He states “We have the spark that will ignite the fire to bring the First Order down.” The next scene we get is Finn. It is pretty clear that bit of dialogue was meant for Finn. He will no doubt help bring the FO down as other Stormtroopers defect as he did. Finn is that spark for the rebellion. Now let’s talk about the Rey/Kylo scene. The same thing happens here. Her dialogue coincides with the next shot of Kylo. Also, notice (scroll up if you need to) how their faces are opposite each other Rey is looking slightly to our left while Kylo is looking slightly to the right. Their positions are mirrored which is a recurring theme in the TFA (see the snow fight). This is beautiful visual storytelling. TFA was full of the same imagery lighting and storytelling. I have a post about it HERE
I went through and found scenes that mimic that of what we saw in the trailer, down to color, lighting, and frame. I also chose male and female characters. Guess what, all of them were romantic.
I chose this because of the flares in the background and the close-up framing of their faces. Notice yes the color is blue because they are parting (remember CONTEXT).
Next, we have a scene from Pride and Prejudice, but beyond the romance aspect, I want you to watch the light change of this scene. Elizabeth is bathed in blue until she accepts Darcy, taking his hand. The sunlight beams between them warming the scene. Skip to 3:10
Here is an oldie but a goody. I chose this due to the color. Now remember this film is old, lighting techniques have come a long way since the 1930s, but their choice of color is important, along with the shadows on their faces.
Ah, Jon and Dany. This is very romantic (even tho its incest lol) But take a look at the lighting between them also this part is (NSFW) if you are gonna watch till the end. You were warned.
And now for the grand finale TFA cliff scene. Oh, I chose this little diddy to drive home a point. Kylo and Reys’ faces are framed intimately (which signified they would have a more profound connection later and at that moment they were finding the Force together) But also notice their faces are bathed in mostly pale colors due to it being cold. Yes, the lightsabers flicker red and blue onto them. Yes, that holds meaning as well, the fight between the dark and the light. But the overall pallet is pale frigid colors. Also, the context -- there’s that word again– of this scene is they are enemies fighting. Kylo does want to teach her, but he’s aggressive and forceful, to say the least. It is a stark contrast to what we see in TLJ trailer. Where he is calm relaxed and in warm, inviting lighting. No aggressive posture, no forceful plea.
If you want to contrast another couple, please refer to Pride and Prejudice again. I can’t upload it here, but this is the link. This is where Darcy says he loves Elizabeth, but she rejects him. They have close-ups, but the color and lighting are not intimate. Its pale lighter and blue. All things that are associated with sadness rejection etc. You get the point.
So in conclusion. It is my opinion based on all information gathered on cinematography, that yes the relationship between Kylo Ren or perhaps Ben Solo at this point has drastically changed. It is no longer one of animosity or hate. Judging by the warm colors, and the soft shadows and above all else the context of the gesture/posture/facial expression of Ben it is romantic or at the very least (for the skeptics) a special relationship– Remember Rey and Ben are similar in Force power according to Luke- this gives them a bridge to each other one that will take them to understanding and COMPASSION. I am not saying they kiss, I am not saying they are a couple at the end of this movie. I am saying that it’s possible that it will move in this direction. They no longer hate each other. How did we get to this point? Well, we have a whole Act 1 and 2 to get through for that answer.
I will stress that I believe that yes Ben/Kylo is holding his hand out to Rey. And no, it is not out of malice or deception. He is not asking her to join him on the Darkside… He is asking her to go with him and for acceptance.