Martin Scorsese on the Faded Colours of Star Wars

The legendary director explained why A New Hope looks the way it does during a rare personal appearance at the BFI Southbank

Scorsese at the BFI — Credit: Tim P. Whitby / Getty Images— images are subject to copyright and can be removed upon request

I prayed to the gods of cinema and they listened. So it was that I got a ticket to see Martin Scorsese in conversation at the BFI Southbank on 22nd February 2017. It will indeed be a day long remembered.

Many of us have history with Scorsese. Beyond his directorial filmography, A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies — the documentary and accompanying book — has been a film bible to me over the years. It sent me on many cinematic journeys that I might otherwise never have taken and I have Scorsese to thank for that. His passion and dedication to cinema not only comes through in his own pictures, but also whenever he discusses the form. To hear him talk in person was quite frankly invigorating.

During a discussion about film preservation, Scorsese noted that in the late 1970s there were many pictures that you could not get a print of, even in Hollywood. This was pre-home video of course and the studios didn’t care. Steven Spielberg had the same problem. Spielberg would call Marty up asking if he had been able to source a particular film — it would turn out that despite their connections neither had been able to. They began to realise that around the time all films started to be made in colour the colour process was at its weakest. It was cheaper and the studios could make many prints, but the prints often faded fast — within six months in some cases. “It’s why George Lucas shot Star Wars in whites and pinks,” Scorsese explained, “so that it wouldn’t look any different when it faded.”

The whites and pinks of Star Wars

A lived-in and faded universe. It makes sense, particularly since the distinctive colour palette is a key factor in giving A New Hope that quintessential 1970s cinema feel. The idea that George Lucas intended it to be so because of the fading film stock of the day is an appealing one. As much an artistic solution as a comment upon technological failings and studio shortsightedness, it is pure Lucas. He must have been considering how best to safeguard future movies even then. No wonder he was an early adopter of digital.

This event was filmed by the BBC and is due to be aired 4th March 2017 on BBC2

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