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Every Star Wars movie, according to its colors

Every Star Wars movie begins and ends with the same color palette — yellow and black for the scrolling introduction, and blue and black for the credits.

But everything in between is very different. Planets are earthy browns and oranges and navy greens, which contrast with the bright space-age colors of spacecraft and lightsabers and Stormtroopers. A scene with Yoda always contains cozy, warm tones that stand out from the cold, distant settings that precede it. And in more films than expected, a bold red plays an important role in punctuating a symbolic moment.

These differences show up most starkly when you build out a color palette for each movie — something I've done below.

Before I go on, let me quickly describe how I made these images: I wrote a computer program that viewed the films second by second and calculated the six quintessential colors of the film. The program also calculated the top three colors for each second, which you can see below. In short, it's a lot like sorting crayons into buckets. There are a lot of ways to do this, but I used a "k-means" algorithm.

On to the movies:


A New Hope

In A New Hope, we see the earthy color palette of Tatooine, home of Luke Skywalker, and Alderaan, home of Princess Leia. There is some variation as the skies shift from day to night, but it stays largely the same. On the right, however, characters spend more of their time indoors, in space fights or inside the Death Star, and these scenes tend to have more purple, blue, and white hues.

Three-color palette of each second:

Alvin Chang / Vox

The Empire Strikes Back

The change in color palette from A New Hope to The Empire Strikes Back is, well, striking. It begins with one of the lightest settings of the entire saga, as the Rebel Alliance sets up base on Hoth, a snowy, icy planet. But soon thereafter, darker colors take over, whether it's due to fog or to being in space.

One of the coolest palettes in this film is that strip of deep gold nearly halfway in. That's when Luke meets Yoda after landing on the planet Dagobah. These warm colors contrast with the scenes before and after, which both take place on dark, cold aircraft.

This installment is also when we start to see a familiar pattern: longer scenes with consistent color palettes at the beginning of the movie, and shorter scenes with juxtaposing palettes toward the end — partially because of a quicker pace, but also because the fight scenes tend to bring different hues into the movie.

Three-color palette of each second:

Alvin Chang / Vox

Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi has a similar palette to that of A New Hope, but the scenes are more pronounced. Long scenes on Tatooine, the forest star Endor, and the new Death Star give us nice thick strips of colors. But like the previous film, Jedi gives us two ribbons of warmth — the first, about a third of the way in, when Luke is on Dagobah and finds Yoda dying. The second is near the end, when Luke cremates his father's body in hot orange and red flame.

Three-color palette of each second:

Alvin Chang / Vox

The Phantom Menace

In Episode I — which came out 16 years after The Return of the Jedi — we see a lighter, more consistent color palette. The darks aren't as dark, and the entire movie has an orange tint to it. But much like the earlier films, we see a consistent palette in middle of the movie and staccato juxtaposition near the end. There are multiple action scenes occurring at about the same time, including Jar Jar Binks and his army battling a droid army, Padmé Amidala hunting Gunray, and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn battling Darth Maul.

Three-color palette of each second:

Alvin Chang / Vox

Attack of the Clones

The palette for Attack of the Clones looks like it belongs in an entirely different film series. Gone are the purple and blue hues; what we're left with are greener hues and lighter colors in the first half of the film. And you don't need a computer program to tell you this. Just watch the movie and you'll see just how different the scenes feel. The quick back-and-forth between warm and cold hues is something we don't see until this film. But then, almost like a fiddle in the middle of a punk rock song, the palette resolves almost entirely to a reddish orange. That huge warm strip you see at the end is when both Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala go to Geonosis to rescue Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Three-color palette of each second:

Alvin Chang / Vox

Revenge of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith has a much more restrained palette than its predecessor. But that's because the beginning of the movie is largely space battles and indoor fight scenes. In fact, the palette stays relatively consistent until the end of the film, when we see glorious flourishes of white, burnt umber, and brilliant red. Obi Wan's duel with Darth Vader next to a volcanic river is one of the most forward uses of color of the entire saga.

Three-color palette of each second:

Alvin Chang / Vox

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