Communication is imperative to the life of our culture. Fiske (1990:2) describes communication as “the production and exchange of meanings. It is concerned with how messages, or texts, interact with people in order to produce meanings”. All humans instinctively look for meaning amongst countless forms of texts all the time, whether it be in television commercials, friends’ fashion sense or architectural structures. However, I will be providing an analysis of the signs within the text Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith in the form of a DVD cover.
A textual analysis makes an educated guess at some of the most likely interpretations that might be made from a particular text (McKee, 2003:1). I will deconstruct elements of the title, characters and conventional DVD symbols to effectively establish the most obvious meaning behind each of these signs. At its most basic level, a sign is the combination of the physical form that the it takes, (the signifier), and the concept that it represents (the signified) (Saussure in Schirato, 1996:24). The elements within the title Star Wars contain various signs which work effectively to produce and communicate its intended meaning.
The first word in the title ‘Star’ acts as a conventional sign, as the word is known by different sounds and spelling in other languages. (Harrington:2013b). However in English-speaking countries, the word alludes to the setting of outer-space. Space is often the prominent location of many science-fiction texts, whether it be in books such as Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, or movies such as Alien by Ridley Scott. The other signifier ‘Wars’ is a universal connotation of an ongoing battle occurring between opposing parties, usually a good or bad force.
Harrington (2013b) clarifies that a text belongs to a genre when it shares key elements such as style, form and conventions with other texts. The subject of good and evil is a recurring theme throughout the sci-fi genre and can be proven by the Digital Film Archive (n. d. :5) when they explain that science fiction “encapsulates the universal central narrative of good versus evil”. IMDB (Most Popular “Good Versus Evil” Sci Fi Titles, n. d. ) gives an extensive list of sci-fi movies that follow this central narrative.
Consequently, the combination of ‘Star’ and ‘Wars’ written in a gold font, signifies to the viewer that this film is a battle of good verse evil occurring within a galactic realm. The audience is able to draw on existing intertextual knowledge of other science -fiction movies are therefore able to familiarise themselves with the piece. The understanding of characters within a text are an important component in structuring the work’s intended meaning. The characters displayed on the front of Star Wars III assist the audience in creating a likely interpretation of the text’s intended meaning.
The visual design shows an ascending formation of four serious-faced characters, shadowed by a menacing figure in the background. Three of the characters in the foreground of the image are facing left and appear to be human, while the other extra-terrestrial being has its back turned to them in the other direction. This deliberate positioning represents a sense of conflict (Harrington, 2013b) or a clash of morale, thus working in relation with the title of the film and it’s signification of good versus evil.
Most viewers would determine that the evil is represented in the form of the alien. Although there is an arbitrary connection between aliens and wickedness, it can be noted that Western Society has long held the notion that the unknown is something to be feared, as proven by alien commentators (Bowman, 2007). Similarly, the relationship between the human characters and the dark figure in the background could easily be interpreted as a representation of good and evil, stemming from cultural symbolism.
The three humans are presented under a luminous, white light, which can be interpreted as them being upright and pure, while the dark figure behind them is deliberately masked in black, signifying evilness or death. These connotative meanings, that being the secondary meanings that are evoked (Gripsrud, 2006:16) are prevalent in Western Society where white symbolises purity, and black symbolises evil, again reinforcing the good and evil theme within sci-fi. However, it should be addressed that such symbolism in the text may not be recognised in other cultures.
There are several conventional signs established on the Star Wars III cover that effectively communicate the text as a movie. The first and most obvious sign is the “DVD video” logo appearing on the bottom-right side of the image. This small symbol works circumtextually to indicate that this is a digital video disc and not a CD. Circumtextual framing relates to the material immediately surrounding the text (Harrington 2013a). Another sign that reveals the cover’s DVD format is the horizontal banner running across the top of the page reading “THX: Digitally mastered for superior sound and picture quality” (Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith n. . ). Not only does this boast the film’s enhanced feautures, but it also tells the audience that this text has audio and visual qualities, which are the primary elements to a motion picture. The “THX” symbol indicates to viewers that have extratextual knowledge, or dependent knowledge unspecified by the text (MacLachlan, Gale, Reid, 1994:3), that this brand as an audio-visual enhancement seen in various other motion pictures . From a wider cultural context, both the “DVD” and “THX” symbol may not carry such meaning within countries that have limited access to technology.
The “M” symbol on the bottom-left corner of the movie poster gives insight into the text’s format and genre. Most viewers in Australia would immediately recognise this conventional sign as a national classification seen on plenty of other DVD’s and hence see this text as another movie. They would also be aware that the “M” signifies that the movie is a for a more mature audience, typically over the age of fifteen based on extratextual knowledge of the classification system.
The words “Moderate science fiction violence” (Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith n. d. ) next to the symbol, gives circumtextual framing to the genre of the movie. After reading this, the viewer would easily relate the scientific nature of the violence to be a reflection of the science-fiction style seen throughout the work. Therefore, the Star Wars III movie cover effectively uses the visual elements of the title, characters and conventional DVD symbols to communicate its intended meaning with the audience.