Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rogue One

The Rogue One trailer's AT-AT sequence

I want to talk about AT-ATs.

There are a lot of other things I love about the trailer for Gareth Edwards' upcoming Star Wars spin-off Rogue One: the grounded aesthetic that harkens back to the original film's "lived-in" universe; the shots of Jyn that bookend the trailer, one in cuffs on a Rebel Base, one disguised in the Death Star cell blocks; the use of handheld cameras that give it a more personal feeling than we're used to from the series; Mon Mothma's smirk at Jyn's "I rebel" joke.

But I want to talk about AT-ATs, because the way Edwards uses them in this one brief shot at the end of the Rogue One trailer says a lot about why I'm excited for his take on this universe.

The best film in the Star Wars saga (so far) is The Empire Strikes Back, which is also the first place we saw Imperial Walkers.

During the Battle of Hoth, a number of these barely-mobile artillery platforms attacked the rebel base on Hoth, targeting it's shield generators. Impressive in scale but lumbering, they didn't seem to pose much of a threat to troops on the ground, and were eventually defeated using ropes.

It's difficult to see them as scary, mostly (I believe) because of the way they're shot.

Gareth Edwards, for my money, made the best Godzilla movie since the 1954 original (this is a hill I'm prepared to die on - fight me, scrubs).

Few other directors are as good at communicating scale as effectively as Edwards; even as blockbusters ramp up the "disaster porn", they get more and more clinical about it. We're watching cities being ruined, but it all lacks dramatic weight because the scale isn't relatable.

Edwards always puts his camera ona very human level; the kaiju in Godzilla are almost always shown with known objects in the foreground or through a bus window, which tells you immediately just how terrifyingly huge these things are. He avoids putting you on Godzilla's eye level because that makes the buildings look small rather than making the monsters look big, which would diminish the awe.

Sorry, I'm supposed to be taking about AT-ATs.

It's a very short part of the Rogue One trailer - Jyn and her band of rogues are running across an open battlefield; at first we can only see the lower legs of the Imperial Walkers, but the camera pans up just in time to show the lead AT-AT turn towards (and open fire on) the ground troops.

That's exciting, in a way the AT-ATs never were before. They're a threat to infantry, not just infrastructure. Instead of walking slowly towards a target on auto-fire, waiting to trip, these machines are reactive - and they react fast.

Rogue One has taken these walking punchlines - big, slow, expensive and easily-defeated - and done something unexpected: it's made them dangerous.

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