Mise-en-scène (French: [miz. ɑ̃. sɛn]; "placing on stage") is the stage design and arrangement of actors in scenes for a theatre or film production, both in visual arts through storyboarding, visual theme, and cinematography, and in narrative storytelling through direction.
This week, we’re moving away from Ezra Bridger’s home planet of Lothal, and going to Atollon, a place where we spent a lot of time at throughout season 3 (and at the end of season 2). The planet has a few locations with their own mise-en-scene that we are able to look at in order to analyze how the “feel” of this planet is created, and what the details mean for the story and themes of Star Wars Rebels.
The planet of Atollon is dry and rocky, with long stretches of flat land broken up by tall, coral-like rock spires with various points that jet out into the sky. The sands of Atollon are red, while these structures all across the landscape are a light, dry beige. Atollon is also inhabited by the horrible, horrible krykna (due to recent updates, I am strongly on Zeb’s side about those guys- they’re just horrible), as well as the beautiful owl-like convor and small little snail-like creatures. It is also, of course, home to the Bendu, who lives nestled in a valley with jagged plates sticking out from him just like the rock formations around his home.
Atollon’s color palette is primarily warm reds and oranges. A rather frequent color pattern among Star Wars Rebels’ settings (and many other media, Star Wars or not) is that soft, warmer colors are safe, while harsh and color coloring isn’t. The interiors of Imperial buildings and ships are primarily harsh blue-toned whites and grays, so we see this in strong contrast with the colors we see on Atollon. While Atollon certainly has fauna that is hostile, it’s clear that the planet itself has become a safe haven for our rebels, which is why they build their base there.
A striking thing about Chopper Base is how the base is built within what the natural state of the planet is giving them. While this is almost definitely partially out of their need to hide from the oppressive Empire, it’s also a little poignant. Last week, we discussed how the architecture of the buildings in Lothal’s Capital City mirrors that of the tall rock spires, that the people who built those buildings are clearly in tune with the nature around them, and that the Imperial buildings of the city are not- demonstrating the Empire’s value on conformity, and their lack of care for the culture and natural state of the planets they invade. It’s similar here on Atollon- the rebels are taking care to build around Atollon’s natural structures- adapting to the environment, rather than forcing that environment to adapt to them like we’ve seen the Empire do.
A major theme of Rebels (and Star Wars in general, to a point), is about the horrors of imperialism. One of my many favorite moments of the series is in the finale, when Ezra calls out Thrawn for his role in the erosion and sometimes destruction of entire cultures, for his appropriation and theft of their art, and for the fact that he holds himself and his own culture as being superior over others. While the rest of the series isn’t quite as overt as that, a slightly attentive eye can see that Ezra’s speech is far from being a new idea to the series, and is rather just the culmination of that idea coming to a head. Chopper Base is just another example of that- showing how the rebels (our protagonists) take care to protect the natural setting of the places they build encampments, while the Empire (the antagonists) bulldozes over whatever is in its way so that it can build things the way that it wants to.
But there’s more to Chopper Base than just the way it fits into the land around it. It has its own specific mise-en-scene. Scenes in Chopper base show boxes and small blockades, and bit light connected by loose cords. It is among the first major rebel bases, making this somewhat put-together appearance make a lot of sense, especially considering the fact that the rebels do not have very many resources at their disposal as they try to build themselves up. The appearance is that of a base being put together by people simply trying to survive in the war, without having the time or materials to make everything look all that nice and organized. In that way, it’s not dissimilar in appearance to other rebel bases we see, like on Yavin IV or Hoth.
The Rebel Alliance, all the way back to A New Hope, are the underdogs. They don’t have perfectly put-together bases like the Empire has, and they don’t all walk around in pristine uniforms that make them indistinguishable from each other. They’re the ones that are trying their best to win under the oppressive thumb of the seemingly all-powerful Empire, and that’s what makes us root for them. It’s the rather haphazard appearance of their bases, all the way back from the first time we see Yavin IV in A New Hope, that gives them our sympathy and makes us want them to win even more- and that’s what Star Wars Rebels’ Chopper Base draws from.
Next week, we’ll be moving off-world again, to a location of one of the most pivotal episodes of the series- Malachor.