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.
PM-1203 (originally Fort Anaxes in its chronologically prior appearance in The Clone Wars) is the setting of two episodes in season of Star Wars Rebels. It’s a fyrnock-infested abandoned base used by the Grand Republic, and its atmosphere is surrounded by floating asteroids. Both episodes that bring us here are high in tension, and today we’re going to delve into why this location was created and used for episodes like “Out of Darkness” and “Gathering Forces.”
PM-1203 doesn’t seem really threatening when we first see it in “Out of Darkness.” Hera and Sabine arrive to pick up some crates, and the landscape- while unusual- has its own beauty. The sun is low on the horizon, creating nice yellow tones, and we see large rocks and asteroids suspended from the air over tall, dry rock plateaus, one of which has a base carved into it.
During the day, PM-1203 seems totally safe. And if it wasn’t for a fuel leak from the Phantom (thanks to Ezra and Zeb), Hera and Sabine would have easily been able to take the crates dropped off by Fulcrum and faced little problems. However, it is the darkness that makes PM-1203 so dangerous, because that’s what brings out the fyrnocks.
When the floating asteroids begin to block out the sun, the base is shadowed in darkness, giving the fyrnocks the ability to roam from the interior to attack Hera and Sabine. And the darkness over PM-1203 gives it a totally different look and feel compared to the light we first saw it cast in.
The color palette of the location is now much darker, with cooler blue and purple tones taking over compared to the warm yellow hues we first saw. The fyrnocks are in shadow, and their eyes glow as they approach our heroes. The mise-en-scene here is playing on the classic “fear of the unknown” that makes people afraid of the dark- they’re unable to totally see what is in front of them, creating a sense of unease. You don’t know if something is going to jump out of the dark at you, and that’s what’s happening here.
The change of the same location also plays a role. As said earlier, PM-1203 first feels safe, lulling us into a relative false sense of security, even simply on a subconscious level, making the reveal of the onslaught of fyrnocks that much more frightening.
Luckily, Hera and Sabine are able to get away with help from the rest of the crew in “Out of Darkness,” but we revisit PM-1203 later in the season with “Gathering Forces.”
Because we as the audience are already familiar with the secret danger of PM-1203, “Gathering Forces” doesn’t get to use the same trick as “Out of Darkness.” However, the dark color palette of the mise-en-scene when Kanan and Ezra are attacked by the Inquisitor, and when Ezra taps into the Force to really… connect with the creatures that live there.
The coloring used really allows us to have a sense of the fact that Ezra is using something much darker than what Kanan is trying to teach him, and that he’s letting powerful emotions override what might be his better judgement. The lighting used in that scene primarily highlights Ezra’s small figure, while the large fyrnock primarily remains as shadowy outlines to create fear and unease.
PM-1203’s mix of warm, lighter hues that create a sense of safety from the fyrnocks who can’t go into the light, with cool, darker hues when they get free reign in the darkness to show the danger are characters are in is a perfect example of how something as simple as color and lighting can create very different feelings for the same location.
Next week, we skip ahead in the series, and take a look around the office of our favorite Grand Admiral.