Framing a Lightsaber Battle: A Brief, Close Read of the Cinematography of “Twin Suns”

Three seconds. Star Wars: Rebels told us a story and gave us a twist ending in three seconds primarily through staging and cinematography.

“Twin Suns” spoilers ahead.

There a certain language we expect from cinematography, even if we are only aware of it subconsciously. Framing a conversation from below and above on two different characters, instead of straight on, implies an imbalance of power. Not every member of the audience will recognize this, but the effect is still there to evoke a particular emotion or assumption.

In fight scenes, the language we expect is that the winner of an exchange will dominate the camera. Take for instance, the famous fight in The Princess Bride.

Whenever Inigo or Westley get the upper hand, they begin to drive the other off camera, out of frame. Right before Westley wins, he corners Inigo in the upper left corner of the frame, while he takes center stage.

In the Halo Legends episode “The Duel,” the combatants have equal share of the frame.

This leaves the identity of the winner a mystery until the right, dramatic moment. Even then, Fal and Haka share the center of the frame, which fits the outcome of this duel perfectly.

The duel of “Twin Suns” was similar in the pacing to Halo Legends, beginning with the combatants facing each other, strategizing and scrutinizing their opponents, followed by a quick, decisive strike. But “Twin Suns” camera language is closer to The Princess Bride‘s than “The Duel.”

Maul crosses from the right side to center and stays in the center throughout the whole fight, while is kept Obi-Wan just away towards the left frame. We of course know that Kenobi will win this fight – he’s got a whole other movie to get to – but as an audience, we’re expecting the camera language to show us when he gets the upper hand. We’re expecting him to take center stage and force Maul to the edge of the frame before the final blow comes.

But that doesn’t happen. Obi-Wan’s killing blow lands when he is the furthest from center frame. This fits with Obi-Wan’s mastery of a defensive form of lightsaber combat, but it also places us, the viewers in the same shoes as Maul.

As I said before, we’re expecting Obi-Wan to win, but the camera language makes the “how” and “when” of his victory as much a surprise to us as it was to Maul.

And all that happened in three seconds.

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