There is a volcano on Mars called Olympus Mons. It sits on a gradual slope so tall that if you stood at the bottom of it, the peak of the volcano would extend beyond the horizon, or so David Attenbrough has told me. That's enough to get your mind racing and imagine the sheer size and scale of the Martian mountaintop, a structure that's three times the size of Everest.
Dwarfing the average human being has always been a trait of some of the best science fiction stories around, whether it's the Star Destroyer in Star Wars, or the towering alien pods in War of the Worlds (H.G. Wells, not the Tom Cruise one). Looking to the stars, or the "final frontier," and dreaming big is an essential part of the human DNA, so it's only natural to dream of gigantic spaceships roaming the outer reaches of the galaxy.
In Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Cal Kestis is surrounded by these towering relics from a bygone era. They're wrecks from the Clone Wars, and even from the Trade Federation—which Cal is tasked with taking apart, bit by boring bit. It's a dull job for Cal, but it grounds us right at the start of this spacefaring epic. Scanning the horizons, Cal finds only derelict hulks for as far as the eye can see. Juxtaposed with the towering wreckage of spacecrafts to give the audience a perfect sense of scale, Cal feels small and insignificant.
Jedi: Fallen Order's opening is excellent in establishing a sense of scale. The best example of this is when Cal scales a craft using a rope to pull himself up, partway through the intro. This action in the foreground means nothing compared to the vast Venator Star Destroyer that's been surgically dismantled in the background. The Star Destroyer is so massive that one of its wings has to be sliced through by two ships with a connecting laser beam.
I stopped Cal in his tracks there for a few minutes in awe. A ship the size of a city, which once housed thousands of personnel and likely took months if not years to be constructed, was being taken apart before my eyes. Ruined husks of monolithic war machines are everywhere you look in Fallen Order's opening, but this Star Destroyer being casually dismantled really sells how little you mean. If cruisers with the power to obliterate fleets are being left for dead, how important do you feel to this world?
It's always more relatable to see things from your protagonist's point of view. In 1995, Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell anime adaptation kept the scans of the Tokyo metropolis down on the ground level. No matter when the camera was panning the bustling cityscape, it would always be from the ground level upwards to give you a sense of being insignificant in this concrete jungle. Fallen Order does this with its spaceships.
Such moments are embedded deep within the DNA of Star Wars. I still remember Rey's introduction in The Force Awakens clearly. Without saying a single word, she speeds up to a crashed Star Destroyer on the surface of Jakku, and enters it through one of the gigantic thrusters on the back. It's long been abandoned—we don't know when or why—but we do have an immediate sense of place and scale in the universe because we only see the Star Destroyer at the same ground level that Rey does. We're right down there alongside her, dwarfed by the crashed Star Destroyer.
It's something Star Wars has excelled at since exploding onto the scene in 1977. Everyone remembers the opening—not the opening crawl, but the actual opening—where Princess Leia's rebel cruiser speeds out from almost behind the camera in space, followed by the big daddy: the Star Destroyer. Overhead during this, we see the outer reaches of space with the looming Blockade Runner. It all amounts to a sequence that makes space feel vast, while you feel small, then smaller, and then utterly tiny and powerless.
Thing is, I've always struggled to buy these scenarios as believable because I literally cannot picture the size of a craft like a Star Destroyer when I look into the sky. It's sort of like how Bloodborne posits that our brains wouldn't be able to physically process seeing something Lovecraftian and horrific in nature. FromSoftware's game literally makes enemies like Amygdala invisible until you've attained a higher plain of knowledge, and while I don't think my brain would black out something on the scale of a Star Destroyer, I do think that it'd take anyone a while to process what they were seeing for the first time.
It's nice to be grounded in science fiction. It's nice to be able to relate to the character you're playing as or watching, in big ways or small. Cal Kestis wearily surveying a shipyard with a whole derelict spacefleet and wondering how he's going to get from one mammoth ship to the other on foot is relatable. Cal and Rey are not normal people, but it's nice to see things from their normal human perspective, with two feet planted firmly on the ground.