“Um, okay hotshot, then how do you pronounce AT-ST? Huh? HUH?”
Every time. Every time the “How do you pronounce AT-AT?” question is raised, it’s like a legion of “AT-ST truthers” ascend from the heavens just to tweet that question at me in unison. Now, that is the only part of this whole dumb thing that annoys me, because it always reads like these people are saying the word “checkmate” as they type that out to me. But then I respond “I say Scout Walker” and then everyone gets even more annoyed.
The truth is, I don’t care how you pronounce AT-AT. That decision is between you and your god. But I do find that whole discrepancy interesting and since today is May 4th (I refuse to say the catchphrase) and I have been told “some Star Wars content would be nice,” I have decided to write about it. (On Thursday, I responded to a tweet by Tasha Robinson at The Verge, which ignited this whole thing.)
If you don’t know what an AT-AT is (and that would be kind of hilarious if you’re read this far), that is short for All Terrain Armored Transport, which was introduced in The Empire Strikes Back as both somehow the coolest and the least efficient vehicle in the Galactic Empire’s arsenal of weapons. It’s basically a walking tank, which is kind of awesome. But it also has legs, so to defeat one of these things, all a person has to do is find a way to trip it, which isn’t awesome. In The Empire Strikes Back, the secret Rebel base on Hoth had a powerful shield, so the Empire couldn’t just bomb them. Instead, the Empire had to mount a ground attack and these monsters are what were used. One of the best subtle moments of the film is when the whole base starts shaking from the impact of the AT-AT’s marching toward the base.
One of the greatest things about the Original Trilogy of Star Wars movies is there’s very little exposition. What’s the Kessel Run? Who knows! (Though, we will find out at the end of this month.) What are the Clone Wars? Beats me! (We found out in the prequels.) But over and over again, important events in Star Wars history are just glossed over like we would do if we were referencing World War II. We wouldn’t explain what it is, we’d just say it. That’s a big reason the Original Trilogy has a “lived in” feel to it – as opposed to the Prequels, which are pretty much all exposition.
So, not surprisingly, the AT-ATs are never really mentioned by their full name in the movie – which left a lot of kids at the time to wonder how in the world is AT-AT pronounced? Is it “at at,” or is each letter said out loud so it sounds more like “ate e ate e” or “eighty eighty?” This is a complicated answer and, for whatever reason, makes people very upset.
If you are of the age that you actually played with Kenner Star Wars toys during the run of the Original Trilogy, most likely you say “at at.” Why? Well, that answer is right here:
In this Kenner Star Wars commercial, the term AT-AT, pronounced “at at,” is said six times. Well, no wonder Gen Xers say “at at.” Kenner was the official toy line and if anyone were going to know, it would be them. Besides, this was at a time in Star Wars history when George Lucas didn’t seem too concerned with details like that. I mean, in The Empire Strikes Back there’s not even a consensuses on how to pronounce “Han.” (This isn’t just a Lando thing, which I know they address in the new Han Solo movie. Watch any interview with George Lucas from that era and he pronounces Han like it rhymes with Ham.)
(Also, as an aside, if you want some fun, watch these old Kenner commercials, they are pretty spectacular. Each one involves some plot point from the movie that totally did not happen at all like the kids are depicting. My favorite might be when Han, still wearing his Hoth outfit, shows up at Cloud City with a Rebel Soldier, also in his Hoth outfit, to meet with Lando.)
But here’s the dirty little secret about Kenner – they got some stuff wrong. Or, at the very least, just kind of had to make stuff up on their own. Now, I don’t blame them for dumb names like “Prune Face” and “Walrus Man,” Lucas wasn’t supplying them with “real” names quite yet (which in these cases are Orrimaarko and Ponda Baba) and would get fuller backstories later. But Kenner did mess up Zuckuss and 4-LOM, switching the names on their cards. This doesn’t seem like a huge mistake but to this day, when I see the bounty hunter droid 4-LOM, I will still blurt out “Zuckuss!”
If you’ve ever played either of the new Star Wars Battlefront games, AT-ATs are pronounced as “eighty eighty.” This was a decision Lucasfilm made for their games, so that’s a big reason a lot of people say “eighty eighty” now. And, I suppose, it’s the canon pronunciation, even though you can’t convince me that Imperial AT-AT mechanics don’t just say “at at” because who wants to double syllable usage for no good reason.
So, yes, I’ll begrudgingly admit that “eighty eighty” is probably correct, but I don’t care. My point is there is a legitimate reason for this, the Kenner commercial, and not just personal preference. I will continue to call it an “at at” and I will continue to call Orrimaarko “Prune Face.” I do try my best to get Zuckuss and 4-Lom correct – but, if you ask me how I pronounce “AT-ST,” I will say “Scout Walker” every time because that’s what the toy was called in the commercial.
Also, I will add, that particular commercial makes the Empire seem kind of awesome to be a part of. But, I hope, now, we can all move on with our lives to a brighter and more hopeful May 5th.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.