I was recently reading the entry on The Empire Strikes Back on the website for the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction and was intrigued by this reference to "mecha" (emphasis mine):

A first viewing of this blockbuster sequel to Star Wars (1977) sweeps the viewer along with the colour and spectacle of its various Space Opera venues: frozen and swampy planets, a notable appearance of Mecha (Imperial AT-AT Walkers) at the Battle of Hoth, (...).

In this sense Mecha is taken to mean the remote piloted often bipedal or anthropomorphic war machines common to Japanese SF media.

While the entry in the encyclopaedia discusses various precursors to what in a SF sense could be considered Mecha it does not further elaborate on what the inspiration of the AT-AT Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back was and whether they were a deliberate reference to Japanese manga or anime or the concept of Mecha as associated with them. All aspects of Star Wars have been discussed and dissected to a microscopic degree so clearly I have missed something.

Can anyone out there elaborate on this and point me to quotes from Lucas or his design team that confirm a link between the AT-AT's as a reference to Mecha, or conversely something that would prove it as mere coincidence?

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    All aspects of Star Wars have been discussed to death by anyone over thirty. But I'll take the opportunity to yell at you like a grandpa: ESB was released in 1980. The WORD mecha is from the "80s". I am extremely skeptical of a thing that didn't exist yet being a precursor. It took 20 years for the term to become colloquial, and another 20y to become a mainstay of conversation. That link was written by someone under 30 describing a 40yo move with a term that wasn't in use yet.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 20:03
  • @Mazura: often, concepts precede words (after all, we create words to describe concepts). According the Wikipedia, mechas existed in mangas way before the 80s.
    – Taladris
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 9:48

2 Answers 2


No; they are based on real-world concepts for walking vehicles.

Joe Johnston described how he and and Ralph McQuarrie came up with the design for the AT-AT:

"The snow walkers were from a brochure by Syd Mead for US Steel of these walking trucks going through the snow – we turned them into walking tanks."

Joe Johnston Conjures The Wolfman (2010); Wikipedia link added to original quote.

An article from 2017 (Star Wars: The Surprising Origins of the AT-AT) goes into detail about the development of the AT-AT prop and includes the Syd Mead vehicle image:

Syd Mead walking vehicle concept painting

The article also provides an unreferrenced assertion that Martian tripod vehicles from The War of the Worlds lent some basis to the AT-AT design.


According to the DVD commentary the walkers were inspired by several things. George Lucas spoke in the 2004 DVD release commentary; Lucas said they were partially an homage to the Tripod's in HG Well's book "War of the worlds" and ironically serve a similar plot device, namely being overly complicated engines of war brought down by the simplest of things in Martians case by germs and in the walkers case by being tripped. Although some believe inspired by dock cranes in Long Beach, California. Thought Lucas has denied these claims. enter image description here

  • 1
    Can you provide a quote from the commentary. Also can you specify which (of the various) commentaries you're referring to?
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 6:59

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