This post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Of all the moments in The Last Jedi, Admiral Holdo’s suicide run at the climax of the film is perhaps the one that stays with you the most. Not just because of the emotional implications of Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) sacrificing herself for the sake of her allies, but also because of the breathtaking visuals and utter silence that accompany her hyperspace collision with Snoke’s ship. Considering some theaters felt the need to warn their audiences about the scene, you wouldn’t be out of line in saying it was unexpected.
Last month, blogger Ian Failes stopped by ILM London to speak to visual effects supervisor Ben Morris about the scene. Naturally, Morris’ first impression after reading the script was that his team would need to pull out all the stops. This was a massive set piece and something no audience had ever seen in a Star Wars movie before. In Morris’ words, “It’s going to be epic!”
But after sitting down with director Rian Johnson and hearing his thoughts, they realized he was much more interested in letting the audience sit in silence, feeling the emotional weight of Holdo’s sacrifice, rather than showing them a big Michael Bay-esque explosion. He said the actual impact should look like something that “cuts like a hot knife through butter” while still being “serenely beautiful.”
“You kind of get into the atomic-level things. We looked at particle physics photography in cloud chambers, and the way that multiple atoms will hit each other, they’ll fracture, you have sit waves that spray,” said Morris. Once they had the physics mastered, Morris and his team needed to make sure the images would stick with the audience. Following Johnson’s ethos of “doing something they wont expect,” they decided to flip the exposure on the images. Instead of white or gray Star Destroyers against the black background of space, you’d have black silhouettes with a searing white shard of light blasting through them.
“The whole thing honestly didn’t click until our amazing wizards at ILM came upon the idea of that exposure shift,” Johnson said in a recent interview with The Ringer, in which he rebukes the idea that the Holdo maneuver somehow breaks Star Wars canon. “We had versions of it before that with just regularly lit ships, with streaks of white going through them, and it was nowhere near as impactful.” There are many things you can say about Holdo’s tactics for escaping the First Order, but you can’t deny that her final moments make an impact.
You can read the whole post at VFX Blog.