The Holdo Maneuver

There were a handful of moments that left me speechless in last year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but “The Holdo Maneuver” may be the most beautifully executed in the entire movie. You know the scene. Spoilers ahead!

Left with no other choice, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) stays behind on a Resistance ship while allowing her fellow Resistance members to escape to Crait. In order to make sure they arrive safely, she turns her ship around to face down The First Order and makes the jump to lightspeed, sacrificing herself as her spacecraft rips through the enemy ship and causes untold amounts of damage.

An upcoming episode of The /Filmcast features writer/director Rian Johnson as a guest, and during their conversation, Johnson explained how that maneuver fits into larger Star Wars canon, the challenge of communicating the immensity of that act, and the moment it finally clicked into place in post-production.

Over an hour into the extended interview (which will go live on the podcast feed later tonight), /Filmcast host David Chen points Johnson to a fascinating article at The Ringer about how the implications behind The Holdo Maneuver may break the universe of Star Wars, and Johnson gamely answers each point of contention. First up: why haven’t we seen this move executed before? Has it been deemed so devastating that it’s essentially a war crime?

“First of all, has this been done before, period? I’ve got to reserve the right for [Story Group member] Pablo [Hidalgo] to build it back into canon, if he’s like, ‘Yeah, this is a thing and they outlawed it.’ I think there’s various ways you can go with it. But it’s not like it was the plan to do this. It’s a spur of the moment thing. It’s this idea that she gets and she sits down and fucking does, and it obviously takes everybody completely by surprise. It takes Hux by surprise. The fact that Hux doesn’t see it coming means it’s probably not a standard military maneuver. I think it was something that Holdo (laughs) pulled out of her butt in the moment.”

So how did Johnson come up with this moment in the first place?

“The early idea I had was – and I storyboarded it all out – I had the silence thing as an idea from very early on. The notion of ‘how do you communicate the bigness of this, and the idea that this was all happening in a nanosecond?’ The notion that this event is out of time in a weird way, and communicate the bigness beyond being just a big explosion.

So I had the silence thing and I boarded it out, and had the idea that it was going to be silent when we’re up close seeing all the destruction, and then we’ll cut back to the massive wide shot and only then would the sound catch up with you and you hear the big ‘boom.’ But the whole thing honestly didn’t click until our amazing wizards at ILM came upon the idea of that exposure shift. 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. It was when they showed this version of it to me that had this exposure shift, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that makes it all kind of click.’

You can see when it happens. It’s almost like the lights turn off on all the Star Destroyers. The Star Destroyers are silhouette black against the blinding light of the streaks where the debris has gone through the ships.”

For me, this statement amounts to a refutation of auteur theory – even though Johnson came up with the idea, it wasn’t until he collaborated with the ILM artists that they were able to arrive at the best possible version of this memorable moment. Hopefully, Johnson’s statements answer some lingering questions for Star Wars fans. Be sure to listen to the full episode of The /Filmcast when it goes live later tonight for plenty more insights into the making of The Last Jedi.

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