The Last Jedi lightsaber battle

(Warning: this post contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.)

The latest Star Wars film is overflowing with jaw-dropping moments, but one of the most talked-about scenes is the incredible lightsaber fight inside Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room. I knew the second I walked out of the movie that I wanted to read a detailed breakdown of how that came together, so when /Film was given the chance to speak with many of the filmmakers on the movie’s opening day, I decided to compile an oral history. I concentrated all of my interview time asking those involved about every aspect of that scene: the visual flair of the set design, the practical flames licking the deep red curtains, that fist-pumping slow motion moment, the death of a major character, and much more.

Here, in the words of writer/director Rian Johnson and many others, is the behind-the-scenes story of one of the Star Wars franchise’s most thrilling moments.

Update 12/3/2019: Star Daisy Ridley spoke with British GQ about the making of this scene, so I’ve embedded that video below. Our oral history follows.

Snoke's throne room

Crafting The Throne Room

Kylo Ren leads a handcuffed Rey to see his master. Doors hiss open to reveal Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room, a cavernous chamber bathed in red and encircled by armed guards. The Supreme Leader slouches lazily across a raised throne in the center of the room.

Ben Morris (Visual Effects Supervisor): That’s one of my favorite scenes in the film. The throne room set was built on a stage in Pinewood, the Q stage. We always knew from conversations and preproduction meetings with Rian that these beautiful red velvet curtains that were shrouded and surrounding [Snoke’s] throne would be burned away to show space beyond and the huge wing of the Mega Destroyer.

Neal Scanlan (Creature & Droid Effects Creative Supervisor): The set we were on was a stunning set. The whole red drapes that are behind that room are actually velvet drapes. The whole set was a beautifully high polished set. It was all raised up. It was a very theatrical place to be. It was almost temple-like in reality.

Rick Heinrichs (Production Designer): It was one of the earliest sequences that we discussed…we explored many different looks and feels to it, and it all came back to his desire to put across a ceremonial environment for the Supreme Leader to reign from. That was incredibly important, that the environment support the concept of Snoke at the pinnacle of – at the knife-edge, if you will – of the First Order. One of the earliest inspirations I can remember from this, I went through all the archives that I could get my hands on at Skywalker Ranch, and there was this great image that Ralph McQuarrie had painted. It was actually of Darth Vader in a throne room. And it wasn’t right in terms of the practical aspect of it – it was literally like a medieval throne room with flames all around him – but the idea of creating a metaphorical hell with the use of the red color, but making it as elegant as possible, that coincides with the ethos of the First Order and the black, the reflectivity, and the hard, sharp, almost crystalline inhuman shapes that are a part of that.

Steve Yedlin (Cinematographer): We from a lighting side and then Rick from [the production design] side, we kind of got together and said, ‘If we’re gonna do this, let’s really do it.’ Figuring out that exact red, how to physically do it. And which part of it was practical and which wasn’t, because in terms of the red stuff itself, a lot of it was practical. Some of it wasn’t. I mean, obviously when you see space out there, that isn’t practical.

Heinrichs: When you look toward the throne, you see this almost spinal and rib-like structure above Snoke. So as part of this very elegant, simple shape, there was also an incredibly important sense of power and strength in almost a metaphorically organic way as well.

Ren Klyce (Sound Supervisor): From a sound perspective, we wanted it to have a sense of foreboding. We wanted to feel a sense of being unnerved or unhinged. Dark. And so the tones that are in there, there’s some heavy sort of bassy sounds and tonal steady noises that are in there that kind of create this plateau of tension. And then on top of that, the dialogue with its reverb kind of falls off into that. So you have that speaking and then the reverb goes into this tension. And then lastly the music, John Williams’ score, he has this very, very demonic choir that plays through that.

Heinrichs: The most important thing for me is that we took the language of the First Order/Empire architecture, and we were able to bend it to our specific use and created something that feels both familiar and novel at the same time.

Snoke backstory

Snoke’s Increased Role

After appearing as a towering hologram in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson and The Last Jedi team wanted to make Snoke a more tangible villain in this sequel. Actor Andy Serkis returned to provide the motion-capture and vocal performance for the Dark Side’s most mysterious baddie.

Scanlan: We knew that Snoke was going to feature for real, rather than a hologram. We also would see him for the first time at his true scale, at his true height, and at his true physicality. We also felt, and what Rian felt, was that maybe the version in Force Awakens – time had passed a little, and some of the wounds had healed. I’m talking wounds in an almost spiritual way. His face, to try to show the torment and the twisted battle that exists within his own mind.

Morris: I’m particularly proud of Snoke. I think he’s wonderful. He was always something Rian was concerned about. He came to me and said, ‘The way he was played in The Force Awakens was too mysterious,’ and he wanted to bring him out of the shadows, to make him utterly real. He said to me, ‘Is this even achievable in CG? Do I have to go to an actor in makeup?’ And I said, ‘No, no, no. Absolutely not. We can go well beyond that.’ So it was great taking Rian through the process as we built it, and by the end of it, he was so excited. He’d have shots he staged as a mid shot, and he’d be saying, ‘Can we just push the camera in even tighter? My God, look at the stubble on his chin. Can we just go a little tighter again?’ I think Rian’s as happy as we are with that character.

Scanlan: We built an animatronic hand that caresses Rey’s face at one point, which was physically performed by Andy [Serkis]. His relationship with Rey was one of a physical connection, and during the sequence, he was raised on a raised platform so he was at the correct height. The whole thing was motion captured by visual effects. Ben [Morris] and the guys completely covered it. He was wearing the full motion capture suit, facial capture as well.

Michael Kaplan (Costume Designer): Visually, that red environment was so beautiful, and Snoke in all of his metallic gold glory. I thought it would look loose and luxurious, and I thought it would look beautiful in that room. It does have a rough texture, which I think is much more Star Wars than if you were wearing something in fine silk. He’s wearing a gold-laced dressing gown for the most part, and I think the red and the gold really work. He wasn’t really there, but we did make the actual costume in reality, even though it was going to be CG. It was sitting on the throne when he got sliced in half, so that’s how that was done.

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