Kylo Ren throne room

Snoke’s Unexpected Death

One of the film’s biggest surprises is that Snoke, who fans assumed would remain the overarching villain for the entirety of this trilogy, is killed by his own disciple. After interrogating Rey, Snoke demands that Kylo Ren kill her – but the brooding pupil turns a lightsaber on his master instead.

Scanlan: I didn’t ultimately find out about the death of Snoke until very much closer to the shoot date. The information gets honed or given to you as you get closer just to hold on to it so it doesn’t get out there.

Morris: We always knew [his death] was going to happen. It was in the script from the word go. Snoke’s obviously a fully digital character played by Andy Serkis on the day. In terms of the actual moment of his death, we have a few shots to build up to.

Scanlan: We created a full size maquette, actually a full size version of him, using all of the materials and all the things one would if you were creating a completely life-like version. But we didn’t take it to any level of puppetry or animatronics – we took it to a point that it could be scanned…We kind of built toward that moment [of his death]. We built the whole puppet as an entire thing, and we then decided within about a week – or less than that, maybe a few days – where the incision was going to go, how exactly he was going to die. I think that comes from Rian talking with Andy and with [Daisy Ridley], and the whole scene is very organic. It’s not completely locked down all the time. When we put in the throne, we worked it out with the guys and with Rian. ‘OK, this is where he’s going to get cut.’

Morris: [Snoke’s] getting more and more angry, and Kylo’s subtly playing the saber to turn towards him.

Bob Ducsay (Editor): Very late in the scene where we cut to the lightsaber and it starts to turn…It’s a tricky thing. I mean, are you completely telling the audience what’s gonna happen there? I don’t know. I’ve seen the movie twice with an audience and they don’t seem to completely get it until it happens. Just because of the way that they respond. And these are the things that when you don’t put a movie in front of an audience, when you’re doing it just internally, you’re like, ‘I think this is what they’re gonna think. I hope this is what they’re gonna think, because there’s a lot on the line here’…but we had great confidence in that scene…It felt really good while we were doing it.

Scanlan: In fact, the [practical] model is used in the scene where you see Snoke chopped in half and you see his upper torso fall and you see his lower legs fall as well.

Morris: The practical effects guys gave us a version of a puppet that fell off the throne forward, but we augmented that heavily and rubbed out most of it. It was a great placeholder to have on set, but it just didn’t match close enough with what we were achieving in the rest of the sequence, so we ended up replacing that.

Yedlin: When we did those shots, we did a bunch of versions of everything. So first we’d shoot Andy doing the performance. Because everything’s gotta match that, because it’s all about the performance. And then we would know what the shot is. And then we would shoot the maquette, which looked exactly like Snoke, but it doesn’t move. Then we would shoot a reference of a guy in there that, I mean, I guess vaguely looks like him, but it’s a person, so he doesn’t actually look like him. And the VFX guys would have him move his head around so they could see him from different angles. And then we would shoot on empty to put Snoke in. The thing is, we knew we were gonna do that, so it wasn’t like, ‘How do I wrap my head around this?’ You just know you’re gonna wait and do these other versions.

Ducsay: The final Snoke thing, the cutting there is – it’s pretty precise. It’s very studied. That stuff changes a lot and there’s a lot of time invested in that. But doesn’t take away from the fact that yeah, I have all the shots I need, the basic concept of it is completely designed.

Morris: As Rey puts up her hand to pull the saber over, that searing slice that occurs is all in CG. When we cut back to when Kylo wakes up, there’s a shot of Snoke’s face that’s splattered on the floor. Originally that was going to be a piece of prosthetic animatronic, but ultimately during the course of post-production, we redesigned Snoke, and so that no longer matched what he looked like. So we actually had to replace that with CG as well.

Scanlan: The way a lot of these things often happen is that when you see an actor’s performance, when you see Andy’s performance and you hear Andy’s voice, you close your eyes and you imagine something. It isn’t always going to be that the decisions that you made nine months or eight months in advance are always going to be right…That’s the joy of filmmaking. It isn’t just a pre-defined process. That’s one of the joys of digital. At a certain time, you can almost go back and add a tweak or a slight change, and I think it was generally felt that the Snoke that we had was probably, shall we say, not as powerful or as commanding as Andy’s performance was. I’m sure that was one of the motivating reasons to say, ‘Why don’t we just do some little changes here?’ just to make the two really marry together. I think maybe [the initial Snoke design was] a little vulnerable, and maybe a little weak, both from a facial aspect and maybe even from an animation aspect. Once you see Andy walk and you see Andy hold himself, Snoke’s actual skeleton or anatomical makeup might have been slightly out of ease with that. So digitally, you can tweak that slightly and move things. I think you can get away with a lot of things within the cut or within a camera angle, but there are certain sections where you look and go, ‘No, we’re too vulnerable here. We have to make those changes.’

Kaplan: When we see Snoke get sliced in half, his arm and his hand remain on the throne, and he’s still wearing his ring. I thought it was pretty amazing to see, after he’s sliced in half, to still see his hand still grasping the arm of the throne, wearing the ring, when he was no longer sitting there. There’s a wonderful creepiness.

Rian Johnson (Writer/Director): The first thing to say is coming into writing this or any story, the object is not to subvert expectation. The object is not surprise. I think that would lead to some contrived places. The object is drama. And in this case, the object was figuring out a path for each one of these characters where we challenge them and thus learn more about each of them by the end of the movie. So that having been said, Kylo’s arc in this movie I saw as – besides his relationship with Rey – the big arc for Kylo in this movie was breaking down this kind of unstable foundation that he’s on and then building him to where by the end of the film he’s no longer just a Vader wannabe, but he’s stepped into his own as kind of a quote unquote villain, but a complicated villain that you understand, right? So with that in mind, the idea that Kylo would get to that place by the end of it led me to think, ‘Well then, what is Snoke’s place at the end?’ And does that work with him just kneeling before Snoke at the end? No. If Kylo’s gotta get to a place of actual power, the ultimate expression of that would be him ascending beyond his master. And that also then gives the opportunity to have a great, dramatic moment that you don’t expect of getting Snoke kind of out of the way. So that really is where it all stemmed from. It was thinking about Kylo’s path, thinking about where I wanted him to be at the end of the movie to set him up for the next film. And thinking, ‘OK, that means we’re gonna clear away this slightly more familiar dynamic of the Emperor and the pupil.’ Clear the boards from that, and then that’s much more exciting going into IX, the notion of now we just have Kylo as the one that they have to deal with.

Praetorian guard

The Praetorian Guard

Following the Star Wars tradition of the Emperor’s Royal Guard (first seen in Return of the Jedi) and inspired by ancient Roman fighters who served as their emperor’s personal security detail, Johnson wanted Snoke to be protected by an elite fighting unit of his own in The Last Jedi. These red-clad defenders are known – as they were in the Roman era – as the Praetorian guard.

Kaplan: I had an idea and I just kind of went with it. I shared it with Rian after the fact and he loved the designs. What I did was, I kept thinking of bright red muscle cars from the ’70s – the vents and the reflection of the shine. So I did a mood board of different elements and started working with my concept artists and created these costumes that were somewhat samurai warrior, which I think is something that fit very well into the Star Wars vernacular, and also the ’70s muscle cars being when the initial films were made back in the ’70s. I love grounding the film at the time when George Lucas made the original film with haircuts and things like that, because it keeps us in the same world. All the rebels’ haircuts and Kylo Ren’s longer hair, I don’t want it to look like today’s times. I want it to look like Star Wars, which was built upon the way people looked back then. That was something I thought was important to stay with. The Praetorian guards don’t have faces. They don’t have eyes. But they needed to see. So what we did was these tiny, tiny little saw lines, like stripes, in the face. They can see enough through that latticework. It’s pretty amazing that they had full visibility so that nobody got hurt.

Morris: Even all the big weapons that the Praetorian guard had as well, they all needed tracking in, and they all had their own separate characteristics. The whip, when Rey gets pulled toward the guard, that wasn’t even there. [The stunt performer] was just play acting. [laughs] He rehearsed it endlessly with a practical whip, but we asked him whether it was possible to do it without, and he did an amazing job with Daisy on the day when we had to track in a CG whip that was tethered to her lightsaber.

Klyce: We really were inspired by the original Ben Burtt sounds for the lightsaber, naturally. And we ended up recreating some of the sounds of the lightsaber using exactly the original sources that Ben used. And then swinging the microphone in front of the speaker the way he did, but reimagining it, as we called it. For the Praetorian guards, Rian wanted the sounds – the weapons are very different. Some snap apart. There are these sort of katana blades. Or one of the guards will hold this blade, but on top there’s a very sharp line of laser that scintillates. And so I started just creating steady textures, kind of in the same school of Ben creating the steady textures for the lightsaber…The sparks, when they hit each other and also when Phasma’s fighting Finn, we went into the scoring stage at Skywalker. There’s this big room which normally records orchestras, and it’s got this fantastic acoustical signature where you clap your hands and it goes [MAKES NOISES]. And it has this beautiful sound in there. Jon Borland, our sound editor, had this great idea to take – it’s goofy – to take a plastic bag for packing and pop it. And it goes [MAKES NOISES]. But we record at 192 kilohertz with these high bandwidth microphones. Take that sound, then you slow it down so it’ll go [MAKES NOISES], and it creates a much lower pitch. But the fidelity of that sound, because you’re sampling at such a high sample rate, the fidelity’s still very good quality. And then those sounds added and manipulated with other sparks created the clashes for those weapons. So yeah, a lot of little new sounds for the Praetorian guards in there. Blades. [Skywalker Sound re-recording assistant] Tony Sereno‘s kids found this knife. It’s like a letter opener on a sheath and it just, it was just this weird, random knife. So [MAKES NOISES] pulling it out and just rubbing this thing. It had these edges, so we just recorded that. And so whenever they’re swinging it, it’s that sound of the little knife. So lots of little, tiny sounds kind of stacked for those guards.

Continue Reading The Last Jedi Lightsaber Battle: The Definitive Oral History >>

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