Last month, Disney announced that a special episode of their behind-the-scenes series on The Mandalorian would be released today. The episode focuses on the making of the last few minutes of the Season 2 finale, which brought Luke Skywalker back into our lives in spectacular fashion. Let’s break it down, but first remember that later today, our friends from The Resistance Broadcast are having a special episode of The Mando Fan Show to discuss the documentary as well.
Even though there aren’t many spoilers in this documentary, I will raise a small warning for those of our readers who have not checked it out yet. I don’t think it will ruin the experience if you first read our review and then go watch it, but just in case you think it will, be warned I’m about to discuss almost the entirety of the new Disney Gallery episode on the season finale of The Mandalorian.
The near-40 minute special was almost as long as the main episode itself. While there wasn’t a specific reason given for releasing it so many months after the first Disney Gallery on season 2 of The Mandalorian (which dropped on Christmas Day 2020), the writing is on the wall. As we had been told, the number of people that actually knew who was taking Grogu at the end of the season was as limited as possible. For that reason, we suspect not even the main documentary crew was allowed to enter the room. Still, a small number of people were able to film the footage we saw today, which was significantly more than I thought we’d be getting for such a secretive part of the shoot.
Katee Sackhoff discussed earlier this year with Star Wars Explained’s Mollie and Alex Damon that the character they were told was taking Grogu was Plo Koon, who had an unfortunate death back in Revenge of the Sith but had miraculously survived and was still around, all these years later. Even Filoni said in the documentary that this was the perfect excuse — most die-hard fans knew that his favorite Jedi was Plo Koon, and for that reason, it made total sense that Filoni, who is already an expert of bringing back characters from unceremonious deaths in Star Wars, could have managed to pull it off again.
We learned today that not only was the cast told this (remember that they had to react to someone walking through that door), but they went way further than that. The words “Luke Skywalker” were not allowed on set while they filmed the season finale of The Mandalorian, and instead, everyone involved, even those who actually knew what was happening, had to refer to him as Plo Koon. They even had concept art and preliminary VFX sketches of the character (including a very rough and unfinished version of Plo Koon’s head imposed over Luke’s which looked absolutely terrible).
One thing I found very interesting is that they were dedicated to keeping the secret, but they also wanted to get it absolutely right. For that reason, they did tell the actor who played Young Luke in the action scenes — I would have thought that him, for example, would have been kept in the dark, and then Mark Hamill would have had to replicate every movement he’d done.
That was not the case. Not only did the actor know, but he was also an active participant in making it right. So much so that there was a collaboration between him and Mark Hamill to get the movements right so that the VFX people then could blend the two performances in post. We’ll get to that in a second.
This was the most complete documentary on the making of this 5-minute sequence I could have imagined. It was outstanding to see the level of detail in which they delved into. Perhaps the reason why we didn’t get it back in December is that they also needed a lot of interviews with the crew, as well as edit it together. And not one crew member (not even Jon Favreau) was allowed to mention the words “Luke Skywalker” out loud on the set of The Mandalorian. The fact that a camera operator for the documentary crew was allowed in the room is unbelievable to me, and it makes total sense that they wanted to make this a separate episode that would be released much later. The interviews with the crew, from Jon Favreau to John Knoll, were clearly filmed after the finale was released. In the words of Mark Hamill, “it only takes one person,” meaning that if just one editor or color corrector, or coffee guy even sees it and posts it on social media, it would have been all for nothing.
At this point, I’d like to echo Mark’s words. I, as a Star Wars fan, was so privileged to not know anything about Luke’s return. Furthermore, I thought it was the least likely scenario. And I was completely mesmerized when it happened. The same goes for Grogu at the end of Chapter 1 of The Mandalorian, which was probably the second biggest moment for me watching a piece of entertainment in 2019 (only surpassed by, you know, the entire last hour of Avengers: Endgame). These will be moments I will remember for the rest of my days as a Star Wars fan. I lived the Grogu reveal by myself, but I shared the Luke moment with someone, who will also remember my reaction forever. I will tell my children and my grandchildren how I almost threw my laptop onto the floor out of excitement when I realized whose hand was that.
Yet somehow, we, as a fandom, are always looking to spoil these details for us. It is happening right now with the upcoming Spiderman movie, whose entire plot has already leaked and has ruined so many people’s excitement and dreams. The same will probably happen with The Book of Boba Fett in a couple of months (even though that show has been surprisingly quiet on the leaks end), Andor next year, and most certainly Obi-Wan Kenobi. At some point, we as fans should say “stop already” and start appreciating the gifts that these tremendously talented artists are trying to give us. At the end of the day, movies and television shows are experiences. And who wants to ruin someone’s or someone else’s experience?
Now that the rant is over, let’s go back to the documentary. One of my favorite parts was the long segment they spent explaining the different techniques they used to bring the young Mark Hamill likeness back. Many people have been complaining for the past number of months that it was way too fake. It was completely artificial and did not even start to resemble Mark Hamill. I’ll just say it right away — I completely disagree. I thought it was perfect. I did notice that his body did not move a lot (for obvious yet understandable reasons), and I was aware it was a visual effect. And yet I was stunned how much it resembled the Return of the Jedi Luke I grew up with. That being said, consider that this comes from someone who thought Grand Moff Tarkin was brought back through prosthetics in Rogue One.
Perhaps the most interesting thing for me is the fact that they actually did use the deep-fake technology on The Mandalorian, which uses the full power of artificial neural networks to digitally recreate an image of a person, after being trained with thousands of different images from different angles and lightings of that person. This was of course a point of controversy around the episode, as a few days after it dropped, YouTube artists had rendered what many people considered a better-looking image of Luke using deep-fake. Now, as it turns out, ILM had also been using deep-fake as well.
In my honest opinion, there is not the world of difference between the two images that many people say there is. But once again, that’s coming from me. I am not an expert on the technology, so I won’t even try to speculate on why one rendering was better than the other. But I would love to hear some experts on the matter discuss it and try to come up with an answer to that question. Anyway, the story has a nice ending, as the YouTube artist who became famous for that alternate take on Luke, who goes by the name of Shamook, is now working for Lucasfilm.
The way they edited this Disney Gallery special episode was interesting, as in many ways it emulated the way the episode played out. At least I noticed that in the following — when I first watched Chapter 16 of The Mandalorian back on December 18, 2020, the Luke moment brought a lot of emotions for me. But it wasn’t really until R2 made that sound and the camera cut to him that I just lost it. And it happened the same thing here — I was feeling nostalgic of watching the episode during the first 25 minutes of the Gallery documentary, but it wasn’t until they started discussing the inclusion of R2 that it really hit me.
And there’s something inherently magical about that moment that is impossible to explain. I thought I knew that before today, but now I know it with all certainty because it is exactly what happened to Jon Favreau, who literally wrote that moment into the script (although he does mention that it was Dave Filoni who pointed out that it was something that should happen). We both started sobbing at the same moment of the episode of The Mandalorian, and I felt those emotions again today, watching the Gallery episode, the same way that he did while talking about it to the Gallery crew. Star Wars is magical.
There are a lot of things that probably still need to be said about this outstanding documentary, but I’d like to leave it with this. Because that is something we should always keep in mind, even when we are disappointed with the content we are getting, someone else, somewhere, is enjoying it. And we should always keep in mind the positive side of Star Wars. One of the most magical things about it is that, no matter what we think about the particular movie or show we are watching, there are a lot of people who will feel inspired by it, and might even change their lives.