The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson Dishes On The Incredible “Holdo Maneuver”


Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a beautiful film.

In fact, it’s so beautiful that The Academy has recognized the work of Rian Johnson and his VFX team, resulting in a total of four Oscar nominations: Original Score (John Williams), Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing.

That’s one less than The Force Awakens – and two more than Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, for those keeping count – but if there’s one moment in The Last Jedi worthy of adulation, it’s Amilyn Holdo’s jump to hyperspace. Cornered by the First Order, Laura Dern’s stand-in leader uses the Resistance’s last remaining warship, the Raddus, as a kamikaze spacecraft, thereby catching General Hux and Co. off guard.

The result? One of the most dazzling and indeed breathtaking shots in Star Wars history, as Holdo’s ship cuts through the Supremacy and its fleet of Star Destroyers like a hot knife through butter, annihilating everything in its path. It’s a scene that took inspiration from the great Han Solo, and now, thanks to his recent appearance on the /Filmcast, Rian Johnson has offered some new insight into Holdo’s daring maneuver. For the record, he’s also referencing this long-form piece by The Ringer, which calls the tactic into question.

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.

How did Johnson dream up such an incredible shot, you ask? Well, he didn’t do so alone. As the interview unfolds, the sequel’s writer-director recalls the moment when he took the preliminary storyboards to the wizards at ILM (Industrial Light and Magic), and the rest is history.

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.’

Johnson added:

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.

It’s a fascinating breakdown of Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘s most memorable scene, and with the 90th Academy Awards due to commence on March 4th, here’s hoping it’s recognized on the industry’s biggest night.