(Spoiler alert: This article is filled with key details about The Mandalorian.) Back in December, The Mandalorian’s second season finale caught everyone off guard by featuring Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in a pivotal cameo that was an instant sensation with fans and critics alike. Keeping this a surprise was no small feat, especially since the casting of Rosario Dawson (Ahsoka Tano), Temuera Morrison (Boba Fett), and Timothy Olyphant (Cobb Vanth) had been leaked months earlier. So how did Disney and Lucasfilm prevent this secret from getting out?
Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian — Making of Season 2 Finale, which premiered on Disney+ this week, finally shed some light on how the show’s creative team pulled it off. And it all started with Plo Koon. That’s a name that won’t mean much to casual Star Wars fans, but Plo Koon is a Jedi Master from the prequel trilogy and Star Wars: The Clone Wars who just so happens to be a favorite character of The Mandalorian Executive Producer Dave Filoni. In order to throw fans off the scent of Luke’s return, even the cast members were led to believe that Plo Koon would be the Jedi who rescues Grogu and Mando in the finale. Lucasfilm even commissioned production art of Plo Koon in action to further the illusion.
Series Creator and Executive Producer Jon Favreau laid the groundwork for Hamill’s participation months ahead of time by inviting him to watch the pilot episode of The Mandalorian before its official release. According to Filoni, it made creative sense for Luke to appear.
“If there’s one person in the galaxy you’d be okay with taking Grogu from the Mandalorian, it’s gotta be Luke,” Filoni says in the Gallery episode. “It just felt right to both of us.”
From there, the challenge was not only keeping the secret, but also finding a way to convincingly recreate young Luke on screen. One of the biggest revelations from this special is that young Luke’s voice was created by a program called Respeecher. This allowed the effects team to use samples of Hamill’s voice from the original trilogy, the Star Wars radio programs, and interviews from that era to synthesize a convincing audio illusion of the Luke Skywalker voice that everyone knows and loves.
Another tricky aspect was finding the right performer who could pass for young Luke without letting the word get out. Enter Max Lloyd-Jones, the man chosen to physically portray young Luke. While Hamill was present on set and in costume, he and Lloyd-Jones both acted out their scenes in a single day. Hamill also noted that he and Lloyd-Jones observed their respective performances and tried to mimic each other.
Hamill also had to perform his scenes again in a special chamber that could record the intricate movements of his face. This was done to give the digital artists an even better source to work with. Numerous techniques were put into play in order to digitally de-age Hamill, including the widely popular Deep Fake program. But the moments leading up to Luke’s reveal were just as important to make the audience buy into it. That included the creation of a fighting style for Luke that was an evolution of his previous lightsaber techniques from the original films.
To further protect the surprise, no one was allowed to utter the words “Luke Skywalker” on set. The scene in question was also shot with the minimum number of crew members while another unit was filming the sixth episode of season 2, which heavily featured Boba Fett, in a different location.
Another memorable touch was that Luke’s return was accompanied by a reprisal of John Williams’ iconic music from the original trilogy. Those notes alone can trigger an emotional response. But when combined with the visual of young Luke, it hits even closer to home.
“Let’s never underestimate the importance of John Williams,” said Favreau.
Very few would ever argue with that. Thanks to the contributions of Hamill, Favreau, Filoni, composer Ludwig Göransson, and numerous contributors behind the scenes, young Luke’s Mandalorian cameo is one of the greatest moments in the history of Star Wars. It’s also a testament to the power of surprise.
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