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THE LAST JEDI’s Effects Supervisor on How to Drop Bombs and Make Leia Fly in Space

One of the most common questions waged about Star Wars: The Last Jedi involves the opening space battle: How exactly does the process of dropping bombs work in zero gravity, out of orbit? Sure, there were TIE bombers in The Empire Strikes Back as well, but the fact that such a thing exists in Star Wars canon doesn’t answer the question of how. According to visual effects supervisor Ben Morris, however, this was something his team thought carefully about for a long time.

“We did all go, ‘How do bombs drop in space?'” Morris told Nerdist. “And we sat there for ages. And then Rian [Johnson] said, ‘They’re Maglev [magnetic] bombs. It’s Star Wars. Let’s not worry. Let’s move on.'”

This directive aside, Morris credits his effects co-supervisor Michael Mulholland with ultimately finding an answer. “We realized that if you get over the fact that they’re transitioning in a clip with air in, if in space, if you fire an object in a direction, there is no resistance in space, and it would continue to go in the same direction in which you pushed it,” Morris said. “If you imagine that all of those bombs are actually projected out of that bomber and they’re traveling in space, there’s no reason on earth why they wouldn’t continue on down and hit the dreadnought. So we suddenly had the solution.”

While Morris and his team were able to build on many of the techniques they learned from The Force Awakens and Rogue One to deliver the world of The Last Jedi, some aspects didn’t make the transition in quite the way you’d think. Arch-villain Supreme Leader Snoke, for one, had to be rebuilt “from the ground up.” It was left to Johnson’s discretion to decide what height the character would actually be in person, and up to Morris and his team to make him “be a living, breathing reality” as opposed to the “pale, sallow, zombie-like feel” he had before.

Morris’ mandate was for “him to look alive and real, even though he’s had some serious trauma and damage to his history and body.” It worked; Morris said, “Certain people have said to me, ‘How did you get that actor to look like that?’ And to me, that’s a great compliment, because the entire thing is digital. I think it looked better than the make-up could ever have looked, so that’s great. ”

Not quite everything about the big bald baddie was CG—there was a two-piece practical puppet to create the effect of his untimely demise. But when you see the corpse lying on the floor with his tongue hanging out, that is still digital, and a side-effect of the changes they made in his design from Episode VII. “We realized that the maquette that we originally based the character’s look and structure on didn’t quite work,” Morris said. “So we created an exact clone of that in the computer, and started to animate it. But it didn’t feel like it held enough resonance, and physical scale and performance. So we actually rebuilt him, and that meant that there wasn’t a match [with the two-part puppet].”

Speaking of resonance, most of Carrie Fisher’s space walk scene had to be created in post-production, following the sad news that she passed. “It was a challenging thing,” Morris said, “mostly because of the sensitivity around it, not because of the technical execution, necessarily, of the shots.” All the close-ups were of Fisher herself, who was never in a cable wire harness (“she was able to lean forward in a comfortable position,” Morris notes). There was a stuntwoman in a harness, but you never see her because “we were so wide on those, we ultimately needed to zoom the cameras, so we actually replaced that with a digital version of the character.”

Morris continued, “When she’s out in space, we just wanted it to be a beautiful moment, and it’s obviously the moment where the audience finally clicked: Carrie has some sort of force ability. I don’t want to verbalize or describe what it is, but…she could guide herself back in. And so we were just very careful with that.”

There was perhaps no other shot in The Last Jedi that earned as emotional a response as Leia’s space-gliding scene, and clearly plenty of thought went into bringing the concept to life. “We discussed how she would or wouldn’t move in space,” Morris said, “and the reality is, there’s no wind in space. There’s no air, there’s no volume, so there was very subtle movement there. We didn’t want to overplay that. Carrie pulling herself forwards—we always wanted her to be flying through the wreckage of the cruiser’s main bridge in space.”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Let us know! The film is currently available on digital download, and it hits Blu-ray Mar. 27.

Images: Lucasfilm

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