In Disney Plus’ new one-off episode of the making-of series Disney Gallery, The Mandalorian producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, along with director Peyton Reed and the top artists at Industrial Light and Magic, sit down to pick apart the most buzzed about moment of December 2020: the return of that jedi.
In the final moments of The Mandalorian season 2’s finale, an original-trilogy-aged Luke Skywalker reveals himself from under a cloak, and takes young Grogu away for proper Force training. Through a blend of de-aging effects, Deep Fake technology, and Mark Hamill’s own performance, the ILM crew revived a version of Luke no one ever imagined they’d see again. They also were able to keep it a secret.
“‘Luke Skywalker’ … we were never allowed to say it,” visual effects supervisor Richard Bluff admits in the micro-doc. “Even now, when we talk about what we did, we talk about the code names.”
While most of the 40-minute special focuses on the ins and outs of how the Mandalorian team pulled off its lofty stunt — literally, Favreau diverges into a mini-lecture on how Deep Fake works — there’s a notable section devoted to keeping the Luke cameo a secret that speaks volumes about Lucasfilm’s philosophy on spoiler prevention. Bringing Young Luke back to life wasn’t the only goal. To really have the impact that the filmmakers imagined, no fan in the galaxy could catch a whiff of the plan.
“Everyone knew Rosario [Dawson] was going to be Ahsoka, everyone knew that Temuera Morrison was Boba,” Favreau says in an unexpectedly downtrodden tone. “Leaks spring and you just want to get the ship back to the harbor.”
Seal Team 6 operations sound less complicated than putting Luke Skywalker into an episode of The Mandalorian. To start off, Favreau and Reed personally drove over to Hamill’s home in Los Angeles to deliver him the script — and to show him the Grogu doll, as a bit of a chemistry test. With his approval, a select number of ILM artists and Mandalorian crew members were clued into the development process, which involved both assembling assets for the digital doppelgänger and creating fake assets that would throw potential leakers off the trail. Filoni says his public love of prequel-era Jedi Plo Koon became the obvious stand-in for all development materials. In fact, it’s Plo Koon’s name that appeared in scripts for the finale, and a number of pieces of concept art and visual effect elements were created just for use in creating confusion. Now that’s a deep fake!
“All it takes is one person treating the film in color correction, one person who goes on social media and says, ‘guess what I saw today,’” Hamill says in the doc.
Lucasfilm prevented leaks by locking down every inch of the set. Hamill’s scenes were shot with a bare-bones crew, when most of the main unit was out on location for Robert Rodriguez’s Boba Fett episode. To build the Deep Fake, ILM basically locked artist Landis Fields in a room to process thousands of images, 4K Star Wars footage, and old interviews. But even after the final versions of the character were filed, and the episode was locked, the anxiety kept bubbling at Lucasfilm; Bluff says “every day before the episode aired people would google The Mandalorian” to check for leaks.
On top of all the production details, Disney Gallery gives Favreau a chance to reflect on the technology of it all. While the showrunner seems visibly upset about leaks, he seems downright terrified of what might come of Deep Fake tech. In an extended digression, Favreau compares Lucasfilm and ILM’s Mandalorian cameo success to Mickey in the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment of Fantasia — yes, they conjured magic, but one can imagine how it could all go horribly wrong in the future. Favreau has some big ideas about blockchain verification of video images, and wow, yeah, it’s about as galaxy brained as creating an entire Plo Koon Cut of The Mandalorian. Hardcore.
One thing the Disney Gallery episode doesn’t clear up is that the future of The Mandalorian is hazy. The show will not return for a third season in 2021, with the miniseries The Book of Boba Fett expected to take its place this December. And when The Mandalorian does return, it might feel like an entirely different show; Favreau refers to the finale as the end of a “two season arc” about Grogu, and with other shows like Obi-Wan, Andor, and Mando spinoffs Rangers of the New Republic and Ahsoka in the works, the OG Disney Plus Star Wars series feels less and less pivotal to the company strategy. In theory, The Mandalorian will return in 2022 — but Lucasfilm does love to keep secrets and drop surprises.