The throne room fight at the end of The Last Jedi is unique among Star Wars lightsaber battles because it’s not your traditional clash of Jedi vs. Sith. In fact, two lightsabers never even touch, so it’s less of a lightsaber duel and more of a brawl with all manner of dangerous sci-fi weapons. As part of our ongoing series Star Wars: Breaking Down the Duels, IGN spoke with stunt coordinator Rob Inch, who choreographed the fight, and production designer Rick Heinrichs, who supervised the creation of the striking set. They shared insightful bits of trivia on how this exciting scene came together.
You can watch the episode in the video player above or keep reading to see what the crew had to say. And be sure to check out our main hub page for more episodes of Star Wars: Breaking Down the Duels.
The throne room fight comes after Kylo Ren makes the surprise decision to kill his master, Snoke. The Elite Praetorian Guards aren’t too happy about what just happened to their boss, so they attack, and Kylo Ren teams with Rey to take them on.
Setting the Mood
The fight takes place in Snoke’s Throne room, which features a raised throne with a stark red backdrop. The main inspiration for the set came from an unused piece of artwork from the Original Trilogy by Ralph McQuarrie, and the coloring helped evoke a specific tone Heinrichs and director Rian Johnson wanted for the scene.
“The scale of the set was huge, and it was a practical set,” Heinrichs said. “I spent several days up at the library in Skywalker Ranch and went through all of the beautiful artwork of Ralph McQuarrie. One of the amazing pieces of artwork that I always loved, it depicted Darth Vader in a hellish, almost a subterranean cavern, and the throne is very similar to what we ended up. We were really pinging on Ralph’s drawing. It was part of the inspiration for the red color. In this case, this bright red, we were trying to put across peril.”
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Peril is an understatement, given how things go down.
At one point in the fight, Rey flings a sparking enemy weapon onto the red curtain, setting it ablaze, which transforms the set and sharply changes the tone as the fight progresses. In in age where pretty much anything impressive on-screen is assumed to be a visual effect, Heinrichs emphasized that the fire is one-hundred percent real, which was tough to pull off.
“[The red curtain] was on fire on the set, by the way. We’re not talking about elements that got added later on in post-production,” Heinrichs emphasized. “It was a smoky stage towards the end you would see people resting, sort of gone, in between takes because the stuntmen were going all-out to really deliver the performance that you see on the screen.”
Will They or Won’t They?
When the fight starts and the music kicks in, there’s a brief moment where it looks like Rey and Kylo Ren might fight each other, another instance of Blue Lightsaber vs. Red Lightsaber like we’re used to seeing in Star Wars movies. That moment was specifically designed to play with audience expectations.
“The initial part of that fight was to actually keep the audience guessing when they first pulled out their weapons,” Inch explained. “We shouldn’t believe that they’re going to join forces, so it was initially trying to kind of have that standoff face-to-face moment, and then all of a sudden they turn and go back-to-back.”
The whole fight, impressive as it may be, is actually a key part of the story being told between the two characters. The movie starts with Rey and Kylo Ren as bitter enemies, with Rey seeing Kylo Ren as a monster who killed his own father, Han Solo, who had just become a mentor of sorts to Rey. But over the course of the film, they begin to understand one another and form a close bond. Through their connection forged by Snoke, they engage in what could be seen as Force flirting, and Heinrichs sees their team-up as the pay-off to all that tension.
“It feels like a great culmination of a budding romance actually between Kylo Ren and Rey,” Heinrichs said.
Although, as we saw, things didn’t quite wind up that way.
“It’s one of those moments that you build up carefully over the course of the whole film, and it feels like it’s an achievement that the whole movie was leading towards,” Heinrichs said. “And then Rian specifically turns it a little bit further to stay in consistency with his characters.”
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Weapons of Choice
The weapons of the Praetorian Guards are the x-factor of the fight. There are eight guards wielding several different weapons, including a halberd, a chain-whip, and a double-ended number that can split into two daggers. The weapons have an electrified edge that allows them to clash with a lightsaber, which makes these enemies a fitting match for these two Force users. Having such a wide variety of weapons was a boon to Inch when it came to creating a new kind of melee fight in Star Wars.
“There are only certain moves when you’re just hitting weapons against weapons, but all of a sudden we’ve got this whip-chain that can wrap around something. Feels like we kind of were leaning on a blend of all different disciplines,” Inch recalled. “With those different weapons, you could really mix it up so we could really delve in, and we actually had to cut so much stuff out because there was too much going on all the time.”
With numerous dangerous enemies using non-traditional weapons in unexpected ways, it forced Kylo Ren and Rey to find creative solutions to beat them. The fight concludes in memorable fashion when Rey tosses her lightsaber to an imperiled Kylo Ren, which he catches and ignites into the face of his enemy. It turns out that little maneuver was Adam Driver’s idea, according to Inch. Inch had choreographed an elaborate move where Kylo Ren would have caught the saber and slipped out to use it, but Driver suggested he just switch it on for an insta-kill, ending the battle with an abrupt and resounding exclamation point.
Missed the first episode of Star Wars: Breaking Down the Duels? Watch it below: