This video essay looks at what went into that breathtaking moment.
Explosions. You’ve probably seen a lot of them in movies. Which is why it’s so rare that one will genuinely catch you off guard. Go on, try and think of one. Explosions are often loud (and fun), but a genuinely unforgettable one can be hard to come by. And you might think the solution would be to go bigger and even louder. But what if you removed all sound, allowing the audience to share a collective silence for just a few moments?
Well, the result is The Last Jedi‘s staggering lightspeed crash. A sequence where three storylines build up to a blinding climax. A deafening silence and a flash of light, which left everybody in my screenings gasping. Answering every Star Wars fans’ question of “what happens when you crash a ship at lightspeed?”
Video essayist Thomas Flight has taken a deep dive into what makes the sequence so impactful, both on a narrative level and in terms of how that iconic moment was created. Flight examines how Rian Johnson and company drew from real-life camera tricks to influence the visual effects for the scene. Drawing attention to the way in which cameras pick up light under different exposure, he goes on to discuss how setting up the VFX shots to appear as though they’re being captured by a real camera adds a certain weight to the crash.
Essentially, by displaying a flash of light, Johnson is able to replicate the effect of a camera adjusting to the brightness of an explosion. And by cutting out the sound at the exact right moment, the crash is given maximum impact. Instead of simply setting the exposure to compensate for the light, Johnson ensures that this sequence is burned into our brains long after seeing the movie, with a simple bit of VFX trickery.
I’m always fascinated by the amount of work that goes into the smallest details of a film. How so much care goes into each frame to ensure every sequence lands with maximum effect. And if there’s one moment in The Last Jedi I haven’t been able to forget, it’s the lightspeed crash.