The Knights of Ren showdown that Lucasfilm hyped since the characters were first mentioned in 2015's Star Wars:The Force Awakens finally happened in The Rise of Skywalker. Whether you loved it or thought it failed to deliver, there's no denying the pure joy of that moment when Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) pulls a lightsaber out of thin air and then shrugs in a movement that immediately brings Harisson Ford's reckless smuggler Han Solo to mind.
That shrug was no mistake, but it wasn't planned either. Rise of Skywalker stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart tells Inverse that Kylo Ren's subtle nod to his dead father wasn't planned at all.
"We never saw that coming at all," she says. "It was so cool. It reminded me of Han Solo."
In an interview, Huthart (known to millions as "Blaze" on the '80s TV phenomenon American Gladiators) broke down Kylo's showdown with the Knights of Ren alone with two other pivotal stunts from The Rise of Skywalker.
"Six weeks on just that one move"
One of the first visuals Star Wars fans saw of The Rise of Skywalker was Rey's (Daisy Ridley) epic jump over Kylo Ren's TIE Fighter, which ends with Rey slicing off an entire wing with her lightsaber. Huthart says the stunt, which lasts about nine seconds in slow-motion, took up untold hours to complete.
"Probably about six weeks on just that one move," she says.
It turns out, Daisy Ridley was not only capable of doing the stunt, but that they even filmed one take for close-ups. Ultimately, however, Rise of Skywalker ended up using Ridley's stunt double, parkour athlete Katie McDonnell, instead.
"I have a fondness of the actor doing the work if possible," Huthart says. "Daisy was fantastic. But because of the nature [of the scene], it was on sand an sometimes the landing wasn't clean enough, we didn't want to take chances. I felt bad, because she could have done it."
Several versions of the stunt were drafted, including one where Rey went under the TIE Fighter.
"As we start playing as a stunt team, with just us and our creativity, we basically work on different moves." The final one used in the movie was an early favorite, "but we offered different ones to J.J. so that he could see a contrast."
Thankfully, their favorite was what J.J. Abrams wanted all along.
"We practiced it, we defined the move with no wires to see if it was possible," Huthart says. "When we got the move down, we really defined the height. We got to the art department to get the exact measurements of the TIE Fighter, because that's when we came to the conclusion it's far cooler if she goes over the TIE Fighter."
While there was, of course, wirework involved, Huthart didn't want the wires to make the move look "supernatural." She didn't want Rey to suddenly become Supergirl.
"It had to look physically possible," she says. "It was always our dream that it was physically possible for someone with someone with some kind of ability but also that slight enhancement that the Jedi power would have given her." That part "took ten to 12 days."
After going back and forth with J.J. Abrams on the particulars, such as jump height and TIE Fighter dimensions, "then we get the actor to see if the actor can do it." Turns out, Daisy Ridley could, and so they filmed one with Ridley in case J.J. Abrams and the editors wanted to use it. "We did a half-speed [version] with Daisy just in case we were ever going to cut into Daisy's face in the middle of it," Huthart says. "They didn't use any of Daisy. But we did do it as a possibility."
“It had to look physically possible.”
The scene finally came together at Wadi Rum in Jordan.
"We were always going to shoot it in the desert," Huthart says.
Many rehearsals took place on a sound stage before the crew brought the stunt to a wide-open desert, which had to involve cranes for the wires.
"We did what we called the 'desert rehearsal' in the backlot of the studio," she says. "When we came to shoot [in Jordan], the light was in a different spot, so we had to change everything around. It was quite a process, just for that one move, for all the man-hours that went into it."
The scene is a favorite of Huthart's.
"I love the contrast of the two characters," she says. "Kylo was so driven to just hit her. He was so aggressive. And she was so calm, breathing calm. She knew what she was going to do. It was so beautiful and dynamic with contrast. It was yin and yang, evil and good."
"We clashed heads"
Much later in The Rise of Skywalker is Kylo Ren's confrontation with his old subordinates, the Knights of Ren, who keep Kylo from being at Rey's side when she confronts Emperor Palpatine. The film is mostly the work of fight coordinator Michael Lambert, but Huthart had some involvement.
"What we wanted, what J.J. wanted, is just to feel for him," Huthart says. "I wanted to see vulnerability. These soldiers he thought were his royal delegates now turn on him. We wanted the emotions of it."
Some changes in the middle of filming the scene caused minor tensions, all of it in service of telling the best story.
"Adam very good at learning all his choreography," Huthart says. "We clashed heads a bit because he kept pushing it and we wanted him to be in control. At the start of it, we wanted him to be vulnerable, but then we wanted control."
An alternate version of the scene would have had the Knights of Ren gain the upper hand over Kylo Ren.
"There were a lot of different versions," Huthart says, "There was a point where the Knights of Ren were carrying him and he was being dragged when he got the weapon."
As for the shoulder shrug, which spawned the social media meme "The Ben Solo Challenge" shortly after the release of The Rise of Skywalker, Huthart says the stunt team never saw it coming.
"That all came from Adam," she says. "That was just born on set, born in the moment. It was really cool, isn't it? It had nuances of what actors bring when they immerse themselves. It's one of my favorite beats."
Huthart says she saw shades of Han Solo in the moment. "There was just something very cool and confident about it. Just that little, I've got this, don't worry. It was cool."
"It reminded me of Han Solo."
Fight choreography is "really hard," Huthart says. "To see the action you have to come out wide angle. Sometimes you want to be in tight because you actually want to understand what the characters are feeling when they're doing these fights."
But Huthart kept thinking about being a kid back in England, when she used the Force with tree branches in the neighborhood park and pretended she was Darth Vader.
"I said to Adam Driver, 'Look, Kylo Ren has got so much fighting in this movie. We have to make sure the kids are gonna try his moves. They're going to be like going to the gym in school to move like your character,'" recalls Huthart. "That's what was important to me in the film, more than anything else."
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is available now on Digital HD and Blu-ray.