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‘The Mandalorian’ and the Problem With Deepfake Luke Skywalker

Find out why CGI Luke Skywalker is a troubling sign for the future of Star Wars…

Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

After recently revisiting The Mandalorian following the release of its latest season, I was struck by a very bizarre creative decision made in the season 2 finale, one that at the time was exciting, but now tells a troubling story for the future of the franchise: CGI Luke Skywalker.

You see, in Season 2 Episode 8, The Rescue, the Mandalorian and co. are in trouble. Having apprehended the villain, Moff Gideon, they are now surrounded by Imperial dark troopers, deadly war machines, attempting to breach the room. All hope seems lost, with no clear way out for our heroes… that is, until, the arrival of Luke Skywalker.

A scene that drove the Star Wars community wild back in 2020, everyone was ecstatic to see the iconic franchise hero show up in the prime of his Jedi abilities to save the day, a frantic display of power in a swiftly directed action scene that shows Luke chopping through the dark troopers like there’s no tomorrow. It’s thrilling, exciting, and elicited a lot of wonderful nostalgic feelings for a lot of Star Wars fans, myself included… until he took his hood off.

The reveal… Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

Chapter 1: The Reveal

Me and my brothers were sat there back in 2020, speculating who could possibly be under the hood, and what new actor had been recast as the legendary hero himself. I couldn’t wait to see what new talent would bring their own spin on the character, as Alden Ehrenreich and Ewan McGregor had done with Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi respectively.

Of course, the answer was: no one. Not a new actor, not Mark Hamill, at least, not technically. You see, using a costumed body double, an advisory performance from Mark Hamill, and deep fake technology, what we ended up with was a CG Luke Skywalker, designed to replicate the Mark of the 80s. Of course, the end result was not quite that, and, in my opinion, backfires horrendously.

This is due to one simple fact: the man simply does not look like Luke Skywalker. In fact, he doesn’t even really feel human, with a flatly textured, lifeless face that carries little to no personality. Even worse, his lines are delivered through an AI voice synthesizer, meaning not only does he look like a robot, but he also sounds like one too. Now, if this was just meant to be a short cameo, it wouldn’t necessarily be as big of a problem, but the problem lies within the emotional context of the scene…

Emotions do not compute Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

Chapter 2: The Problem

The scene Luke appears in, the finale scene of Season 2, is meant to be the emotional climax of the season. After two seasons of journeying with Grogu, Mando has finally found where the child belongs and must say a hesitant goodbye as he hands him over to Luke Skywalker.

However, whilst Pedro Pascal delivers an incredibly emotional performance as a father who must say goodbye to his newfound child, this is completely and entirely juxtaposed by an emotionless tech demo AI performance from Luke Skywalker, a painful endeavor when you consider that one of Hollywood’s most soulful and hopeful heroes has been rendered as a soulless piece of technology.

Here, the filmmakers decided that instead of sacrificing nostalgia for a recasted actor to allow the emotion of the scene to be consistent and maintained, they would undercut all emotion to deliver a cheap blast of poorly produced nostalgic emotion within the viewers, which makes me question where the priorities of the creatives and storytellers really lie.

An improvement, to be sure, but is it a welcome one? Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

Chapter 3: The Future

Where does the future lie with Star Wars and deep fake performances? Only Lucasfilm knows the answer to that I’m afraid. We did recently see a deeply improved Luke deepfake in Book Of Boba Fett, but it still suffers from that uncanny feeling, and I must ask: if your performances from key characters risk feeling uncanny, surely it is more suitable to use actual actor’s performances, instead of gambling emotion for a tech demo?

It all comes down to what the creatives wish to prioritize: emotion, and storytelling, or showing audiences familiar imagery so they can feel a short burst of happiness that will likely not last upon rewatches and revisits. Deepfake storytelling often relies on the surprise, but surprise, whilst lacking longevity, creates chatter, and chatter creates views, and if there’s anything studios want, it’s views. But what do audiences want? That’s for them to decide…

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