It’s been nearly a year since The Mandalorian’s second season finale used the Force to floor the collective fandom with Mark Hamill’s surprise, de-aged cameo as Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. Yet, the afterglow of the moment remains widely resplendent due to the sheer shock value, a response facilitated by the fact that Disney managed to keep it a secret in the first place. Now, the full extent of the sneaky endeavor has been uncovered, revealing how the return of Star Wars’ first and most famous hero was obscured by an intriguing Jedi substitute: Plo Koon.
It should come as no big surprise that, in an era of leaked concepts and trailers (we’re looking at you, Spider-Man: No Way Home), the words “Luke” and/or “Skywalker” were strictly forbidden to use during production of The Mandalorian‘s second season due to the enormous magnitude of THE secret that needed to be kept throughout the entire 8-episode run. The second Season 2 episode of Disney+ behind-the-scenes documentary series Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian has revealed how the creative coalition navigated this proverbial Death Star trench run, notably with Plo Koon in the script as a red herring firewall of sorts for leaked Luke intel. Interestingly, Koon wasn’t even a random choice, and actually reflected a clever methodology that predicted the logic of eagle-eyed fans.
“It’s fairly well known by deep core fans that Plo Koon is my favorite Jedi,” says executive producer (and onscreen portrayer of pilot Trapper Wolf) Dave Filoni. “And a lot of people—if Plo Koon from the script got out—would assume, ‘Well, oh of course, because Dave loves Plo Koon.’ So, there’s these layers of intrigue we try to weave.”
The episode, in pulling back the magic curtain of creativity behind the technology that brought a Return of the Jedi era Luke Skywalker back to life on screen in 2020, reveals that Hamill himself put in a performance of sorts, brought on-set to record HD footage of his facial expressions while reciting the dialogue. Said expressions were eventually rendered with a version of deepfake technology onto a double named Matt Rugetti, the man actually seen in the unforgettable finale scene. However, as Filoni elaborates of Rugetti’s initial depiction on the set, “We had a digital Plo Koon head placed on the actor in dailies, so it looked like Plo Koon.” As you can see in the article’s title image, the facial rendition seems to resemble the way characters look in the animated sphere, with the actor’s human hands left unfinished.
Moreover, the façade was further facilitated by the creation of artwork and temporary digital effects and models, which wrought renditions of Plo Koon as a substitute for Luke in the now-iconic scene, notably with one impressive piece of apocrypha (seen directly above) that shows him in the midst of systematically slicing and dicing Moff Gideon’s prized robotic Dark Troopers. Indeed, the measures implemented to maintain the secrecy of Luke’s arrival were not only elaborate, but had to be maintained—under penalty of Disney-deal consequences—for around 15 months to two years.
The tension—now revealed in hindsight—was palpable based on the various accounts. Visual effects supervisor Richard Bluff describes the secret-keeping in an almost post-traumatic way, stating, “We were never allowed to say [Luke Skywalker]. Even now when we refer back to what we did, we talk about the code names. We simply do not utter those two words.”
Plo Koon is a major name to Star Wars fans, but the Jedi is, understandably, not well-known to the general moviegoing public, although a flash of the Kel Dor Jedi’s distinctively-alien countenance (almost akin to a more-humanoid rendition of director David Cronenberg’s The Fly,) would still likely evoke an “Oh yeah, that one.”
A Jedi Council member, Koon was seen across all three entries of the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, known for his signature mask and goggles—necessary accessories, since oxygen is toxic to his species. The presumed end of his arc—such as it was, with only a few scenes, sans a single line—came about in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith during the Order 66 death montage, in which his Jedi Starfighter was destroyed during a Clone Wars campaign on Cato Neimoidia, shot midair from behind in explosive fashion by the very Clone-piloted ARC-170 starfighters he was leading into battle. However, Filoni, as showrunner of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, took advantage of its pre-Sith era to utilize Koon frequently, and even revealed that he was the Jedi who found Ahsoka Tano as a Force-sensitive small child on her home planet of Togruta and brought her back to train with the Jedi on Coruscant.
However, the episode’s director, Peyton Reed, initially fell into the “Oh yeah, that one” category, and pretty much reacted accordingly when he was given an early version of the “Chapter 16: The Rescue” script, in which it states that Plo Koon, who is “not dead after all,” made the episode’s climactic entrance, and takes Baby Yoda/Grogu away for proper Jedi training. While Reed is obviously experienced, and a member in good standing of the Disney creative clubhouse, having helmed Marvel’s Ant-Man films—including the upcoming Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania—even he felt shocked and understandably overwhelmed when creator Jon Favreau finally told him to whom the term “Plo Koon” really referred around The Mandalorian set.
“I knew Plo Koon was a Jedi, I think, from the Prequel Trilogy, and I was like how are we visualizing this?” says Reed of his initial underwhelming reaction. “[Favreau] said ‘Come over in the corner, I want to talk to you.’ And he gave me the real news, that it was, in fact, not Plo Koon, but it was going to be Luke. And I needed a moment, and I needed to know, because I’ve had a long relationship with Jon, and I said ‘Are you being serious right now? Is this real? You’re bringing the guy back?’ and he said ‘We’re bringing the guy back.’”
Of course, The Mandalorian’s Luke Skywalker cameo was met with resounding praise, standing distinctly as the kind of widespread pop culture moment that has seemingly been lost in a content-saturated era, in which algorithms inveigle our interests, creating a segmented society. However, The Mandalorian will take another shot at matching—or possibly topping—that monumental moment with its upcoming third season, which is roughly scheduled for a 2022 Disney+ premiere. Yet, it won’t be the streamer’s only live-action Star Wars fare by that time, since the show it directly spun-off, The Book of Boba Fett, will arrive this Christmas, and offerings like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor are also on the slate for ’22, with even more to come on the far horizon.
As for the fate of our substitute Jedi, to paraphrase Chevy Chase, “Jedi Master Plo Koon is still dead.”