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Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Revenant’ (Twentieth Century Fox)
Long, long ago in a Hollywood far, far away, Leonardo DiCaprio came close to wielding a lightsaber as Jedi-gone-bad, Anakin Skywalker. Back in 2000, reports cited the then-26 year old actor as George Lucas’s preferred candidate to play Luke’s dad in the yet-to-be titled Episode II. But the franchise-wary DiCaprio ultimately declined the opportunity to tell Natalie Portman why she’s so much better than sand. “[I] just didn’t feel ready to take the dive,” he later remarked in interviews.
Jump ahead 15 years and DiCaprio is, coincidentally enough, experiencing his own Star Wars moment at the same time that the next chapter in the Skywalker space opera, The Force Awakens, is setting new box-office records. Of course, DiCaprio’s new film, The Revenant, is mostly light years removed from the J.J. Abrams-directed blockbuster. A brutal, bloody 19th-century Western, The Revenant recounts the stranger-than-fiction true-life tale of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a frontiersman who improbably survived a bear attack and abandonment by his companions. But director Alejandro González Iñárritu stages one sequence that’s instantly, if inadvertently, reminiscent of a famous scene in what’s widely considered the best Star Wars adventure: 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
Watch ‘The Revenant’ trailer:
Warning: Spoilers for The Revenant below
The scene in question arrives late in the film, after Glass has already lived through the aforementioned bear attack, in addition to getting buried alive and hauling his wounded body across the frozen tundra in pursuit of his betrayer John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Having swiped a horse from a party of French hunters, Hugh is pursued by a Native American hunting party. With no other means of escape, he rides over a cliff, horse and rider tumbling to the distant ground below.
A tree breaks Glass’s fall, but the horse dies instantly. With night approaching and temperatures rapidly dropping, he has to find a way to stay warm without inviting the attention that a campfire might bring. So he takes a knife and slices into the horse’s belly, pulling its steaming guts and intestines into the snow. It’s slow, gruesome work that Iñárritu’s camera doesn’t cut away from, observing dispassionately as Glass dislodges the horse’s stomach and intestinal tract to create a space within the dead animal’s body that’s large enough for a man to crawl inside and keep warm.
Sound familiar yet? Early on in Empire, Han Solo uses the same method to protect an injured Luke Skywalker from the intense cold of the ice planet, Hoth. Having survived an almost-fatal Wampa attack — Hoth’s answer to a bear — Luke is stranded in the snow, when he’s visited by a blue-tinted vision of his former Force tutor, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Just as he passes out, Han Solo shows up riding a Tauntaun — Hoth’s answer to a horse. The Tauntaun promptly keels over dead from the cold.
Watch the ‘Empire’ scene:
Facing whiteout conditions, the smuggler-turned-reluctant Rebel has to find a quick way to keep his friend warm and safe until they can make their way back to the Rebellion base. In a scene that, to this day, still elicits both “Ewwwws” and “Wows” from young viewers, Solo picks up Luke’s lightsaber and slices into the stomach of the Tauntaun, its alien innards spilling out. “This may smell bad, kid, but it’ll keep you warm until I get the shelter up,” Han promises as he shoves a delirious Luke into the creature’s recently vacated gut. “I thought they smelled bad on the outside,” the ever-snarky pilot adds.
For providing a shocking burst of gore in the mostly bloodless Star Wars universe, the Tauntaun scene has inspired much chatter over the decades, appearing on lists of the franchise’s scariest moments and having its science fiction veracity challenged by actual science. Similarly, DiCaprio’s night inside a horse carcass is already generating headlines. In a widely-publicized interview with Yahoo Movies earlier this year, DiCaprio cited “sleeping in animal carcasses” as one of the most challenging aspects of making The Revenant, along with eating raw bison liver. Production designer Jack Fisk recently revealed that the horse scene was created through gruesome movie magic. “The horse was built and the guts inside were created out of latex and hair,” he told Business Insider.
DiCaprio talks about eating raw bison liver:
Earthbound wildlife experts are being quick to caution amateur survivalists about Glass’s methods. “The main problem would be staying dry, so that you don’t get chilled after you crawl back out,” biologist Robert Reed recently told Slate, while ecologist David Steen pointed out the variables one would have to take into account, including the outside temperature and the size of the horse. (Interestingly, it’s unclear from the historical record whether the real Glass resorted to such sleeping methods during his time in the wilderness.) Should DiCaprio ever change his mind and journey to Star Wars’ galaxy for an upcoming episode, at least he and Mark Hamill will have something in common to talk about.