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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The truth about Jabba the Hutt

While re-reading issue 4 of the UK's Star Wars Weekly in preparation for a forthcoming blog post, I came up against a mystery that has bugged me for quite a few years:

How would Jabba the Hutt have looked if he had figured in Star Wars as originally intended?

Jabba the Hutt (or Hut, as it was often spelled in those days) is mentioned in the finished film, of course, as the shady figure to whom Han Solo owes money.  But George Lucas wrote a scene in which Jabba confronts Solo at Docking Bay 94 and warns him that he had better pay up.  The scene was shot, with Northern Irish actor Declan Mulholland playing Jabba, but did not make the final cut of the film.  Years later, Lucas would claim that he had intended replacing Mulholland with a stop motion alien – and when the film was tinkered with for the 1997 Special Edition release, a CGI Jabba was added, looking like the giant puppet Jabba that was created for Return of the Jedi.  But I could never quite believe Lucas had really intended to replace Mulholland when the scene was shot in 1976.

This is how Mulholland looked in the deleted scene:

Declan Mulholland – Star Wars' original Jabba

He is clearly in costume.  Even if we believe Lucas was intending to replace Mulholland with a special effect, the fact that the crew went to the trouble of costuming him surely suggests Lucas was at least entertaining the idea that he might have to keep the actor in the movie.

But if Lucas really was intending to insert a special effect into the scene, why did he allow Harrison Ford to circle Jabba during their dialogue?  This caused the CGI experts at Industrial Light and Magic a significant headache when they worked on the scene twenty years later, so in 1976 it surely would have made ILM's job impossible.

What's more, the recollections of some of the people involved at the time don't seem to accord with Lucas's own.

Gary Kurtz and Marcia Lucas on the Jabba the Hutt scene

Producer Gary Kurtz gave his account in an interview for in 2002.  “It was a person that was there and we had technical difficulties with that scene,” he said.  “We shot it over three times for camera problems, focus problems and film stock problem and then abandoned it because we ran out of time. We just said ‘Well, the bulk of the information that comes across in that scene ... we could get across in the scene in the cantina, with Greedo’”.

That account deals with another problem about the scene.  Once re-inserted into the story, it only serves to give us information we've already heard in Han's exchange with the bounty hunter Greedo a few moments earlier.  In fact, it even contains some of the same lines: "Even I get boarded sometimes ... You think I had a choice?"  Surely this backs up Kurtz's suggestion that the Greedo scene, filmed afterwards, was amended to make sure it got across the information from the Jabba scene.

In 1983, in John Phillip Peecher's book The Making of Return of the Jedi, Marcia Lucas gave another version of events: “I lobbied to keep the scene.  But Jabba was not terrific, and Jabba’s men, who all looked like Greedo, were all made of moulded green plastic. George … had two reasons for wanting to cut the scene: the appearance of Jabba’s men and the pacing of the movie.”

Frustratingly, JW Rinzler's 2007 book The Making of Star Wars doesn't settle the issue. It notes Mulholland's return for a second day as Jabba the Hutt and that: "Filming and retakes continued for several days of first- and second-unit work, as progress reports recorded various difficulties, including a defective 40mm lens..."  (It also quotes Mulholland as saying: "The sets were terrific and there were all these different sorts of people wandering about. Harrison Ford was pleasant and got on with the job. he was just one of the lads, really.")  Later, in its account of the post-production, the book repeats the Lucasfilm Authorised Version about the intention to use a stop motion alien, without expanding much on it.

The Star Wars novelization conspicuously avoids telling us whether Jabba is human or alien, describing him as “a great mobile tub of muscle and suet topped by a shaggy scarred skull”.  The Marvel Comics adaptation, meanwhile, seems to do its own thing entirely:

Jabba the Hutt (or Hut) in Marvel Comics' Star Wars adaptation

All these thoughts have been niggling at me for years, but Michael Kaminski – the man behind the website and book The Secret History of Star Wars – has gone deeper into the subject than me. And in his post on the issue, he unearths some pretty convincing evidence by going back to Lucas's original script.

Anyone consulting the published version of the script in the 1979 book The Art of Star Wars might have thought it backed up Lucas's later version of events, since it describes Jabba like this:

     Jabba is the grossest of the slavering hulks, and his scarred face is a grim testimonial to his prowess as a vicious killer. 
   He is a fat, slug-like creature with eyes on extended feelers and a huge ugly mouth.

Yet Kaminski points out something pretty damning.  That last sentence didn't appear in the original script – it was added for the book, presumably to fit the way Lucas was by then envisaging the character.

The shameless tinkering with the historical record didn't end there.  In 1997, in Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, that last sentence is amended again, reflecting the way Jabba finally appeared in Return of the Jedi:

      He is a fat sluglike creature with yellow eyes and a huge ugly mouth.

Apart from exposing an astonishing attempt on Lucasfilm's part to alter truth, the evidence surely confirms that even though the Jabba scene is fascinating, there were good reasons for cutting it.  Whatever the technical problems, it wasn't necessary to the story, and Jabba was fine as a mysterious character who remained in the wings.   Sometimes deleted scenes need to stay deleted.


Hywel Evans said...

Great article.It never rang true with me either when you see Declan in full costume.The original (pre episode titled)Star Wars is extra special in that it feels like it exists on its own,being a complete story.Adding in a c g.i. Jabba to tie it closer to ROTJ raises my hackles.

Darren Slade said...

Thanks Hywel for the comment. Good to know someone else was bothered by that.
You're right that the original Star Wars can stand on its own as the story of a farm boy who gets caught up with the fate of a galaxy, so this change is particularly galling.

Maarten Roex said...

Great stuff, this article.

The question than becomes, from where/when is this piece of concept art, that presumably is the way Jabba was envisioned in the scene: a gross, bipedal (furry?/slimy?) bulky creature.

Darren Slade said...

Thanks for commenting, Maarten.
That concept art is fascinating, isn't it? I'd love it if T-bone could say a bit more about where it comes from.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the big deal. As the made Jabba an alien for his subsequent scenes in the later film, someone had obviously seen an opportunity to make Jabba what they intended. However, I can understand why they costumed the Human Jabba. Lucas knew the extent of the technology he had, so if changing Jabba into an alien couldn't work or be done, they would have an alternative to fall back on. Jabba had been mentioned enough that you couldn't cut that line of the story out. Also, how does adding the Docking Bay scene ruin anything? So they say the same things. If you pay attention to the timeline, Han tells Greedo about him being boarded and then proceeds to KILL Greedo so Jabba has never received that comment. Having killed Greedo, Han would have to reiterate his comments to Jabba. In real life it would happen, if Star Wars had been real it would have happened and it makes sense that it happens in the movie.
As a movie maker I can understand why it was done that way. It doesn't ruin or confuse me. Perhaps I take things more for what they are rather than trying to make them more real.
Star Wars was made as a one off film, with potential to become a series (like all first films are), to allow for if it flopped. Jabba needed to appear at some point and as he hadn't been seen in the first movie, they took the opportunity to make him as they wanted him. Ok, so it might have been a pain for those who chose to add Jabba in 20 years later when they had to tech to do it right, but they did it and it makes the movie what it is. I don't see anyone pointing fingers at the uneven eyes on the Jawa, or the fact that the Rancor comes out from under the door, but is suddenly under the door for Luke to kill it. Nor do you hear complaints about how the creature in the waste compactor manages to pull Luke under while Han and Leia are still standing ankle deep in the water where Luke went under... and then Luke reappears exactly there. It's a movie. Just enjoy it or don't watch it.

Anonymous said...

The main giveaway to me is the line 'you're a wonderful human being jabba' or similar to that effect.....never fit in with the updated version. Should never have added the scene in the remastered version.

Anonymous said...

I saw Star Wars with a friend in Grand Junction, Colorado in June 1977. We sat through 3 showings in a row. In those days if you just sat in the back between showings, this theatre wouldn’t kick you out. By the third showing I almost had memorized the scenes and dialogue word-for-word.

For sure in that showing, the human Jabba scene was included. People can say whatever they like, but I remember it being there. I recall seeing Return of the Jedi in 1983 being surprised Jabba changing from a fat human to a big slug, but thinking oh well Lucas can change whatever he wants.

The only thing I can explain this is they were in a hurry to release and left it in the first theatre prints. Then when those wore out, all print distributions after that omitted it. I have read elsewhere that they did change many audio effects during the first run between May 77 and July 78. It wouldn’t surprise me if that scene got quietly cut early in the run.

Anonymous said...

(Follow up) I have read comments on the net from a few others saying they saw it also. But most people are telling me its false memory syndrome. Well, if so its a powerful false memory. It was 40 years ago so who knows. It doesn't help that Lucas was so OCD about changes and seems to be a serial fibber about history, his intentions, etc.

Mats Persson said...

Definitely sounds like false memory syndrome to me, since this scene was never included even in official screenings. As it's turned out, I've apparently had it more than just a few times myself. Still, the memories are as vivid and real as anything. Makes me wonder how much of our personal history is actually made up.