Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Biggs Darklighter - the original Rebel

"The Rebellion's spreading, Luke": Garrick Hagon as Biggs confides in Luke Skywalker

I can distinctly remember a thought that crossed my mind about half an hour into my first viewing of Star Wars, one fateful Saturday afternoon in February 1978.

It was at just about the point when Luke, Obi-Wan Kenobi and the droids were arriving at Mos Eisley, heading for their first meeting with Han Solo.

The thought was: What's happened to Biggs?

Surely we had passed the point where we should have met Biggs Darklighter, Luke's childhood pal, who had figured prominently in the first issue of Marvel's Star Wars adaptation? What's more, I was sure I had read in Star Wars Weekly that the Biggs scenes had been among Mark Hamill's favourite parts of the film.

In fact, what Hamill had been quoted as saying  as I discovered when I re-read it later that day – was this: "The parts of the film that I liked best were eventually edited from the film. They were the scenes that showed the relationships of Luke Skywalker with Biggs, and his friends on Tatooine, who thought Luke to be a fool."

The scenes with Biggs, and Luke's other contemporaries on Tatooine, were not only there in the comic book, but in the novelization and the Star Wars Storybook. They were later to appear in published versions of the screenplay and in the Star Wars radio drama. But in the finished film, Biggs gets only a bit part as a Rebel pilot who is mown down in the attack on the Death Star.

Biggs and Luke in the Marvel Comics
adaptation of Star Wars
Did George Lucas do the right thing by excising Biggs from the film? I always thought these scenes added something in the novel, the comics and especially the radio adaptation, and yet I suspect they were best left out of the movie itself.

The Biggs scenes were part of a sub-plot which established that Luke is an outsider among the other young people, who mock him and call him 'Wormie'. Biggs seems to be Luke's only real friend on the planet – except that he no longer lives on the planet, having left to join the Imperial Space Academy. He is back on Tatooine to confide in Luke that he is about to make an attempt to jump ship and join the Rebellion. The two are destined to meet again near the end of the film, only for Biggs to perish in his X-wing.

A tantalising glimpse of the deleted Biggs
sequence in The Star Wars Storybook
One of the strengths of these scenes is that they would have added something to our understanding of the politics of the galaxy far, far away. In the exchanges between Luke and Biggs, we learn that the Empire is still expanding its influence and taking over more star systems, and that farmers like Uncle Owen are hoping it won't bother interfering with a planet as remote as theirs. We discover that people like Biggs are having to make a choice about which side they want to be on as the Rebellion spreads, and we get the idea that joining this resistance movement is a dangerous move.

Biggs would have been the first of several men that the fatherless Luke looks up to in the movie as alternative elder figures to his Uncle Owen; Obi-Wan and Han Solo both play that role later in the story. And there would have been an interesting arc to his relationship with Luke. By the climax of the story, Luke, who has long hero-worshipped Biggs, has become a hero in his own right, a better pilot who outlives his mentor in combat. (The radio series was particularly good at emphasising this character progression – Brian Daley's script had Biggs acting all awkward around Princess Leia when he meets her at the Rebel base.)

Despite these strengths, Lucas knew that the Biggs sub-plot was slowing down his film. It might have worked in a movie that told its story more conventionally, starting with Luke's mundane life on Tatooine before the fateful day when a space battle breaks out overhead. But Lucas was beginning his story with that space battle, and he couldn't afford any more Tatooine-bound talk than was absolutely necessary to get us to the point where the heroes blast off aboard the Millennium Falcon. There is already quite a lot of exposition to be delivered in the first half-hour of Star Wars, and the Biggs scenes would have added more.

For Garrick Hagon, the actor who played Biggs, it must have been intensely annoying to be all but excised from the most successful film ever made. And yet Biggs remained an important figure for first generation fans. We knew he was just about the coolest young guy on Tatooine. After all,the man wore leather trousers, a cape and a Burt Reynolds-style moustache. How much more style could the galaxy contain?  And he remained part of the Star Wars that existed in our imaginations – the Star Wars that we reconstructed in our heads through our memories of the film, our experience of the books and comics, and other spin-off publications that briefed us on the characters' history. He was not in the movie, but for us, he was still an important part of the story.


John I. White said...

Garrick told me that he'd love to see the scenes restored. So would I, if I was him. If it's any consolation to Him, many of us thought - falsely imagined - him having a big presence in the film anyway, having mixed up a the film, book, radio play, comic etc in our heads as we re-imagined the movie over and over.

He's a lovely fellow to meet actually.

Darren Slade said...

John, I'm envious that you've met at least the second coolest person in the Star Wars universe.
I think the ideal BluRay of Star Wars would use seamless branching to let us watch the movie with or without the Biggs scenes. It would be really interesting to see how they affected the rhythm of the film.

jblack10 said...

I remember seeing pictures of the Biggs Darklighter scene in the Star Wars Movie Storybook that I borrowed from the library the year before The Empire Strikes Back came out in theaters. I was confused because I was familiar with Biggs from the hangar bay, but not from another place with those clothes on. It baffled me for years until I read about why the scene was cut out nore than a decade later, but I felt that based on the content of the scene it should have stayed in.

Darren Slade said...

Thanks for commenting, Jblack. I think the Biggs material is a really nice subplot in the versions it's in, but I can see why it was cut from the film. The Tatooine sequences probably didn't need to be any longer than they were. Still, it would be good to have a Blu-ray version that gave the viewer the option of seeing the Biggs material integrated into the film so we could judge for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

There's a re-editted Star Wars with the Biggs scenes and many outtakes included almost like a documentary but plays like a whole movie. I should package the $150Gig of Star Wars movies, comocs, documentaries and interviews into a HDD give away! =) ** Search on YouTube - Star Wars - Begins Looking for an interesting way. JAMBE DAVDAR, his documentaries mix the best of old audio and video interviews and older documentaries running like a full movie.

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