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Jabba the Hutt: "Wonderful Human Being"

Call this an attempt at a Star Wars myth-buster if you want, but the following issue has been one that I have wanted to investigate for some time now; that issue is the notion that Jabba the Hutt was always intended as an alien. His deleted scene in Star Wars has attracted much attention, and Lucas has long held that he intended to super-impose a creature into the scene and finally realized this with the 1997 Special Edition. Most people have never really called this into question since the only form we have ever known the character in is the gross slug from Return of the Jedi, so it seems natural--that, and the fat Irish "stand-in" seen in the original Star Wars footage is too ridiculous to be believed to have been sincerely considered.

But, I will argue that there is very persuasive evidence to show that Jabba was intended as a human gangster. The large Irish version seen in the original Star Wars, played by Declan Mulholland, seems a bit odd considering where the Jabba character was taken in Return of the Jedi , but without that context this early human version isn't that out of place. Comparatively ineffective, yes--and that I think is one of the reasons the scene was exercised to begin with. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

To begin with, we should examine what Lucas himself says about the scene:

"When I first shot the scene with Jabba the Hutt, I knew I was going to create some kind of stop-motion creature...I had to have somebody--an actor--play the part so Harrison had someone to play against, so we just picked a big guy and put him in a fuzzy vest. I, at that point, felt that he may be a character somewhat like Chewbacca, a big furry character. We shot that. As we were cutting the movie, [we] realized relatively quickly that we didn't have the time or the money to actually shoot that scene [the stop-motion optical]. That ILM was pressed way beyond what it could pull off as it was. So I had to abandon that sequence pretty early on. I had to cut back on special effects shots and that sort of thing because ILM just couldn't handle it." (Making Magic CD-ROM)

Now, this seems perfectly believable at first glance--and yet, no one has ever corroborated this story. On the other hand, evidence and documentation from the time of production seems to speak of a very different version--that actor Declan Mulholland was the genuine article.

For starters, actor Declan Mulholland's costume is just that--a complete costume. On a rather modestly-budgeted film such as Star Wars, where the budget was constantly scaled back to maximize every penny, it is very strange that designer John Mollo created and outfitted a complete costume, especially when the budget was being stretched past its limits as it was; and if the "stand-in" was meant to represent an alien, why is the costume consistent design-wise with all the other "scum and villainy" of the space-port? Lucas talks about Mulholland wearing a "fuzzy vest" to represent a furry creature, but in fact the vest is simply one part of a fully decked-out costume that is perfectly in keeping with the other characters of the location; in fact, the pelt vest is part of the "old west" cowboy style of costuming for the Mos Eisley sequence, and if you watch films like Rio Bravo you will see the same sort of costume on display. Not only that, casting director Dianne Crittenden was involved in finding a suitable actor, as Declan Mulholland was a prominent character actor in the UK. He wasn't just a stand-in: Declan Mulholland was meant to be the real thing.

   

More importantly, while John Mollo and Dianne Crittenden were involved in creating this Declan Mulholland Jabba, there is absolutely no indication that ILM was. Jonathan Rinzler's meticulous book uncovers not a single meeting, nor even a single reference , to Jabba the Hutt even being considered a special effect at this time, nor does any source contemporary to the film's release--nor, in fact, does any source outside of Lucas himself. Not only that, before the scene was ever filmed, when all the other elements of the film were designed, the Jabba creature would have to be designed--but there are no Jabba designs. Only John Mollo's costume sketches (this will be discussed later).

Taking this further, anyone who has worked in post-production would instantly recognize that the way in which the scene was filmed is not at all appropriate for visual effects. There were no plates shot for background elements, and the unrestrained interaction between Han and Jabba--touching each other, physically overlapping, walking around each other--is far beyond any technology available in 1977. In fact, even in the 1997 Special Edition ILM computer wizards had a very hard time restoring the sequence with a superimposed creature, an effort which consumed nearly a year of work using state of the art digital technology--the scene is simply shot without any regard for visual effects. And not only that, there was no visual effects supervisor on-set: a practically mandatory requirement for any special-pass or visual effects elements. ILM was also shooting all of its live-action special-pass optical shots using the Vistavision format, in order to gain quality when ILM composited the extra optical--but the Jabba scene was shot using regular 35mm Panavision cameras. In short, there is no indication from the way the scene was made that there was any consideration for a special effect, and no documented efforts to design or attempt this "creature" were ever made.

But what of the technical issues Lucas maintains plagued the scene? Well, there were indeed technical issues that complicated its filming--but these were not effects-related. They were camera related: lens issues. Often times scenes will have to be re-filmed when the dailies are screened due to focus issues, either by faulty lens optics or simple human error of the focus puller. Gary Kurtz remembers:

"Well, the original idea was that [the Jabba scene] was supposed to be there. It is in the script ... but it was a guy, a human being, this sort of fat guy... looked a bit like Sydney Greenstreet... and the scene is pretty much, I mean dialogue wise, it's exactly what you see in the Special Edition. But it was a person that was there, and we had technical difficulties with that scene. 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, about Jabba threatening Han Solo and wanting his money and all of that, we could get across in the scene in the Cantina, with Greedo." It's basically the same kind of information. So we just added some bits to the Greedo scene to make it a little bit longer that gets across that information, and then jettisoned that other scene. This all happened while we were shooting. It wasn't done in the cutting room."
(http://movies.ign.com/articles/376/376873p3.html)

The Making of Star Wars seems to corroborate some of this, stating that the daily production reports indicate a faulty 40mm lens caused difficulty during the shooting of the docking bay scenes the week of Monday, April 12th, 1976, although it's unclear if this is second-unit or not (p. 167).

As to the scene's deletion from the film, we again find an answer that is entirely unrelated to any sort of "creature" complication: the scene simply wasn't necessary. With Greedo already confronting Han on behalf of Jabba, it was redundant. The Making of Star Wars claims that it was because ILM didn't get the stop-motion Jabba created in time (p.232)--but no one can corroborate this. Not only that, there is no evidence that it was ever attempted, not even in the meticulously detailed Making of Star Wars itself. All that editor Richard Chew says about its deletion in that book is: "George also thought there were too many phony-looking green Martians that looked like Greedo in the background." (p. 232) Indeed there was. Editor Marcia Lucas gives us the most detailed account in John Peecher's 1983 book:

"Jabba was a big debatable item. George had never liked the scene Jabba was in because he felt that the casting was never strong enough. There was an element, however, that I liked a lot because of the way George had filmed it. Jabba was seen in a long shot and he was yelling, while in the foreground, in a big close-up, Han's body wiped into the left corner of the frame and his hand was on a gun and he said, 'I've been waiting for you, Jabba.' Then we cut to Han's face and Jabba turned around. I thought it was a very verile moment for Han's character; it made him a real macho guy, and Harrison's performance was very good. I lobbied to keep the scene. But Jabba was not terrific, and Jabba's men, who all looked like Greedo, were made of molded green plastic. George thought they looked pretty phony, so he had two reasons for wanting to cut the scene: the appearance of Jabba's men and the pacing of the movie. You have to pick up the pacing in an action movie like Star Wars , so ultimately, the scene wasn't necessary." (p. 89)

Lucas himself even alludes to this: "The scene with Greedo tells the same story, which is Han is wanted by a bounty hunter and that's his motivation for taking these guys on this trip." (Making Magic CD-ROM)

But we may only turn to the script itself to discover the obvious. When the script was publically released in 1979's  The Art of Star Wars it was forged--"Episode IV A New Hope" was added to the title, but there was more than that: some of the content was altered as well. By 1979, when the script was released, Lucas had made plans to showcase Jabba in the third film (as evident by Lando's last line in Empire referencing rescuing the frozen Han Solo from Jabba), and by then had re-developed him as an outrageous slug alien--the description here is an early one, two years before the Return of the Jedi art department developed him in 1981. This 1979 "public" version of "A New Hope"'s screenplay included the discarded Jabba scene:

INT. DOCKING BAY 94 - DAY

Jabba the Hut and a half-dozen grisly alien pirates and purple creatures stand in the middle of the docking bay. 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.

JABBA
Come on out Solo!

But in fact, this is a subtle alteration--the real script has no reference to him being an alien. All that is said is that he is a hulking and gross gangster--very much like actor Declan Mulholland was cast as. From the actual revised fourth draft:

AA53. INT. DOCKING BAY 94 - DAY

Jabba the Hut and a half dozen grisly pirates and purple aliens stand in the middle of the docking bay. Jabba is the grossest of the salivering hulks and his scarred face is a grim testimonial to his prowess as a vicious killer.

JABBA
Come on out Solo!

When Han Solo thanks him as "a wonderful human being", audiences in 1997 thought it was a clever bit of irony. But the line originally had a more literal meaning. Han was still being sarcastic--the joke is not that Jabba's not a human being, but that he's not a "wonderful " one; it's false courtesy being shown to a criminal that earlier in the day sent an assassin to kill him.

But what of Lucas' claims about wanting to replace the human actor with a stop-motion puppet? Where do such claims originate from? Is there any validity to this element? There may be, actually. To loop back around to the very beginning here, let's go back to the mid-70's. Lucas says that he originally envisioned Jabba as an alien--this is not unbelievable, at least on face value. Perhaps not the over-the-top slug of Return of the Jedi--if Declan Mulholland and the shooting script are any indication of descent from a hypothetical original concept, he's fat and menacing and dangerous, sort of like the Kingpin character from Spiderman; if he was to be an alien, he need not be as over-the-top outrageous as the giant slug from Jedi . Likely, he was conceived in slightly more realistic terms, perhaps simply as an actor in makeup or with an animatronic mask (which is sort of the impression that Alan Dean Foster's novelization gives--that book described Jabba in human terms but more exaggerated than the result Declan Mulholland provided, describing Jabba's hanging jowls shaking when he laughs). But it certainly is allowable that Lucas had first thought up the character as some kind of obese alien crime pirate.

However, budget cuts had a profound influence on the fourth draft screenplay--here, the film had now been green-lit and moved into pre-production, and Lucas had to confront practical reality and make some judicial changes with cost and feasibility in mind. The art department also had much of its budget scaled back at this point. So, perhaps, instead of an obese alien crime pirate, which would have required some sort of mask, or perhaps even a stop-motion puppet, Jabba was scaled down into an obese human crime pirate instead.

Lens problems plagued the scene first, and then editorial problems plagued it in post-production. At this stage the stop-motion idea comes into the picture--Lucas states in The Making of Return of the Jedi that he was contemplating requesting extra money from Fox to shoot a stop-motion puppet to matte in over Declan Mulholland, and that when this was denied the scene was dropped (see below).

Part or all of this may or may not be true--it seems slightly dubious. For one, Lucas ought to have been aware of the impracticality and downright impossibility to accomplish this, given the way the scene was shot--even if he genuinely believed it could be done, he would have quickly found out upon attempt that this would not work, thus Jabba would remain as written and shot as a person. However, another reason to doubt this, at least in the manner Lucas tells it, is because the request to shoot additional material came long after the Jabba scene was totally dropped. As stated, the scene was among the early material cut in 1976, back when Marcia Lucas was still working on the edit, however it was not until early 1977 that Lucas proposed to Fox to film additional material to liven up the film, among them reshots of much of the cantina footage. The only explanation reconcileable here is that Lucas briefly contemplated resurrecting the already-deleted Jabba scene with his stop-motion idea, but then discarded this notion when Fox denied him the money to do so. Lucas tells his version of the story in John Peecher's 1983 book The Making of Return of the Jedi:

"The original idea was that he'd be a monster. But then we couldn't make him a monster, so we cast him as a human. I was going to superimpose or matte in a monster over the actor. I asked Fox for extra money for more creatures in the Cantina, to shoot some more stuff in the desert, and also to do this bluescreen Jabba to fit into that scene. I needed about $80,000 to do it all, and Fox said: 'We'll give you 40.' So we actually cut the scene out before we got to the point of shooting the monster part. If I had the money, I might have shot it anyway. If it still didn't work, I'd probably have cut it out." (p.89-90)

It should be noted, however, that all that has ever been talked about by anyone regarding these re-shoots is the cantina close-ups and Tatooine pick-ups. Gary Kurtz, in The Making of Star Wars , goes into detail about how negotiating the budget for the cantina pick-ups was a big deal because of the expensive monster masks, but is silent about an item as significant as attempting to budget Jabba as a special effect.

However, the hypothesis that Jabba may have been first conceived of as an alien and then scaled back into a human is also contradicted by the earliest drafts of the script. It is curious that this "original" monster depiction is absent from the earliest writings--even the ones from the second draft, when Lucas was more unrestrained with his imagination and less conscious of budget issues. The earliest reference to Jabba comes from a writing note made for the second draft, probably in late 1974, for a scene that was never written: "Jabba in prison cell." In draft two, Han Solo has to outwit a space pirate named Jabba the Hutt--so the character that was written and filmed in 1976 is basically the same character as his first depiction. In fact, his description in this second draft is almost identical to his description in draft revised-four:

Two gruff and grisly pirates are playing a kind of dice game with thin little sticks. The larger and mangiest of the two slavering hulks, JABBA THE HUTT by name, throws his dice at Chewbacca. 

This second draft sees Han serving on a pirate ship under Jabba the Hutt, whom he tricks into giving him the ship to transport Luke (Han fakes a reactor overload, causing Jabba and the crew to flee, allowing Han to steal the ship).  In draft three, this scene is reprised, only now it is in Mos Eisley. Just after Han agrees to transport Ben and Luke, he bumps into Jabba and his men. Jabba intimidates Han into taking a job for him since Jabba helped build his ship; Han, clearly outgunned, agrees, but he cleverly tricks Jabba through sabotage and steals the ship as a transport for Luke and Ben. Once again, Jabba is described as per draft two.

A commotion filters down from the entry gantry and Chew- bacca whines pessimistic comment. A dozen or so gruff and grisly pirates approach the ship. The grossest of the slavering hulks is JABBA THE HUTT. His scarred face is a grim testimonial to his prowess as a vicious killer.

HAN
You're back early.


JABBA
A shipment of Covina just took off for Gordon. I thought we might reroute it back here.

He laughs maniacally. Han is not amused.

HAN
You'll have to get yourself another boy, Jabba. I've got a charter.

JABBA
Forget it. We settled this before, remember? There's no getting out. Now get this 'can' started...

It's a moment of great tension. Han glances at the four pirates standing near them. Two of the greasy brigands have their weapons pointed at him. The young starcaptain stands firm for a few moments with his hand resting on his utility belt only inches from his blaster. Chewbacca sways back and forth as he adjusts his weight from one foot to the other.

JABBA
Well??

Han turns and reluctantly boards the ship. Jabba walks alongside Han and puts his arm around him.

JABBA
Han, after all we've been through, I'm disappointed we're not closer. You're getting soft now that the ship's finished. You may have built this bucket, but never forget who paid for it, 'cause if you try to take her out again, I won't be so understanding.

As Han and the pirates are about to depart from the docking bay in the pirate ship, Han jams a piece of metal in the engine, causing smoke and fire. The crew runs out of the ship and Han signals for Luke, Ben and the droids to get onboard.

59. EXT. MOS EISLEY SPACEPORT - ALLEYWAY - NIGHT

A lumbering Jabba the Hutt and the remains of his terrified crew stop in the street and try to collect themselves.

JABBA
What happened? Han? Montross, where's Han? Montross? Where is everybody?

A strange assortment of alien creatures and robots watch Jabba from their cool alcoves along the edge of the street. The ground trembles and the pirates turn to see the mighty pirate starship riding above the dingy slum dwellings. The pirates stand dumbfounded, as the starship quickly disappears.

JABBA
He took the ship. He took the ship!!

The next draft eliminated Jabba in favor of Han and co. being stopped as they are about to leave by an Imperial Bureaucrat named Montross, whom Han outfoxes. The revised fourth draft changed the heroes tense escape from an Imperial bureaucrat to being confronted by stormtroopers, but it also brought back the Jabba character to better define Han. Han is now the owner of the ship, simplifying the side-story of him working with a gang of space pirates, but like in the third draft, Jabba has come to collect an old debt, now with an additional scene involving Greedo.

So, as you see, though Lucas' previous description seems to be legitimate, there is indeed very good reason to still doubt it. Jabba was envisioned from the beginning as a hulking space pirate--and apparently human. The only possibility one gets from this history through the drafts is that perhaps Jabba as an "alien" would simply be a human actor with a few bumps and prosthetics glued on his face like the original Star Trek series often did. But even still, this is a far cry from a creature so outrageous that it requires a special effect to portray the character--and if Lucas had indeed conceived a more simplistic alien angle, he probably would have been able to portray this in the shoot. John Mollo did a sketch for Jabba like this while he was designing the costume, making him a scrawny humanoid with a third eye, (Rinzler, p. 111) but Lucas must have rejected this in favor of the "gross hulk" as the script describes, though, as Marcia Lucas states, the casting of Declan Mulholland as this original version was not as strong as envisioned.

 

In all likelihood, Lucas came up with the matted-in creature idea after the scene had been already been shot, possibly in time for the request for additional footage in early 1977, or possibly not, explaining why the scene was filmed with Declan Mulholland in mind as the genuine article. Whenever the idea germinated, it was before November 1979, when the alien-Jabba was integrated into the Art of Star Wars screenplay, and before July, 1977--in that month, the comic adaptation of the film was released, featuring a humanoid-alien Jabba (probably designed at the artist's discretion solely on the instruction of "make Jabba an alien"--Lou Tambone believes the artists simply recycled one of the cantina designs).

Lucas admits in the Making Magic CD-ROM that at the time the scene was shot, Phil Tippet, who was doing the stop-motion for the film (ie the holographic chess pieces), had not yet designed a creature, and that, as he saw ILM being pushed past their limits, he let go of the idea of attempting a stop-motion creature--perhaps indicating the idea was a spontaneous one that came to him in post-production but quickly dissipated due to its total impracticality, only to be feasible for Return of the Jedi and the Special Edition years later when it was properly planned.

(note: I also believe that the matted-in puppet idea was attempted in 1981 when Return of the Jedi was in pre-production; storyboards were comissioned, seen on Lou Tambone's page, showing how an early Jabba concept (this one with feet, to allow walking with Han), could potentially be matted in to the original discarded scene. Perhaps this was done with the 1981 re-release in mind, which also contained the addition of having Episode IV A New Hope in the title crawl. The Jabba design here coresponds with Jedi pre-production artwork circa 1981, as does the inclusion of Salacious Crumb.)

  

09/15/08

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