If you are in your late thirties or early to mid forties it’s hard to remember a time when Jabba the Hutt didn’t exist. Since his first screen appearance in Return of the Jedi back in 1983 he’s been parodied many times, and replicated in CGI… But let’s be honest, never bettered.
Legendary animator Phil Tippett was tasked with designing the vile gangster back in 1981. After multiple attempts, George Lucas settled on the slug like “piece of worm ridden filth” atop his throne.
Make-up artist Stuart Freeborn, known as the “Grandfather of modern make-up design”, was tasked with building the practical Jabba.
Freeborn and his team of artists and engineers took three months and half a million dollars to finalise the creation. Jabba eventually became the largest and most expensive puppet ever to grace the screen.
In answer to my question “What was the first day like?” Sculptor John Coppinger answered… “Doing our best to stay awake probably covers it! There were a couple of 120 hour weeks involved in the build. But that winter was freezing and it was warm on set, so the party ‘we’d always been at’ atmosphere took over and it became mad, hectic fun “.
You can hear more from Coppinger in episode 7 of The Filmumentaries Podcast.
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Jabba was brought to life by several puppeteers, three of whom where inside the beast. Dave Barclay (previously puppeteered Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back aged just 19) looked after Jabba’s right arm and jaw. He even lipsynced his line in English. Jabba’s Huttese being added later as the manipulated voice of Larry Ward.
The 25th January 1982 was the first day’s shoot in Jabba’s Throne room. Exactly 40 years ago today. “His first word was “Boshuda”. Delightful days”, says Barclay, reminiscing about the job he’ll never forget.
You can see more about Dave Barclay’s career here in my short documentary “Do or Do Not”.
Jabba’s left arm and head movements were controlled by Toby Philpott. He even had the priviledge of controlling the giant slugs tongue. As he told me for my short documentary “Inside Jabba the Hutt”, he accidentally managed at one point to lick Carrie Fisher with the slime laden tongue. Who knows if the footage is still in the archive at Lucasfilm Ltd.
Director Richard Marquand, joined by dozens of crew, cast and extra’s worked for around eleven days (according to the shooting schedule) to produce Jabba’s now iconic scenes.
Even after all these years it’s hard to believe Jabba could be toppled from his throne as the most impressive creature in film history. Time to pull out that Return of the Jedi DVD (the one without the annoying “special” additions) and enjoy the might of this “slimy piece of worm ridden filth” once more.
Alternatively, there’s over two hours of behind the scene goodness right here in my feature length Filmumentary “Returning to Jedi”.