When Tom Spina and I were brainstorming ideas to make our Celebration VI behind-the-scenes panel on the Mos Eisley cantina aliens truly memorable, we both gravitated to an unnamed alien lurking in the shadows of the infamous watering hole. Despite over three decades of scrutiny, this shifty looking barfly had managed to avoid the spotlight. So, Tom and I figured we’d give him his due, and also come up with a way to give him a name.
The alien was already known to the fan community, who had pored over the cantina scene frame-by-frame in hopes of getting as accurate a census as possible of the watering hold denizens. Back in the day (the day being the late ‘90s), when I used to run a fan-site, I had gone through the cantina shot-by-shot, identifying as many aliens as possible. Some fan somewhere came up with the moniker, “Fu Manchu” for this guy, based on his rather unimpressive moustache dangling from his upper lip. (I would have opted for Cantinflas, but hey, what’re you gonna do?)
Obviously, Fu Manchu was not the creature’s name. It wasn’t even the creature’s production nickname. As far as we can tell, Mr. Stache didn’t have a production nickname. Personally, I prefer production nicknames myself over Expanded Universe names. I’m more likely to call these guys Snaggletooth, Bat, Crocker and Grubby Human over Zutmore, Kabe, Sai’torr Kal Fas and Dr. Evazan. Fu Manchu was part of the LA-based pick-up photography that added more exotic aliens to the original menagerie found on the UK set during principal photography. The LA aliens were created by ILMers and Rick Baker’s team, while the UK aliens were the creation of Stuart Freeborn’s team.
A close look at what few still images exist confirms that Soup-Strainer here was a re-use of another mask in the cantina, which itself was a reuse of a pre-existing design from Rick Baker’s inventory. It is based on a slip-on mask called “Terminal Man,” which was an attempt by Baker to create a Halloween mask that was an original take on Frankenstein’s monster – a reconstructed man with electric terminals on his head. One Terminal Man can be clearly seen in the film, sitting in the booth with Hammerhead. This clean-shaven specimen has been named in the Expanded Universe as Trinto Duaba, a Stennes shifter (which reminds me of another convoluted tale, as I know that species name is in fact a typo… but that’s another blog for some other day).
But back to our Intergalactic Gabe Kaplan. As Tom describes it, “I showed pictures of this to Rick Baker, and I asked him, isn’t this the same sculpt as Terminal Man? And he said, ‘yeah, that’s my Frankenstein, but I don’t know who put that stupid mustache on him!’”
So, clearly, this guy was never ever really meant to be scrutinized. Nick Maley, one of the panelists and a makeup artist on the UK shoot, actually said it best when he characterized Tom and me thusly: “You were actually our nightmare,” he said good-naturedly. “Because when we made these things, there was this standard phrase: ‘If anyone is looking at the [background], we’re really screwed.’” Guilty as charged.
So, as we brainstormed around how to celebrate this alien Ron Swanson, while also giving attendees a panel to remember, we came up with the idea of finally applying a name to the character. Perhaps a random audience member, or someone who asked the best question, would get a chance to name the alien. If, for example, Ned Flanders asked the question, then maybe “Flanden” would become Fu Manchu’s name. The more we talked about it, the more we wanted to make sure we could better control some of the outcome. So we coined Bakiska as a surname, which itself is a Tuckerism of Rick Baker and Laine Liska, makeup artists responsible for the mask’s creation.
Tom raised the stakes when he created a Fu Manchu mask, and offered to give it away. Just give it away! Now that was a prize! So as more than 700 people filed in for the cantina presentation, our stage crew handed out postcards from Tom Spina Designs (Tom’s studio) that featured an image of Snaggletooth on it. One of these cards had a hand-drawn mustache on it. We would call out for people to check their cards before the panel was over. We were nervous as some folks left during the presentation, before the surprise, and we hoped that it wasn’t one of these truants who got the golden ticket. But that didn’t turn out to be the case.
The winner was Brandon Connors. He got the mask, and his name was dissected to become Fu Manchu’s more proper nom-de-plume. I had originally scribbled down “Braconner Bakiska,” since I was more interested in a phonetic Tuckerism than one based on spelling. But at Tom’s suggestion, I’ve changed it to Braconnor so it more resembles Mr. Connors’ name since that was, after all, the whole point. Here’s a picture of Tom with Brandon and the new mask.
Congrats, to Brandon, but perhaps more so, congrats to Fu Manchu, who now only has to suffer the indignity of a silly mustache, but not a silly name.
Pablo Hidalgo is paid to know the difference between Romba and Lumat and dies a little bit inside when you misspell Wookiee or Lucasfilm. He lives in San Francisco.