As a member of the 501st Legion’s Florida Garrison since 1999, I’ve been fortunate enough to take part in dozens of trooping events throughout the Sunshine State. And out of all of those memorable dates, none has stood out so much in my mind as Star Wars Celebration V two years ago. When I found out that Celebration would be returning to Orlando in 2012, my mind immediately shifted into overdrive as I began to think of what the 501st could possibly do to top the biggest Star Wars fan gathering of 2010.
As with most large conventions, we had planned for an after-hours party where 501st members and their guests could gather for beverages and laughs (Note: For Celebration VI, we opened up the now sold-out 501st Bash to the general public!). Being the 15th anniversary of the 501st Legion, we wanted this year’s party to be extra-special and decided upon a grandiose Jabba’s Palace theme which has involved members across the country donating time, money and talent to convert a hotel ballroom into a Huttese house party! For such a theme, though, we needed a big centerpiece (something bigger than our lifesize Jabba, anyway) and then it occurred to me — a Rancor!
Now, pun intended, this was going to be BIG. I called upon friend and fellow 501st member Jason Green to ask if he was interested in helping me construct a partial Rancor, maybe just a head and arm busting out of a wall. The modest plan was to build everything in my garage, but we had to research materials and, of course, cost. I tracked down a local prop-building company that specialized in large displays like this and I decided to pay them a visit to “pick their brains” for ideas. If I was lucky, I might even score some discounted materials for this project.
With my trusty GPS in hand, I ended up at the front door of Pizzazz Scenic Contractors and introduced myself as a member of the 501st Legion. No, I did not show up in costume — I’m a professional! Co-owner and Master Sculptor Rick Bohler was not only excited about helping me realize this large-scale project, but — to my surprise — wanted to be a part of it!
While talking with Rick he introduced me to his son Dylan who, through an astounding twist of fate, happened to be a huge fan of the 501st. Dylan explained to me how much he loved costuming and how he was seeking to join the ranks of “Vader’s Fist” as soon as he could. One thing led to another and by the time I left Pizzazz several hours later, Rick had offered to build a full-scale COMPLETE Rancor at no charge! Local 501st members would, of course, have to assist with the construction and I agreed to pay for all necessary materials, but Rick’s generous offer to provide his time, talent and workspace was more than I could have ever hoped for. The really wonderful thing is that this wouldn’t have happened without that shared fan’s love for Star Wars.
So here I was, blown away and extremely excited that we were about to build a life-size rendition of Jabba’s pet Rancor, something that — to the best of my knowledge — had never been done before. A true first for the world of Star Wars replicas. However, we still had to overcome the three biggest obstacles: storage, transportation and cost. Rick, the wonderful man that he is, offered to store the great beast at the Pizzazz Scenic facility in Jacksonville, FL.
As far as travel costs, most of the time the venue or a sponsor would cover the expenses. And when it came to the cost of materials, it was by the good graces of Imperial Foam (yes, IMPERIAL Foam) in Ormond Beach, FL, that we were provided the sculpting foam required to make our Rancor come to life. To be completely honest, I’m a little bit deeper in debt as well, but this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve spent money on Star Wars-related items! Besides, sometimes the best investments are the ones you can share with others and this project was just screaming for exposure to ALL of the fans at Celebration VI, not just those at the 501st afterparty. With the help of Lucasfilm’s Mary Franklin, some space was reserved on the Orange County Convention Center main exhibit floor and I can’t wait to see the fan reaction as the Jabba’s pet welcomes them to the show!
During the design phase, we knew that an epic display like this had to be interactive, but animatronics would be out of the question due to our limited budget. Thinking back to the Rancor scene from Return of the Jedi, it suddenly hit me: What if the arm were extended so fans could stand in the monster’s grip, with head turned and mouth open ready to devour its next meal? With hungry piercing eyes and a low crouching stance, even the most powerful Jedi would cringe at the sight of this otherworldly predator. Throw in an oversized prop bone for the “victims” to defend themselves and you’ve got yourself one unforgettable photo opportunity!
This labor of love, who we affectionately refer to as “Roxy,” is nothing short of an artistic masterpiece. We’ve taken ten 96-cubic-foot blocks of sculpting foam and turned them into a 14-foot-tall (20 if it were standing!), 17-foot-long, 700-pound, drooling reptomammal from Dathomir over the past six months. But truth be told, there’s few ladies I’d rather be spending my weekends with than Roxy.
Check out the teaser video for the Rancor build:
Watch for a complete behind-the-scenes documentary after Celebration VI!
WIN A RANCOR FANG
Share your photo of Roxy the Rancor and you could win a Rancor fang of your own! The 501st Legion and Pizzazz Scenic are offering a one-of-a-kind life-size replica Rancor fang carved and signed by Roxy’s creator, Master Sculptor Rick Bohler. Just ‘like’ Roxy’s Facebook page and post your photo from Star Wars Celebration VI. Winner will selected randomly from all entries on September 1, 2012.