Seeming to recapture what had been lost during its mid-to-late ‘80s slump, the Star Wars property thrust itself back into pop culture in 1995, delivering a one-two punch with the remastered original trilogy on VHS and Kenner’s Power of the Force action figure line. Little did we know at the time that this was more than an attempt to jumpstart our nostalgia. Somewhere on a distant horizon was the latest installment in the saga, The Phantom Menace. Following the omnipresent Shadows of the Empire multimedia campaign (which bridged the gap between Episode V and VI), The Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition was released theatrically throughout the winter of 1997, commemorating the films’ 20th anniversary.
More importantly, the Special Editions gave creator-director George Lucas a chance to revisit the movies, utilizing the latest advancements in CGI to overcome and rectify the scenes he felt were hindered by visual effects limitations and other constraints. Conceptual artists approached the project with the same degree of zealous imagination as their creative forerunners, concocting all manner of wild ideas that could only be contained in the Star Wars universe. Nevertheless, not everything made it into the updated trilogy — and the following pieces of concept art are a few of those interesting enough to pique any fan’s interest.
1. Ronto Rodeo
Lucas drew plenty of inspiration from Hollywood Westerns when conceptualizing the rough-and-tumble aesthetic and ambience of Tatooine’s Mos Eisley, and like any town from the days of the Old West, beasts of burden — such as horses, mules, and oxen — were a common sight. Before A New Hope: Special Edition, the only creature seen was the goat-like jerba, tethered near Chalmun’s cantina and facing away from the camera, completely stationary. There was hardly any life to it nor, as far as local fauna was concerned, Mos Eisley’s thoroughfares, and what the spaceport needed was a bit more beastly foot traffic.
Handling design chores for Mos Eisley’s street menagerie was artist TyRuben Ellingson, who was behind the ronto. Ellingson doubtlessly modeled the creature after elephants and rhinos, evident by these two illustrations — though the warped faces were probably deemed too indistinct for audiences to discern (to say nothing of the right’s resemblance to the Ithorian species).
Ellingson also submitted more dinosaur-inspired designs such as this variation resembling the duck-billed hadrosaurs, and sporting a nose ring — with hanging ornamentation — similar to bulls.
2. Scurrying Underfoot
No city or town is without its vermin infestation — just ask the Death Star sanitation crew — and in the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is Mos Eisley, there’s a scurrier outbreak. Conceived by Ellingson, the concept of the scurriers varied from the reptilian to the mammalian to… indeterminate to the point of being a Muppet. The top row illustrations showcase the finalized rodent design while the bottom row proves just how unbridled the Star Wars creative process can be. But of them, the turtle-ostrich is, by far, the most delightfully zany and needs to be integrated into the canon. (Turtle-ostrich in Star Wars Rebels now!)
3. Easy Riders
Appearing initially in Shadows of the Empire, swoops — not to be confused with speeder bikes — made their first cinematic appearance in A New Hope: Special Edition… for a moment lasting a few short seconds. Although blurring past slightly faster than the human eye can register, detailed concept art by Ellingson suggests that the swoops would have had more of a presence in Mos Eisley, maybe cutting Luke off in his landspeeder or giving local sandtroopers the sort of grief that makes them wish they were stationed on a more tranquil, lawfully-compliant planet.
This full body illustration of a lone swoop rider lends itself to the possibility that they might have been walking about the streets or added into the montage of cantina patrons as well. (They look so much shorter off the swoop, don’t they?)
4. Need a Lift?
It was a question that tormented those who first saw Star Wars back in 1977: “Who’s Jabba the Hutt?” More than a passing reference made by Greedo, it’s common knowledge today that Irish actor Declan Mulholland portrayed the character as a stand-in for the stop-motion Jabba puppet (even then described as a slug-like creature in Lucas’ original screenplay), of which was to be added in post-production. Neither made it into the final cut, but A New Hope: Special Edition managed to resurrect the long-lost scene with some CGI wizardry. The only hurdle faced now was, given his morbid obesity and sedentary lifestyle, making Jabba mobile.
Artist Claudia Mullaly came up with an ingenious solution to Jabba’s debilitating corpulence, sketching a series of repulsorlift daises and harnesses that helped the slimly lump of greed incarnate to conquer gravity and keep tabs on his remote criminal enterprises.
And in an overt nod to Return of the Jedi, Mullaly designed a dais that was essentially a miniature version of the Hutt’s sail barge, the Khetanna — outfitted with a control column at the bow for steering. While Jabba went without the aid of a personal conveyance in the end, it’s understandable that having to incorporate it into the original footage would’ve been a possibly complicated task. 1990s-era CGI can only be pushed so far…
5. Step Away from the Hutt
A Hutt can never have enough bodyguards between himself and a blaster, and during Return of the Jedi: Special Edition’s development, artist George Hull toyed with the notion of a human security detail to patrol Jabba’s palace, designed both in uniform and in grubby duds.
It was an interesting idea, but seeing as how the Gamorrean Guards already provided adequate muscle — and are irrevocably associated with Jabba and the Hutt species as a whole — the auxiliary guard concept was shelved.
Hull also explored introducing human priests, but whether or not these were meant to be acolytes of the B’omarr Order, prior to the transplantation of their brains into BT-16 spider droids, remains to be seen.
6. And the Band Plays On
Return of the Jedi might stand as the trilogy’s epic conclusion, rife with stirring revelations and climaxes, but all of those moments seem to pale in comparison to the unexpected charm of the Max Rebo Band’s musical number — a scene that, more often than not, comes off as everyone’s memorable takeaway from the movie. Lucas, unlike us, was not content with the original final product, finding the puppetry and costumes stiff, unconvincing, and generally a far cry from the big band performance he wished it to be (something time did not allow). The Special Edition later afforded him the opportunity to not just tweak, but overhaul the entire sequence from the ground up — and no idea was too out there!
As artist Derek Thompson was sketching out various takes on Yuzzum frontman Joh Yowza, fellow creative Terryl Whitlatch proposed her own creature crooner: Monrell Moc (pictured above) — a dynamic little ball of fur and apparent high-note virtuosity.
No band’s complete without a drummer, and Whitlatch designed a lineup of percussionists to keep the beat nice and steady (or it’s a farewell concert in the rancor pit).
Artist Iain McCaig, too, contributed his own creation with this multi-limbed drummer (seconds away from unleashing some blast beats to melt the exalted Jabba’s face).
Keeping in the spirit of the palace musicians’ big band influences, McCaig sketched these insectoid trumpet players, their bodily coloration fashioned after the suits worn by performers during the Swing Era. And to the quartet’s left are more of Whitlatch’s alien drummers.
Steven Romano is a writer, a geek culture enthusiast and, above all, a longtime fan of the galaxy far, far away. Landspeeder, don’t bantha, over to his blog and Twitter at @Steven_Romano.