Welcome to Creature Feature, where we discuss the ins and outs of creatures in the Star Wars universe, from in-universe facts to behind-the-scenes secrets. While you’ll learn a lot here, we still suggest caution when checking out meteorites on ice planets or landing on large asteroids.
Sometimes you go to rescue a friend from capture, and you end up facing a massive beast with lots of teeth and a taste for flesh. I hate when that happens. Luke faced the situation with more aplomb than I would have when he was thrown into the pit under Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi to face the rancor. There was no reasoning with the creature or placating it with another snack. Luke extracted himself from the situation by doing what he thought was necessary. Pour one out for the rancor.
Besides being a beast, the creature was also a beast to make. In celebration of Halloween season, here are six things you might know about the rancor — one of Star Wars‘ most iconic creatures.
1. There is another.
When you see the full-size rancor on screen, you’re seeing a an 18-inch puppet. When you see the rancor’s paw grab Luke, you’re viewing a life-size hand. They shot the scene set beneath Jabba’s palace on two scales to make it work. The rancor puppet was filmed on a scaled-down model at ILM built by Dave Carson, while the rancor’s arm was filmed with Mark Hamill on a stage. They matched shots from the different rancor pits for a seamless scene.
On the life-size stage, director Richard Marquand wanted to give himself, Hamill, and the crew an idea of where the rancor was supposed to be in every shot. To that end, they had life-size wood cutouts depicting the front and two sides of the rancor made for reference.
2. The rancor was a precious pet.
Malakili served as the caretaker to Jabba’s menagerie, and he loved his pet rancor. In Aftermath: Life Debt, we learned the name of Malakili’s creature: Pateesa. Feeling purposeless after her loss, he almost fed himself to the Sarlacc.
3. Rancors can be cute. Or not.
The rancor has a frightening countenance, but the creature gets even scarier when it growls. The beast’s guttural noise has an unlikely source: a tiny, little dachshund. Sound designer Ben Burtt turned to his neighbors’ dog Max to record the rancor. Burtt explains in The Sounds of Star Wars: “I recorded Max as he growled and hissed and then I pitched that down much lower for the roars and howls of the lumbering rancor.”
4. Not a man in a suit.
As I mentioned earlier, the rancor was a puppet. That wasn’t the initial plan though. George Lucas wanted the rancor to be a suit that a person could wear and operate. Creature designer Phil Tippett took a couple of stabs at it, but it was art director Joe Johnston who came up with the suit concept. He designed the costume in such a way that one person would wear the body and two people would operate the creature’s long arms. The results made the rancor flail and look a little off, so after Tippett and Dennis Muren shot test footage, Lucas decided that wasn’t the way to go. Muren discusses this in his interview with StarWars.com.
5. Puppets can move!
The three-person operation of the rancor suit inspired Muren and Tippett to make a Japanese Bunraku-style rod puppet. Muren shot it at high-speed in a live-action style. Multiple people came into the construction process to contribute parts like the armature and pulling wires to make the rancor’s claws operate like human fingers. The finished creature operated like a hand puppet, and Tippett controlled the rancor mouth and head. Part of Tippett’s hand was smashed during shooting, and it swelled up so much he couldn’t remove the rancor head and had to wear the puppet all day.
6. The rancor moisturized.
To keep the rancor puppet looking appropriately slimy and glistening between scenes, its skin was spritzed with water. That’s not the only key liquid in play. The drool is a memorable part of the rancor’s scenes, and as far as I can tell, they used glycerin to simulate the viscous mucus. Johnston’s storyboard notebook for the rancor sequences features comments for the final shot and he made a note about “glyserine.”
We love the rancor. We know you do too. Tell us why in the comments below!
Sources: Creating the Worlds of Star Wars: 365 Days, The Making of Return of the Jedi, StarWars.com, Sculpting a Galaxy,
Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek.