New evidence leads to a break in a 30-year-old Return of the Jedi investigation!
Readers of this blog will know that Jabba’s palace from Return of the Jedi is filled with several longstanding mysteries (like this one, and this one). But this year, the 30th anniversary of Episode VI, I was finally able to answer a question that had been gnawing at me since 1983. Who is Wiebba-Wiebba?
I recently revealed my discovery at Celebration Europe, as part of the Return of the Jedi Creature History panel that’s been described here. It was at the end of a panel that had spent over an hour detailing as many of the creatures created for Episode VI as possible.
I first heard the name Wiebba-Wiebba in 1983, when the TV special Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi aired on November 21, 1983. This special (which is available in the Complete Saga Blu-ray set), was hosted by Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams, and discussed the role of creature effects in movies in general, and in Jedi in particular. At about the 19-minute mark, Carrie Fisher, sitting at a makeup table, says the following:
“Ree-Yees, Tooth Face, Squid Head, Bubo, Sic-Six, Hermi Odle, Yak Face, the Toadstool Terror, Rockwart, Nikto, Wiebba-Wiebba, Oola, and Wooof... I worked with all those creatures! Had lunch with them. Let some of them borrow my hairdryer.”
Now, being a detail-obsessed kid, I made a point to find out who or what all those creatures were. Though it may have taken a few years, I did indeed track down which creatures had those names, with Wiebba-Wiebba being the frustrating exception. I could find no record of who or what Wiebba-Wiebba was.
The first clue to surface for me was in the pages of the original Making of Return of the Jedi, a 1983 paperback published by Del Rey Books and written by John Philip Peecher. Though it shares the same title and subject matter as J.W. Rinzler’s forthcoming book, it is not as deep or as illustrated as the 30th anniversary volume will be. No, Peeler wrote this as Jedi was in production, and by necessity, it cannot offer as complete a picture as the new book. But it is nonetheless a great read, especially for detail-oriented folks, with transcriptions of memos and telexes from the production offices.
On page 28, on an entry dated November 26, 1981, an ILM memo describes the Creature Shop contents that are being shipped from California to England for principal photography. Each creature for Jedi was given a number for cataloging, and there on the page is listed:
55 WIEBBA-WIEBBA’S APPLIANCES
Appliances are a makeup effect term for the foam rubber pieces that are glued onto a performer’s face. This told me that Wiebba-Wiebba was a prosthetic effect, and not a slip-on creature mask or puppet. But that was the only information offered. After that, the trail went cold for years.
I was ready to give up on ever finding out who Wiebba-Wiebba was until 1995, when Neko Publishing Ltd. printed Star Wars: The Action Figure Archive by Eimei Takeda and Seiji Takahashi in Japan (the book would later be reprinted by Chronicle Books in English provided by Steve Sansweet). This was years before I started working at Lucasfilm, so the book -- a 170-page rundown of all the action figures Kenner had produced -- was my first look at many, many rare photos from the Lucasfilm Archives. The entry for the Rancor Keeper figure caught my eye, because even though the book was written in Japanese, I could recognize that it made a claim about Wiebba-Wiebba’s identity.
This Japanese book drew attention to an illustration by Nilo Rodis-Jamero, Return of the Jedi’s costume designer, which was printed in 1983’s The Art of Return of the Jedi. It was a drawing of the rancor keeper, with the number 55 handwritten on it. Takeda and Takahashi put forth that the rancor keeper is therefore creature number 55, a.k.a. Wiebba-Wiebba. At long last, the mystery had been solved!
...but something about that bothered me. Whatever became of his creature appliances? The rancor keeper (who would years later be named Malakili by the roleplaying game) was plainly human, and did not have any prosthetics appliances that I could detect. There was a second rancor keeper, but he was a Wooof alien (also known in some circles as a “Klaatu” or “Green Nikto”).
Then I noticed this other clue in Making of Return of the Jedi. On page 13, there’s a production memo that says:
RANCOR KEEPER THAT CRIES WILL NOW BE A HUMAN. DO NOT ARTICULATE WOOOF TO CRY.
Now a surface read of that supports the claim that Malakili was Wiebba-Wiebba. His missing alien appliances were struck from existence when this memo decreed that he be human. But something didn’t add up.
The “crying memo” was dated October 30, 1981. The memo that listed “Wiebba-Wiebba’s appliances” was November 26, 1981. If the rancor keeper and Wiebba-Wiebba were one and the same, why would they bother shipping his therefore unneeded makeup appliances to London if it was decided he was human a month earlier?
No, it turns out the rancor keeper theory was completely unfounded. He never had anything to do with Wiebba-Wiebba. What the memo of October 30, 1981, is saying is that the crying rancor keeper was not a Wooof alien, so that the creature shop did not have to work out how to make Wooof cry.
But what about Takeda and Takahashi’s discovery that identified the rancor keeper as #55, the same as Wiebba-Wiebba? I finally figured that out earlier this year, when I came across a binder of costume illustrations by Nilo Rodis-Jamero. There was a title page that listed the costumes for Return of the Jedi by number. Those numbers have nothing to do with the creature numbers. The rancor keeper was costume #55, but he was not creature #55.
That didn’t tell me who Wiebba-Wiebba was...but it confirmed who it wasn’t. (I tweeted about it here.)
Finally, earlier this summer, a fateful visit to the Lucasfilm Archives once and for all provided me with the missing information. The helpful archivists pointed me towards a binder filled with Polaroids and reference art from Return of the Jedi, and it followed the creature numbering system first revealed back in the original Making of Return of the Jedi. And finally, there it was, creature #55 -- one of the last creatures fabricated for Episode VI, in all her glory.
Wiebba-Wiebba was another name for Gargan. I don’t know why Gargan had two names, but it was clear the dancer played by Claire Davenport was at one point known as Wiebba-Wiebba. The “appliances,” which consisted of her breasts and grotesque facial details, were sculpted and fabricated at ILM and shipped to London for the shoot.
So here we are. After 30 years, Gargan’s alternate name is now confirmed and the identity of Wiebba-Wiebba has been revealed.