As it turns out, Jabba’s tongue was as gross on set as it was in the finished movie.
In Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – The Official Collector’s Edition, available now from the talents behind Star Wars Insider, you’ll get the inside story on every episodic Star Wars film — in the words of their makers. Presented in oral-history format, this special release gathers archive and new interviews from the saga’s directors, writers, effects wizards, actors, puppeteers, and more for a revealing look behind the scenes.
In StarWars.com’s exclusive excerpt from the Star Wars: Return of the Jedi section, we go inside Jabba’s palace and hear from Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, and the puppeteers literally bringing the slug-like crime lord to life — including his slimy tongue.
The film opens with the visit to Jabba the Hutt’s palace. First mentioned in A New Hope, the film would resolve the story of Han Solo’s debt to the criminal kingpin and introduce some memorable creatures in doing so.
Anthony Daniels (C-3PO):
The set seemed so claustrophobic and dark, which wasn’t helped by the incense used to give “atmosphere” —a kind of nightclub fog. For me, Jabba’s palace was a trial by smoke! But it looked good, and in a movie, that’s what counts.
For the most part, the space was rather crowded with rubber-headed creatures, but the crew squeezed in too. Carrie [Fisher] felt a lot better after she took off her Boushh mask. A role like C-3PO would not be an option for Carrie! But then, I wouldn’t relish sitting around in her metal truss either. I think she felt a bit conspicuous on the first day. But on a set, you get used to odd experiences very quickly. Or you get another job.
Toby Philpott (Jabba the Hutt, puppeteer):
After the period of fittings, and a brief practice, we found ourselves arriving onto a very busy set, and climbing inside Jabba through a hole underneath. From then on, Dave [Barclay] and I were mainly alone apart from when Mike Edmonds was in there, too, whenever the tail was in the shot! We had headsets, so we could talk to the rest of the team (operating the eyes by radio control, and so on). We could also hear Richard Marquand’s
instructions. Dave did the right arm and operated the mouth, and spoke for Jabba, delivering the lines in English for the actors. We always worked Jabba as a unified being, an actor, which meant we were continuously practicing our coordination. Apart from tea breaks and lunch, we stayed inside all day (from 8:30am to 6:00pm).
Richard Marquand (Director):
As a director, you are talking to Jabba himself. You’re telling him what to do. In the early stages, when you are casting the people who will later play the characters, you are thinking of them as manipulators. At that point, you are interested in their shape or personality and temperament— whether they can stand being in costume for any length of time. But once they are on set and they are in costume, they are that character—I definitely deal with Jabba on set.
I absolutely loved Jabba! I’d seen him grow up from a maquette in the Creature Shop, to a wire frame, to a great glob of clay, transformed into this jolly green slug. I thought he was great fun on the outside! Inside was a gang of performers who made me laugh all the time. Mike Edmonds starred as the tail, thrashing about. Jabba’s right hand, Dave [Barclay] and I had wireless communication so we could hear each other’s lines. We used it mainly to gossip and discuss Carrie Fisher’s near-costume! Then there was the gang on the outside, remotely controlling Jabba’s eyes in an effect that I’d never seen before, focusing and narrowing, just like the eyes of a real Hutt. The other delight of working with Jabba was that he didn’t wander off the set or have a bad hair day or a bad makeup moment. So lots of time hanging around in the gold suit was saved there!
Tim Rose (Salacious B. Crumb, Sy Snootles):
The cantina scene in the first film had always made a big impression on people, and we
wanted to make our scene as good as that one. There was a good week’s worth of lead-time on the scene, and all the characters that we had built in Phil Tippett’s shop at Industrial Light & Magic needed to get unpacked and assigned to performers to rehearse with. I already knew several of the performers, because we had worked together on The Dark
Crystal (1982 ) for Jim Henson. I was happy with the way Salacious Crumb was coming along, but Sy Snootles was a different matter. I had designed her as a “reversestring marionette,” which was a term I made up. Instead of being controlled by strings from above, as a classic marionette would be, she floated in the air and was pulled down to the ground by wires and rods to the bottoms of her feet. She was very hard to control, and I could only get a good take about once every twelve attempts. When it came time to shoot, they only gave me two
takes to get it right, neither of which was one of my good ones. I think that’s probably why she got replaced by CGI so early on.
The dark, steamy set proved difficult to shoot on and led to some mishaps along the way.
All we could see was a grainy “security camera” shot of Jabba on tiny monitors hanging on our chests, which made filming hard. Dave told me he had to put his hand (Jabba’s right hand) on Leia’s shoulder, but heard Carrie say (quite calmly) “That’s not my shoulder…”
I had to menace Leia with the tongue—my right hand was inside the tongue. We did a couple of takes. Then I heard Mr. Marquand in my headset, asking me to try to reach the tongue farther out, and really try to lick her. On the next take I did just that, but heard a stifled gasp, and some laughter, and “CUT!” Only much later was I told I had stuck that horrible, gloop-covered tongue right in Carrie Fisher’s ear!
Carrie Fisher (Leia):
I was not actually a damsel in distress, I was a distressing damsel!
Salacious spent a lot of time sitting near Jabba’s tail. Mike Edmonds was inside the body of Jabba and was controlling his tail with a cable-control mechanism. When he would get bored between takes, he would start swinging the tail back and forth shouting, “Batter up!” and try to knock Salacious off my arm, which he managed to do on more than one occasion!
My bad moment, apart from smelling like a BBQ every evening, was the great fall. Jabba was unhappy with Threepio not being helpful enough (as if!) and swiped him with his mighty fist! This meant that I had to fall down. It’s easy enough to do by accident in the desert, or in Padmé’s apartment, but deliberately? In that costume? To the ground? Not so much.
As an unnamed crewmember was about to leave the set, they asked him to hold the other side of a padded board on which I would fall, just clearing frame. “Action!” Jabba gave me a smack (sort of) and I spun and fell. “Cut!” Good. Now there was blood. I checked. Not mine. But that unnamed crewmember had taken a blow from Threepio’s elbow and was henceforth known as “Scarchin!” Then, of course, I could tell the dreadful truth about Jabba’s slime, but that’s another story!
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