Thank the Maker! How Hasbro’s HasLab Is Bringing Jabba’s Sail Barge to Life

StarWars.com goes inside Hasbro's plan to make its largest Star Wars product ever -- with help from fans.

For 35 years, fans have been clamoring for their own piece of Star Wars extravagance and sophistication: a Hasbro recreation of Jabba’s sail barge, the Khetanna, which the notorious crime lord used to cruise across the Dune Sea. With the launch of HasLab, an innovative new platform bringing big ideas and niche products to life, fans across the United States — and, StarWars.com can exclusively reveal, in Canada, too! — may soon be able to sail away with their own massive 4-foot-long, highly detailed recreation from the toy brand’s comprehensive 3.75-inch scale Vintage Collection. The never-before-produced vehicle has been on the wish lists of fans and toy designers alike for decades, says Hasbro’s director of Global Brand Strategy and Marketing Joe Ninivaggi.

It doesn’t take a Jedi mind trick to see how much attention, and elaborate and painstakingly precise sculpting has gone into the prototype, which was first revealed at Toy Fair 2018 last month. Available only to pledged backers, the $499.99 masterpiece will be the largest Hasbro Star Wars product ever created, if (and we hope when) it’s put into production once HasLab meets its 5,000 pre-order goal by April 3.

StarWars.com recently sat down with Ninivaggi and Steve Evans, design and development director for Star Wars at Hasbro, to get an early look at some of the most detailed and ingenious features on the model, as well as a peek at the impressive skill and research that went into creating the luxury barge. Fans who back the project will not only receive their own ship when it’s available early next year, but they’ll have the chance to get an exclusive first look at other reveals and special behind-the-scenes content along the way, as well as receiving a 64-page booklet detailing the design and development through product blueprints, interviews, and more.

Introducing HasLab

It’s clear that HasLab is an extension of the longstanding collaboration between fans and the beloved toymaker that has, over the years, helped to introduce new products and figures based on feedback and the results of fan polls.

“We’ve done a lot of fan votes and they’re great,” says Ninivaggi, but that approach has its limitations. “You can click on a fan vote as much as you want. We’re not 100 percent sure if you’re really getting the full grasp of what the fan community wants.”

“Something like this really brings the fans together,” adds Evans. “To have a single item that everyone can get behind, it’s a much more, sort of, unified approach.” In the short time since it’s introduction, Hasbro’s team has already seen a groundswell of support for the HasLab concept and its inaugural product idea. “It’s incredible the way the fan sites are building their own rationale behind why you should buy it,” Evans says, including some that have introduced their own countdown clocks. “They’re brilliant!”

“In the case of Jabba’s barge, it’s been 35 years people have been asking us to make it,” Ninivaggi notes. “We make a lot of awesome products and we’re proud of the line we make and it’s certainly size able. But there are the ones that got away, the ones that we can’t get to.”

Producing a toy of this size without a pre-order campaign would be a gamble even Jabba himself couldn’t take. The best approach, Hasbro says: a partnership directly with the most fervent fans and collectors that not only creates the never-before-seen toy but invites backers along for the wild ride from concept to creation.

“We wanted to do something that wasn’t transactional in nature but gave up the opportunity to really kind of love the process and reveal it and share updates,” says Ninivaggi. “This is a year-long process and we created this beautiful book that shows all the behind-the-scenes work. We’re celebrating Mark Boudreaux [Hasbro’s senior principal designer on Star Wars], who has been part of every major vehicle since 1977, so it’s a really beautiful kind of platform that goes well beyond just selling a product.”

“Quite simply,” says Evans, “the fans deserve it.”

Concept to creation

The creation of the barge relied on extensive research into the original Return of the Jedi production and the introduction of never-before-seen details borrowing the same approach used by the original model makers and designers. In keeping with the detailed work that separates The Vintage Collection from its regular 3.75-inch scale sister line, Jabba’s sail barge will include removable side panels, fabric sails, and the Hutt gangster himself, with plans to use the new “Photo Real” paint-application technique to bring his visage to life.

“There are obvious things that we have to represent that everyone has seen on the screen and everyone expects,” Evans says, like the deck, the deck cannon, and Jabba’s lounge. “You get all the action in those. We dug really deeply back into the 1982 set archive imagery. Mark Boudreaux and the team worked with Lucasfilm and pulled out hundreds and hundreds of behind-the-scenes, black-and-white photos, schematics, drawings, sketches, plans, and he started to build it from the areas that we knew.”

Once they had determined the sheer size, there was plenty of room for ingenuity. “You get to the point where it’s like, ‘Well, what else is behind these panels? What don’t we see?’” Evans says. “And then we start using our imagination and, to be honest with you, that’s quite a fun bit.”

Toymakers had to work out details like the barge’s driving and steering mechanism, and the location of the cockpit, then dug deeper to incorporate the aesthetics of Jabba’s palace and the barren Tatooine desert to imbue the piece with the kind of logical add-ons that were heavily influenced by the story told on-screen.

Knowing Jabba’s background as a vile gangster, designers modeled a mobile holding cell for all the enemies who might try to launch a sneak attack or assassination attempt, Evans says, but they also had some fun with the character’s personality. “Jabba’s a greedy pig, right? He loves to eat. So we had to have the kitchen,” Evans says. “And if you have a  kitchen, you’ve got to have a sink and you’ve got to have a food rack…. So suddenly we’ve got all these areas that no one’s seen before and yet is so perfectly informed by the story and by the character.

“It’s definitely a lived-in world… I’m hoping people look at it with a sort of duality of like, ‘Wow, that’s what it looks like!’ But also, ‘Yeah, that’s what it would look like.’”

And they’re not finished with it yet.

Early glimpses at the 3D modeling for the ship reveal a baby rancor scaling the side of Jabba’s lounge wall, an armory, and intricate murals and grisly trophies reminiscent of his other favorite decoration — Captain Solo in carbonite.

Evans says technological leaps in design and manufacturing helped make some of the work possible.

Years ago, toy prototypes relied on wax-modeled figures and wooden carvings for larger ships and vehicles. Now, those intricate sculpts are rendered with special software and computer generation, then 3D printed.

“We’re at a stage now where we’re applying the paint and doing the deco,” Evans says. Just narrowing down the color scheme from a palette of browns, grays, reds, and yellows took hours of careful consideration. “It’s a very long process, but one that hopefully should look every natural and very fluid.”

The finished piece will be comparable to a model, the makers say. “The good thing on the Vintage Collection is it demands extra detail,” Evans says. “We’ve probably put two to three layers of plastic to really get that detail. It’s almost like sort of a kit…a much more intricate design.”

Into Jabba’s kitchen

Although rereleases aren’t out of the question, Evans says Hasbro is concentrated on creating new, highly-articulated figures to populate Jabba’s sail barge, so expect to see some complementary action figures released in 2019.

So far, Hasbro has announced that rounding out figures already in production will be the Klaatu Skiff Guard and Saelt-Marae, who was originally known by a slightly different moniker when the character was introduced into the toy line years ago. “He’ll always be Yak Face to me,” Evans says.

But while the team behind HasLab is hoping to expand the platform to a global scale, for now Jabba’s sail barge is only available in the United States and Canada.

If pre-orders fall short, “we’ll have that one prototype that will stay in Mark Boudreaux’s office and he will weep over it every morning,” Evans jokes.

But the designers are hopeful that the toy and the behind-the-scenes content will be a winning combination to get Jabba’s sail barge into production.

“We’ll provide some really nice updates and kind of take the fans through the journey along the way as we go from that beautiful gray-model prototype to the final product being shipped out,” Ninivaggi says. “We wanted to make sure it was something special. By backing the project, you get first access to the updates.”

Evans says the team has plans to dive deeper with GoPro cameras and time lapse footage that truly capture the magnitude of the process.”That is a really important aspect of it,” Evans says. “The authenticity. We’re a company, but we’re actually doing this because it’s really cool and really interesting and to share that stuff with fans is really important. The idea of seeing how something is built and the craft behind it. I think fans, it really resonates with them. You get into the kitchen, you get into Jabba’s kitchen to see how we cook it all up!”

But whether or not Jabba’s luxury barge comes sailing into reality, Evans expects a lot of other exciting HasLab projects for Star Wars and the toymaker’s other partners, with limited editions and releases.

“The principle of HasLab is it’s special. It is special and kind of ridiculous,” Evans says. So in limiting releases, designers have the chance to create mini masterpieces. “It’s important to keep it meaningful and not have one running constantly.”

“We think it’s a really compelling platform,” Ninivaggi says. “We’re just happy to be a small part of this whole thing.”

Visit HasLab for more on Jabba’s Sail Barge, and remember — Hasbro will stop accepting backers on April 3. So punch it!

Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them!

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