It’s 1977. You’re sitting in a dark theater and immediately floored by the opening crawl of Star Wars. Two hours later, the science fiction genre has forever been changed. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa are on the lips of every nerdy boy and girl. 

Skip to 20 years later. You take your kids to see the 1997 rerelease of Star Wars: A New Hope. Excitement rattles your body. You can’t wait to share the magic with your family. 

What is a Prologue (Definition and Examples)'Star War: A New Hope'Credit:

The opening crawl plays. The movie is just as you remembered it. Maybe you see some new things. Some new additions to spice things up. You’re still pumped. Your kids are loving it. 

Then you see him. Jabba the Hutt. The notorious gangster first introduced as a puppet in Return of the Jedi is now in Star Wars: A New Hope. George Lucas has taken a long-deleted scene and put it up on the big screen, along with a computer-generated Jabba the Hutt. 

To bring this mountainous slug to life, Lucas specifically asked former ILM visual effects and animation supervisor Steve Williams to work his magic. 

Jabba, You’re a Wonderful Human Being

The scene between Jabba and Han Solo from Star Wars: A New Hope was originally shot for the 1977 release with a human character played by actor Declan Mulholland. The initial plan was to have the actor replaced with stop-motion animation, but due to budget cuts, the sequence was never finished. Here’s the original scene cobbled together from bits of footage lost to history. 

George Lucas stated on multiple occasions that he never liked the sequence. It was shot by the second unit and Lucas didn’t have the creative input he had with other parts of the film. 

In fact, when Williams was asked to create a digital version of Jabba, Lucas informed him the original negative to the sequence was lost.

“So we had no script notes, we had no camera notes,” Williams told VFXblog

Declan Mulholland as JabbaDeclan Mulholland as JabbaCredit: VFXblog

Lucas just informed Williams that A New Hope was shot entirely on a 35mm and 50mm lens.

“I looked at the scene and went, well, it’s a 35 and a 50, that’s all it is,” Williams said. “So what we had to actually process was the IP, which was the inter-positive, which is a first strike off the neg.”

This is an orange-based film with a positive image made from the edited camera negative. The orange base allows for more accurate color reproduction when compared to exhibition positives. 

When Williams was animating Jabba, he didn’t have the systems and tools that modern animators have.

“CARI didn’t exist then when I animated Jabba,” Williams said. “What we did was just have phonemes that were formed in Softimage version 2.6.1 using a scratch tracker or synchronizer.” 

Jabba Lip SyncJabba Lip SyncCredit: VFXblog

A phoneme is the smallest unit of a language that can convey meaning and is usually associated with facial shapes to animate talking characters. 

Moving down the rest of Jabba, Williams also had to make some creative decisions to make the giant space slug move.

“Does he have a spine? Is he just a gelatinous cacophony of hardened elephant skin with no spine, or does he have a spine? And so if you could figure out if he had a spine—which I did, I built one for him because he had arms and shoulders and stuff like that.”

And just like that, Jabba made his way back into A New Hope. But that’s not the only new character that was added. 

An Infamous Bounty Hunter

In both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Boba Fett played a key role. He hunted down Han Solo in the former and died a brutal death in the latter. Until Disney brought him back to life, that is. 

Including him in A New Hope seemed like a necessity. Williams and Joe Letteri, the CG supervisor, went out and shot insert shots of Boba Fett on a blue screen and comp’d him into the final sequence. An ILM animator, Mark Austin, donned the iconic suit to play the part.

Mark Austin as Boba FettMark Austin as Boba FettCredit: VFXblog

A Lasting Legacy

Star Wars has gone through a lot of changes since 1977. Lucas remade his iconic films several times, created an entirely new trilogy, and then handed the entire world off to Disney. 

Whatever your feelings about the changes or new direction, Star Wars will always be the foundation of science fiction. It will always inspire the imagination no matter your age. 

If you want to learn more about how Jabba the Hutt was created for Return of the Jedi, check out this post

Source: VFXblog