Nearly four decades after the debut of George Lucas’s first film in his sci-fi series (which I still call just Star Wars; it’ll take more than one Interrogation Droid to get me to refer to it as Episode IV: A New Hope), the Star Wars saga has become an enduring part of contemporary pop culture. Around the globe, even people who have never seen the movies have heard or used phrases like “May the Force be with you” and “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” Most people know what a lightsaber is when they see one. And everyone seems to have at least a passing familiarity with many of the major players, be they human (Darth Vader, Han Solo, Princess Leia), aliens (Chewbacca, Yoda) mechanical (R2-D2, C3PO), or regrettable mistakes (Jar-Jar Binks).
Let’s face it, though. Between the first six pictures and their more than 13 hours’ worth of interplanetary adventure and derring-do, there are more than a few minor figures–Mos Eisley cantina patrons, rebel cannon fodder, Imperial lackeys, and so forth–whose on-screen exploits are remembered by only the most dedicated fan (or
toy action figure collector). Okay, and by us here at MovieFanFare. To celebrate today’s opening of Episode VII: The Force Awakens, we’d like to offer a toast to 10 of the more obscure Star Wars characters from the original and prequel trilogies:
Biggs Darklighter — Okay, this first guy was never intended to be as obscure as he wound up in 1977’s Star Wars. Biggs was Red 3, one of the rebel pilots killed by Darth Vader during the attack on the first Death Star. Remember when Luke seemed particularly moved by his death? That’s because the two were childhood friends back on Tatooine, and deleted scenes from the 1977 film featured Biggs–played by actor Garrick Hagon–telling Luke about his plans to join the rebellion. No doubt the two of them used to go out and blast womp rats in Beggar’s Canyon. Thanks, Biggs; you and Luke were indeed “a couple of shooting stars.”
Bren Derlin — Another rebel figure, Major Bren Derlin was stationed on the ice planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back and is best known as the guy who tells Princess Leia that they have to close the base’s shield doors, even though Luke and Han Solo have yet to return. While it may have been the right thing to do from a strategic (and energy-saving) standpoint, it must have been uncomfortable for him when the pair finally did get back safely (if covered in Tauntaun and Wampa blood and guts). By the way, does the face behind the facial hair in the picture look familiar? That’s right, it’s none other than a pre-Cheers John Ratzenberger in the role.
Dengar — Remember the Usual Suspects-like line-up of bounty hunters Vader puts on our heroes’ trail in The Empire Strikes Back? Remember the human-looking one on the far left who looked like he was wearing a turban–or his mom’s old bath towels–on his noggin? That’s Dengar, also known as “Payback,” who apparently used his less-than-imposing headgear to “conceal the circuitry for his enhanced auditory and visual systems.” As for his metal codpiece, that was clearly to protect his most sensitive of areas from stray blaster fire. Oh, and I’m told he had a personal spaceship which he named The Punishing One, which is pretty cool.
Dexter Jettster — One of the most memorable things about the Star Wars films is the sense of wonder as audiences are taken to such fantastic locales as an alien-filled cantina, a moon-sized orbiting battle station, a city floating on the clouds, and…a ’50s-style diner in space? Yes, that was one of Obi-Wan’s stops in Attack of the Clones as he chats with the establishment’s owner, a reptilian restaurateur and old buddy named Dexter Jettster, for information. Luckily, the Jedi master was able to learn what he needed to know before ole’ Dex and his waitstaff jumped up on the counter and started singing the Besalisk version of “Rock Around the Clock” or some such.
Elan Sleazebaggano — As a scripter, George Lucas was known for imbuing his stories with elements and themes that, as author Joseph Campbell pointed out, harkened back to classical tales of mythological heroes. He also, however, seems to have felt the need to work an anti-drug message in as well. As so it was that another character Obi-Wan encountered in Attack of the Clones was one Elan Sel’Sabagno, aka Elan Sleazebaggano (very subtle name, Mr. Lucas), a dealer in illegal weaponry as well as a fatal hallucinogen known as “death sticks.” After approaching Obi-Wan and offering to sell him the deadly drug, an annoyed Obi-Wan uses his “Jedi mind tricks” to convince Elan that he should go home and rethink his life. Gee, using mind control to alter people’s behavior, even for altruistic purposes, seems a little Dark Sidey, doesn’t it?
Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes — Or, as most people know them, “the bug-eyed Mos Eisley cantina band” from the first movie. Did you ever wonder if they were the watering hole’s regular house band or if Luke and Obi-Wan just happened to wander in on a special concert (and had to pay extra)? Either way, Figrin and his fellow Nodes certainly have to be saluted for providing that ever-hummable background music (which 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon once claimed to have written lyrics for) to one of the most memorable scenes in sci-fi film history. Now, how do we get them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Jocasta Nu — It just stands to reason that a long-established and all-encompassing group like the Jedi Knights would have a library on the Republic’s capital planet of Coruscant where all the information in the galaxy was safely kept. And it also seems logical that the head archivist for said records, one Jocasta Nu, would herself be a Jedi master. While she doesn’t get a chance to draw her lightsaber and display her fighting skills on the big screen in Attack of the Clones (the less said about what happens to her in the Revenge of the Sith video game, the better), Ms. Nu–played by Alethea McGrath–certainly follows in the tradition of such two-fisted finders of knowledge as Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon, Rupert Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and of course “Marion the Librarian” from The Music Man.
Malakili — One of the funniest–or saddest, depending on your view–scenes in Return of the Jedi comes when Luke Skywalker, dropped by Jabba the Hutt into a dungeon containing a ravenous creature known as a Rancor, manages to avoid becoming the beast’s next meal by triggering a metal door to drop down on it, crushing its skull. As Luke is escorted out of the pit by Jabba’s goons, a chubby, shirtless guy who was clearly the Rancor’s keeper walks up to his now-deceased charge and starts weeping uncontrollably over losing a beloved friend that one can imagine him raising from a hatchling (or newborn; I’ve no idea whether or not Rancors lay eggs). That, my friends, is a unbilled actor named Paul Brooke, whose resumé includes roles in For Your Eyes Only and Bridget Jones’s Diary, as Malakili, an ex-circus performer and caretaker of Jabba’s menagerie, according to fan sites. It’s also reported that Malakili and Jabba’s cook survived the palace’s destruction and went on to open their own restaurant (hopefully not next to Dex’s!). “I like the idea that everyone loves someone,” Lucas said once about the scene, “and even the worst, most horrible monster you can imagine was loved by his keeper. And the Rancor probably loved his keeper.”
Oola — Malakili may have been cozy with his devoted monster, but it was never a good idea to drop in on the Rancor when he was hungry. One person who learned this lesson the hard way was the unfortunate Oola, the green-skinned dancing girl who was an enslaved member of Jabba’s entourage. In Return of the Jedi she attempted to resist the amorous attentions of her slug-like master and was abruptly banished by Jabba down into the Rancor pit. There poor Oola–portrayed by actress/dancer Femi Taylor (whose brother Benedict played a pilot in The Phantom Menace)–stood little chance of surviving, and was promptly devoured.
Willrow Hood — Last and certainly not least, I give you Willrow Hood. So, how does a extra with barely a couple of seconds of screen time merit pages of fan fiction, several online GIFs, and his own action figure? Would you believe by being the rebellion’s sole supplier of soft serve? When Lando Calrissian gives the call to evacuate Cloud City following the Imperial takeover in The Empire Strikes Back, among the many scurrying workers fleeing to the nearest escape vessel is an orange jumpsuit-clad guy carrying what for all the world looks like a do-it-yourself home ice cream maker. Exactly what this unnamed extra was lugging and what his story was fascinated Star Wars fans for years, to the point that his character was eventually given the name Willrow Hood (any resemblance to New England’s popular Hood ice cream company was surely coincidental). He also received the elaborate backstory that he was secretly supplying discounted fuel to the Rebel Alliance. And the object tucked under his arm? That was the computer memory core, containing names and information regarding rebel forces that Willrow couldn’t allow to fall into the hands of the Empire. Frankly, I still say it looks like something made by Hamilton Beach, but I guess that’s just me.
Do you have a favorite Star Wars supporting player that we overlooked? Share your Star Wars memories with us in the comments below, and remember, there are no small parts, just “small moons.”