Why Star Wars originally had a human actor as Jabba The Hutt

A human actor was on set to play the original Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars: A New Hope, but neither the actor nor the scene made the final cut in 1977. The infamous slug-like gangster is one of the star’s main villains. Saga of Wars, causing trouble for heroes across the galaxy from the Clone Wars era to the rise of the Galactic Empire. While Jabba’s most prominent on-screen role in the series was in Return of the Jedi (where Jabba is killed by Princess Leia), the character was originally intended to appear in the first Star Wars film.

In the summer of 1976, George Lucas filmed principal photography for Star Wars. Among the scenes he shot at Pinewood Studios in England was a brief but memorable encounter between Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his boss, a gangster Lucas called Jabba the Hutt. In the scene, the first Jabba chastises Han for killing Greedo and reminds the smuggler that he still owes him money. He promises to pay Jabba back and is told that a price will be placed on his head if he does not deliver.

If this scene sounds familiar, it’s because the sequence was reintroduced in Star Wars in 1997 when George Lucas released his special editions for the original trilogy. But while audiences in the late 90s saw Han talking to a CGI Jabba the Hutt (a scene that is still part of the film today on Blu-ray and Disney+), the original scene featured an actor named Declan Mulholland, who played the original Jabba the Hutt as a special effects stand-in that was never added in 1977.

Jabba’s final appearance was not achievable in 1977, but was fixed later

Star Wars production was notoriously troubled. Lucas’ vision for his galaxy far, far away was beyond the technological limits of the time, and much of what he envisioned was ultimately hampered by time and money. One sequence that fell victim to this was the original Jabba the Hutt scene, which was originally intended to be much more ambitious. The plan was to use Declan Mulholland as a stand-in for a non-human Jabba the Hutt and then use a matte process to cover his performance with a new creature for the finished film. Unfortunately, Lucas lacked the time, money and skills to complete the scene, so it was scrapped for final editing.

But by the late 1990s, film technology had finally caught up with Lucas’ vision for Star Wars. When Lucas began preparing the special edition of the first film (since retitled A New Hope), he dusted off the Jabba scene and gave it a CGI makeover. Using the now iconic snail-shaped design from Return of the Jedi, a computer-generated model was created and inserted into the footage, completely covering Mulholland’s original Jabba. While future edits would include a more realistic Jabba CGI, the scene remained part of A New Hope and the larger Star Wars story ever since. While some deleted scenes from A New Hope have found their way into the Star Wars canon, Mulholland’s performance is now completely obscured given how iconic Jabba has become in his current form.

How Muholland reprized his Jabba look in Time Bandits

However, Declan Mulholland’s version of Jabba would eventually appear on the big screen in one form or another. Mulholland would go on to appear in Terry Gilliam’s 1981 film Time Bandits in a minor role as a member of a gang of thieves. During his performance, Mulholland wore an outfit similar to the scenes he filmed as Jabba, complete with a fur-covered vest and grungy clothes underneath. The Time Bandits’ costume is a bit fancier than the one in the deleted scene from A New Hope, but there is an unmistakable resemblance to the original version of the mighty Jabba the Hutt.

It’s possible the similarity was intended as an inside joke by Gilliam or Mulholland, though very few of the Time Bandits audience would have picked up on it. It is much more likely that the similarity is a coincidence. Either way, it’s a fun and (possibly) random tribute to a lost part of Star Wars history.

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