A look back at the secrets behind the making of the formidable Rancor, a giant monster facing Luke Skywalker at the start of “Return of the Jedi”.
We are at the beginning of Return of the Jedi, episode VI of the Star Wars saga released in 1983. Luke Skywalker, all in black and now an accomplished Jedi, advances in front of the slimy Jabba the Hutt, who holds prisoner his friend Han Solo. Suddenly, the ground slips under his feet, and the young hero finds himself thrown to the bottom of a dismal dungeon, facing a monstrous creature who is about to devour him.
The famous Rancor (a kind of cross between a T-Rex and a bulldog) is now one of the essential bugs that make up the fauna of the Star Wars galaxy. But unlike the tyranosaur from Jurassic Park (which is a mixture of animatronics and computer graphics), this monster was made “the old fashioned way”, without the help of computers.
It is indeed a particularly sophisticated puppet, and operated by the arm of Phil Tippett, legendary designer of visual effects. This is also the reason why in the film, you will never see the head of the Rancor at the same time as his legs.
“There is someone’s arm in it, and the hand controls the head thanks to some internal mechanics”, explains the famous creator of special effects Dennis Muren in the audio commentary of the film.
“[Il] was probably 40 to 41 centimeters tall. The arms are controlled internally. They come out directly from the elbows at the back, which we have kept completely in the dark. The eyes, which were very important, are actually ball bearings. The only way to really see that he was alive was to look at his eyes, and the eyes that we had made weren’t visible, so we took the brightest eyes that we found so that he looks alive. “
Instead of opting for the stop motion technique (that is to say, frame-by-frame animation, as for the AT-ATs of The Empire Strikes Back or the Monsters of the Clash of the Titans), The Return of the Jedi teams therefore decided to make the Rancor a huge puppet to keep costs down.
The choice of this technique allowed them to shoot the sequence in just two weeks, subsequently adding the effects of smoke and lighting, and integrating the character of Luke into the shots. The only limit to this exercise being – as we specified earlier – that it was impossible for them to film the entire monster in one and the same shot:
“We did everything to move away from the Muppet aspect that we are used to seeing”, says Dennis Muren. “But the problem is that you could never really take a wide shot, because there weren’t really any legs to see. We did shots of the legs, but we weren’t showing them at the same time as the body, because otherwise we would have seen Phil’s elbow [Tippett] or someone else down there. “
A description that immediately makes the Rancor much less scary. Especially when you know that to create the roar of the beast, sound engineer Ben Burtt used … the barks of a little dachshund.
(Re) discover the hidden details of “Return of the Jedi” …