Star Wars memoirs

from someone who was actually there!

Nick Maley’s


Ralph McQuarrie, the Production Illustrator, did drawings of some of the new characters. We had drawings for the Wampa, which smacked Luke in the face, plus the Tauntauns, which Luke and Han ride on Hoth - a cross between a Tyrannosaurus and a camel really, and there was a drawing for Yoda.   Ralph was an exceptional illustrator and enjoyed a long association with George Lucas, but his designs, though imaginative, showed little concern for how these things would work. It was obvious right from the beginning that we would need to make a few adaptations to some of the figures.

The Tauntauns' proportions were pretty good. There were several versions, stop motion miniatures for the long shots and animatronic puppets for close-ups. Neither required the proportions to be altered appreciably. The life-size figures were modeled by Roger (I forget the surname) in the Art Department and the final result was very close to Ralph's design. Bob Keen assisted Stuart in building the mechanism for one animatronic puppet and I believe Special Effects built another. (They also made the full figure that Han cuts open.) It was Bob's first movie and he became a close associate of mine over the years. Tom McLaughlin made the foam latex skins which were stretched onto articulated fiberglass skulls. I did assembly and Stuart and Graham did the artwork.
The Wampa had to be adjusted to enable us to put a human operator inside. That affected the position of the knees and elbows particularly. The body was modeled by Graham Freeborn. Stuart modeled the head. Graham and I constructed the suit and artworked it. The arm mechanism was based upon a design I conceived which Graham adapted and I think Bob Keen may have constructed. Bob also helped me convert the suit into a ten foot marionette for the close-up puppet version. You can see more photos of Graham helping Des into the suit at HERE
The Yoda drawings were a long way off what was finally built. I haven't seen all the STAR WARS art books but none I've seen include those early drawings. They didn't look much like the Yoda that we all know and love. He looked like a cross between Yoda and Jimminy Cricket as I recall, the proportion of Jimminy with Yoda's round face and pointy ears. He was young and rather impish. If Yoda had been a cartoon or computer animation he could have been just as Ralph drew him, bright and very sprightly, but as Stuart discussed the character with George, they came to the conclusion that this should be a glove puppet and that it should be operated by Frank Oz, who at that time was a close associate of Jim Henson and a senior Muppets puppeteer. Consequently Yoda’s proportions changed dramatically and so did his character. I have a lot to tell about Yoda, too much to jam into the middle of this section. For more information watch out for other postings.

There were three creatures that I didn't see any drawings for. The first was the swamp monster which appeared on Dagobah, swallowed R2-D2 and spat him back again. It was modeled by the Art Department. Once again I made the molds and the skins. A fiberglass substructure was produced by our plasterers. Because it was seen so little, articulation was limited to the jaw and eyes. It was artworked by Graham. The Special Effects Department built an underwater track that it ran on that was similar to a roller coaster, bring it up to the water's surface and then back to the depths.

The second creatures without drawings were the Ugnaughts a race of short ugly hog like creatures on Bespin which were modeled by Graham Freeborn and artworked by him with help from Kay and myself. These were perfect examples of Grahams forthright approach, swiftly modeled and assembled on the actors. They were the complete opposite of the painstaking approach of Yoda. (Of course they weren't as good either!)
The third set of creatures without drawings were the Mynocks that Han and Leia encounter whilst hiding in the asteroid belt. I modeled the head and neck for the close-up version not realizing that it would also be used for background flying mynocks too (which were built in the Props Department). I was rebelling against the earthbound designs (such as the Crockers and Bat Alien) that had been common in the Cantina sequence and what I modeled was pretty weird. The mouth was reminiscent of a sucker fish but the extended eyes and melting skin were pretty unique. Of course, I also made the molds, assisted by Bob Keen, and I artworked it too.

There were also a number of creatures that for one reason or another were built but didn't make it to the big screen..... the Praying Mantis (Kitik Keed'kak) in ANH, the multi-eyed blob, and my favorite..... the Nogard.

Click here if you want to know who played what....... the people inside those suits, masks and puppets.

By the time RETURN OF THE JEDI was due for production many of the new creatures had been designed. ILM had been created from the profits made by A NEW HOPE and had little impact on the creatures for EMPIRE STRIKES BACK beyond the stop motion inserts (mainly the Tauntauns) and making Admiral Ackbar. With RETURN OF THE JEDI they became heavily involved in the creatures.

In some cases, such as the Ewoks, prototype stuffed toys had been produced before the creature effects team was even assembled. At the same time as Stuart was suggesting that I get involved in making life sized versions of these stuffed toys, I was asked to design the make-up for Columbia TV's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME with Sir Anthony Hopkins (for which I was later nominated for an EMMY). It was time for me to break away and do my own movies and Stuart encouraged me in that direction.

So it was that my seven year association with Stu and my involvement with the STAR WARS movies ended. Nick Dudman and Bob Keen who had both been trainees on EMPIRE continued as fully fledged technicians on RETURN. Nick created the Bib Fortuna prosthetics, the Emperor prosthetics and went on to head the Creature Effects crew for Episode I: A PHANTOM MENACE. Bob was heavily involved with Jabba the Hutt, assisted me for 5 years on movies like KRULL, LIFEFORCE and HIGHLANDER and found his own acclaim years later with the HELLRAISER movies.