‘Star Wars’ Hutts Should Never, Ever Be CGI
This week’s episode of The Book of Boba Fett introduced two new characters to the series’ cast, a pair of corpulent alien crime lords from the race known as “The Hutts.” Cousins of the notorious Jabba the Hutt, they are carried along on a sagging throne by a legion of footmen. They demand the return of their relative’s criminal empire, which is now controlled by Boba Fett. He refuses, a few thinly veiled threats are exchanged, and the Hutts retreat to parts unknown.
It should be one of the pivotal moments in the episode. But something about it feels... off. The twins don’t look real, and they seem disconnected from the space that Boba Fett is in. It’s not like a conversation between three people. At every moment, you’re hyperaware that you’re watching a man interact with special effects, and not especially convincing ones.
This is an unusual problem for a modern Star Wars production. For whatever other criticisms you might have about Disney’s Star Wars films and series since they acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, their visual effects have remained consistently first rate. This episode of The Book of Boba Fett alone features legions of creepy aliens, shootouts, and a massive fight atop a speeding antigravity train. All of that looks fantastic. So why do these Hutts look so fake? And, for that matter, why hasn’t Star Wars ever been able to make CGI Hutts look good?
In fact, some of the most notorious bad CGI in all of Star Wars involves the O.G. Hutt, Jabba. When George Lucas restored and enhanced his original trilogy for their “Special Edition” releases in 1997, he reinserted a scene that had previously been deleted from the theatrical cut of Star Wars. While Jabba the Hutt didn’t make his official debut until Return of the Jedi, Lucas had originally written a scene for him in A New Hope, then cut it when he realized that 1977 special effects couldn’t live up to his vision of the character. When Lucas returned to the material for the Special Edition, he used computer effects to superimpose a digital Jabba over the actor who had played the role opposite Harrison Ford when they’d first shot the scene.
The results were quite poor. And apparently Lucas agreed, because a few years later he tinkered with the scene again for its DVD release. This version was an improvement, but only in the way that nausea is an improvement over vomit. They’re both bad; one is just more overtly and concretely bad.
In between those two Jabbas, there was a third. The character made a brief appearance in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, watching the big podrace on Tattooine. The best you can say about this version of the character is that its role was mercifully brief.
Now compare all those gloppy, squirmy, floaty, textureless Jabbas with the original creature who appeared almost 40 years ago in Return of the Jedi. This Jabba had heft, weight, and a looming physical presence. He was intimidating and scary. He was real.
You can get a sense of how much work and detail went into the original Jabba puppet, designed by makeup artist Stuart Freeborn, in this 1983 documentary on the making of Return of the Jedi. Freeborn considered Jabba “his greatest creation.”
I am not sure why Star Wars can do so many incredible things with computer effects and not this, but they’ve now had 25 years to get it right and they still haven’t. The new twins of The Book of Boba Fett look no more believable than the Jabba of The Phantom Menace. Perhaps it’s the sheer size of these creatures that makes them tough to animate. Maybe it’s because we know what the Jabba puppet looked like, and these CGI versions never capture his bulky physicality. Whatever the reason, the CG Hutts never even come close to matching the animatronic from decades ago.
I’m sure the digital effects are easier and less expensive than prosthetics and puppetry in 2021, but Lucasfilm clearly understands the value of practical monsters. The Book of Boba Fett features characters like Jennifer Beals’ Garsa Fwip, a Twi’lek cantina owner, and a whole pack of Tusken Raiders, all achieved practically in this episode with makeup and costumes. Next to these impressive creations, the Hutt twins look that much more artificial.
And that’s why I think this needs to be a Star Wars rule: No more CGI Hutts. Either give us the giant slimy puppets or just make new monsters that are better suited to digital technology. Admittedly this is a minor complaint. But every time these phony space slugs show up on my screen it feels like something of the huttmost importance.