Max and Me - A Tale of Jabba's Palace

1983 marked the beginning of a love/hate relationship that perpetuates to this day.  And it began on a fateful summer day among friends in a movie theater in Duncanville, Texas.  It was at the day’s first screening of Return of the Jedi on opening day.  The day a silly blue elephant appeared in a Star Wars film and left me in a conflicted state.   While there was as much to love about the final chapter of George Lucas’ star-spanning history of some distant intergalactic realm as there was to hate (think Ewoks), the fulcrum upon which that dichotomy pivots in my view was none other than Sy Snootles’ keyboardist!

Max Rebo, accompanist and band leader (though at the time his band was more a combo), instantly found a special place in my heart and mind when it comes to the Star Wars saga.  In an attempt to go above and beyond when it came to peopling a scene with bizarre aliens, George Lucas and company cast about in every possible direction for unique designs. Perhaps the sting of using off the shelf masks and cheesy costumes to flesh out Mos Eisley lingered when dozens of sketches and maquettes were produced to conceptualize a richer variety of denizens for Jabba’s Palace.  One alien creature presented in a three dimensional sculpture during the approval process was a curious blue elephant who would get the green light for production. 

His excessively bright hue and cartoon elephant form was initially off-putting to me.  Max Rebo seemed terribly out of place at first pass, especially given the equally difficult to place in the Star Wars universe nature of his band.  Droopy McCool appeared to be one of the worst examples of “a guy in a suit” aliens I had ever seen and Sy Snootles exaggerated snout terminating in Rocky Horror Picture Show lips seemed more at home in a B-movie than a George Lucas production!   The only saving grace of the Max Rebo Band came in the form of the Ewoks.  Somehow everything that was wrong with this musical trio was softened by the unforgivable presence of a living Soft Toys Department on the forest moon of Endor!  By the third act of Return of the Jedi, and through subsequent screenings, the little blue guy really started growing on me.

Part of his appeal was a very clever design.  Even before images of the pre-production maquette were made public I could tell from the sculpt of the puppet used on set that Max Rebo was designed to be one of the more alien of the aliens in the Palace.  One of the reasons a puppet was used rather than an actor in a costume was to allow for a non-humanoid creature to be working the keys of the Red Ball organ for Jabba’s listening pleasure.  It was obvious to me from the shape and placement of the character’s “arms” that they were in fact more akin to legs.  While it seemed unlikely at the time that the musician would ever become part of the Kenner Star Wars toy line of the day, given unwieldy size of his principle accessory – his organ, it was no less exciting to imagine that there would be a uniquely proportioned action figure in the series.  But alas this was not to be the case.

Whether by gross misinterpretation of what was presented on screen or out of the necessities of 80s manufacturing processes, the toy company determined that Max Rebo have a stout body from which a pair of legs, complete with bare feet with toes that mimicked his suction cup fingertips, would protrude from a loin cloth covering his alien shame.  Initially I was more than a little disappointed with this adaptation.  Making the elephant-like keyboardist humanoid robbed him of much of his mystique after all!  That his instrument of choice helped disguise this artistic license was of little consequence to me at the time.  It would take years to simply accept this rethinking of the character’s design and enjoy the fact that a means to get him and his band immortalized in plastic was found, even if the approach was personally unappealing.  Besides, over a decade later there was hope that Kenner would have a second chance to get it right.

After an absence of about ten years from toy store shelves, Star Wars returned to fulfill my collecting needs in the form of the Power of the Force line in 1995.  Initial offerings seemed to meld the artistic sensibilities of Masters of the Universe with the designs of the Star Wars saga, much to the disappointment of fans everywhere.  In time, however, Hasbro (now exerting their name over that of their acquisition, Kenner) came to their senses and mandated sculpts more in keeping with the on-screen look and feel of characters.  While the Max Rebo Band would be a long while coming to the resurrected line, but when it arrived any hope of a movie accurate band leader were again dashed.  Taking their cues too heavily from the vintage line, they simply remade a superior version of the original, right down to the loin cloth (which was at least painted this time).  To make matters worse for the cinematic concept of this character, the so-called Expanded Universe took hold of the toy design and folded into the visual canon via Dark Horse Comics publications and illustrations in guide books.

Now identified as an Ortolan, Max and his requisite species were given the Kenner design for reference purposes and the inaccurate design was given precedence in the greater Star Wars universe.  This is where the hate side of the relationship comes heavily into play.  It was forgivable in the 80s for Max to have legs out of manufacturing necessity.  Though less so, some grace could be given to the Hasbro incarnation as a tribute to the original toy, though they were undoubtedly forced by Lucasfilm to use the CG version of Sy Snootles over the original puppet design, so a tribute seems less likely.  In fact, to date, only Gentle Giant Studios’ various incarnations of the character in statue and mini-bust form seem to illustrate some grasp of the unique physical anatomy of the character.  Otherwise the design put forth by Kenner all those years ago, while obviously wrong, has become the go to version.

But why all of this contention over a 30 year old background puppet character?  Apart from the fact that the dichotomy of Max Rebo’s suggested form and that taken on in collectibles and adopted into the Expanded Universe having been contentious in my thoughts for decades, I recently stumbled upon an article that showed I was not alone in my thinking.  You can read the inspiration for my own article here and perhaps gain a better understanding of what set me off on chronicling my own long standing doubts about the depiction of the bright blue musician.   My sincere thanks to Pablo Hidalgo for penning that article and subsequently inspiring mine.  Getting a bit of this off my chest as it were has proven cathartic and helped elevate poor Max to a higher place in the Star Wars pantheon. 

At the conclusion of Mr. Hidalgo’s article an illustration of Max Rebo ambulating is included as well as a suggestion that the characters ears might in fact be more akin to forelimbs.  In the spirit of that drawing, and inspired by the aforementioned suggestion, I took it upon myself to illustrate the skeletal anatomy of Max Rebo taking the “flipper” concept into account.

There is More to JediCole Than Star Wars

No, really! For one thing there actually was a time when there was no Star Wars. In those pre-Saga days my first love was dinosaurs. A love that exists to this day. I cut my teeth on classic dinosaur cinema from oversized monitor lizards sporting prosthetic sail fins to animated fare from greats like Willis O’Brian (King Kong) and Ray Harryhausen (Valley of Gwangi). And then there were the dinosaur figurines of my youth. The best were produced by Marx and came in various colors from flat “hospital green” to vivid “screaming yellow”. So you can imagine my thrill as an adult when Michael Chrichton’s Jurassic Park was adapted to the big screen with the best dinosaurs in cinema history!

And then there were comics nearly as far back as I can remember. The earliest “collection” was a big grocery bag full of assorted comic books a babysitter once gave myself and my brothers to keep us busy. It was probably the best possible tactic to dealing with three young boys as I suspect we were far too enthralled in our new four color library to be the least bit of trouble. These were the days of reading a comic over and over until it finally fell apart from use. The days of piling your collection into a red wagon to take to a friend’s house to swap for some of their comics. The days when 7-11 was your comic book shop. And a comic did not garner the same price as a fast food meal! Damn I am sounding like an old geezer!

Growing up we also had G.I. Joes. Back when a G.I. Joe stood a masculine 12” in height, wore durable cloth uniforms and gear, sported a fuzzy cropped hairdo and beard, and sometimes a Kung-Fu grip. The Action Team were outfitted with an array of military ordinance and vehicles that were often beyond cool. We used to make parachutes and hammocks for our Joes out of old sheets and spend countless hours in the backyard leading them on dangerous missions.

Of course there was that fateful summer of 1977 when Star Wars exploded onto an unsuspecting movie-going public and subsequently changed everything. Especially for me. But that is just a brief mention in keeping with the chronology of things. But this is not an article about the influence that movie (and those that followed) had on me and who I am today. So we shall just move along now.

After Return of the Jedi had come and gone from the theatres and some years later when there were no longer any toys to be had I went back to my roots. I discovered the new smaller G.I. Joes that took their cues from the scale of the Star Wars toys. And about the same time I discovered Kenner’s Super Powers action figure line. Martian Manhunter was my first Super Powers figure and Snowjob the first Joe I purchased. For several years these lines filled in a major gap in my collecting life during the years when there were not Star Wars figures on the market.

My taste in films also goes well outside the realm and genre of Star Wars. My personal collection of home video is a testament to that diversity. The titles range from art film to pointless fun movies that have no technical merit whatsoever. David Lynch’s The Elephant Man shares a shelf with the bizarre Japanese movie Infra-Man. There are James Bond films, movies from the Thin Man series, several Akira Kurosawa masterpieces, and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure!

While I no longer actively collect comics, I was an avid collector for many years. I maintain a healthy library of trade papberbacks and other collected editions featuring story arcs from Superman titles, groundbreaking titles like Watchmen, Marvels, and Crisis on Infinite Earths, and even a Sam & Max collection.

Then there are the “books without pictures” (a.k.a. novels) that grace the shelves. Nearly every Michael Chrichton novel, every Tarzan and John Carter Warlord of Mars book, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy saga and a number of other individual works by a variety of other authors. Not to mention a number of “making of” and “art of” books on certain movies, the Life in Hell series of cartoon books, and my personal reference library.

Finally I would point out my lengthy podcasting career. Granted it did have its origins in a Star Wars vein (VaderCast), but since then I have been a co-host on Amazing Comicast, United States of Geekdom, and the soon to be released Super Geek-Out. It is within these pursuits that I have really been able to explore just how varied the aspects of my fandom have been over the years. And in the process I have discovered so much more that appeals to me. While Star Wars has been a major part of who I am for over three decades, it does not (apart from my moniker) define me.

The purpose of revealing all of this about myself is to illustrate that, like me, this site is not strictly about Star Wars. Needless to say there will be Star Wars related content, but that is not my sole purpose in creating this web page. Hence the name, The JediCole Universe. As time goes on you will find that this particular universe has many facets that each become little worlds of their own. You will find informative articles, witty larks, engaging interviews, and anything else that crosses my infamous Ever-Ticking Brain!

JediCole Houston
Jedi at Large -

Yeah, I know it is still mostly Star Wars.