Star Wars Mysteries: Getting to the Bottom of Max Rebo

Pablo Hidalgo | February 20, 2013
Star Wars Mysteries: Getting to the Bottom of Max Rebo
Not since Lapti Nek will Max Rebo fans have their worlds rocked this hard. A few months back, ace illustrator Brandon Bird reached out to me via the magic of the Internet to back up his contention concerning Max Rebo, about something most people don’t know about the elephantine keyboardist. Referencing an online article about the action figure incarnation of Max, Brandon insisted that Max was never ever supposed to have legs. And you know what, he’s absolutely right.
[action figure picture]
This diapered humanoid is how Kenner extrapolated the body of Max Rebo in 1983 for his first toy. It was created with the assumption that he’s sitting at the center of his keyboard. Since that time, the Expanded Universe has run with the idea that that Max has legs. The Ortolan species (which was established by Troy Denning in 1989’s Galaxy Guide 4: Alien Species) has two legs and two arms. But that was never the intent of Max’s original designers.
[Ortoloan artwork]
Below is the maquette that Phil Tippett created for Max to first define the alien. In this early incarnation, he was known as Red Ball Jett. Look at the shape of those limbs. Those are legs. They terminate not at shoulders, but rather to large muscles at Max’s base that look like a gluteus maximus. A butt, if I may be so bold.
Schematic artwork defining how Max could possibly work made it clear he doesn’t have shoulders. The limbs begin at the base. Note though, in the final film the number of performers inside Max changed to just one.
Max doesn’t have shoulders. Those limbs begin at his base.
Then, when we look at some of the schematic art for the creature, the idea
But the real clincher is this blueprint for the keyboard — called the Red Ball Jett organ. Yes, it was built as a donut-shaped instrument because the filmmaking reality necessitated that the performer sit inside. But looking at the callouts in the blueprint, the “ring” that surrounds Max’s non-existent trunk is described as a cushion. It was meant to be a pillow that Max is sitting on, not a
Of course, when the creature was created, it was hard not to see the limbs as arms, because that is what was needed to drive the performance. The peculiar hinging of the limbs – the upward slant of femurs to knee to shins instead became lateral slants of humerus to elbow to forearms. The skinflaps remained. And yes, I can understand why an artist would interpret them as arms.
But that wasn’t how Max was designed.

Not since “Lapti Nek” will Max Rebo fans have their worlds rocked this hard. A few months back, ace illustrator Brandon Bird reached out to me via the magic of the Internet to back up a certain contention regarding Max Rebo, concerning something most people don’t know about the elephantine keyboardist. Referencing an online article about the action figure incarnation of Max, Brandon insisted that Max was never ever supposed to have humanoid legs. And you know what, he’s absolutely right.

Max's legs -- the blue elephant in the room.

Max's legs -- the blue elephant in the room.

This diapered humanoid is how Kenner extrapolated the body of Max Rebo in 1984 for his first toy. It was created with the assumption that he’s sitting at the center of his keyboard. Since that time, the Expanded Universe has run with the idea that that Max has humanoid legs. The Ortolan species (which was established by Troy Denning in 1989’s Galaxy Guide 4: Alien Species) has two legs and two arms. This version of the Ortolan continues in the Expanded Universe to this day. Here’s an illustration by Chris Trevas from The New Essential Guide to Aliens (2006).

Has legs, knows how to use them.

Has legs, knows how to use them.

But that was never the intent of Max’s original designers.

The Red Ball Jett maquette.

The Red Ball Jett maquette.

This  is the maquette that Phil Tippett created for Max to first define the alien. In this early incarnation, he was known as monster #21, named Red Ball Jett. Look at the shape of those limbs. Those are legs, not arms. They terminate not at shoulders, but rather to large muscles at Max’s base that look like a gluteus maximus. A butt, if I may be so bold.

What's inside Max.

What

Schematic artwork defining how Max could possibly work made it clear he doesn’t have shoulders. The limbs begin at the base. This early plan was to have two performers crammed inside Max. This eventually changed to a single performer inside.

Maquette and cutaway illustration for a single performer.

Maquette and cutaway illustration for a single performer.

Uncredited doodle, showing Max's range of motion and how a performer would stand inside.

Uncredited doodle, showing Max

Having a single person inside the finished costume affected the performance. When no one is in the Max costume, the limbs bend in such a way to resemble legs. When someone is in it, the legs can’t help but change shape to resemble arms, because arms are being used to operate them. The peculiar hinging of the limbs — the upward slant of femurs to knee to shins — instead became lateral slants of humerus to elbow to forearms.

Here they look like legs...

Here they look like legs...

Here they look like arms.

Here they look like arms.

Look at these concept pieces by Production Designer Norman Reynolds, determining what the keyboard would look like. Those are legs.

max009

max010

The real clincher in the argument against Max having humanoid legs is this blueprint for the keyboard that was published in The Art of Return of the Jedi (1983).  Yes, it was built as a donut-shaped instrument because the filmmaking reality necessitated that the performer fit inside. But looking at the callouts in the blueprint, the “ring” that surrounds Max’s non-existent waist is described as a cushion. It was meant to be a pillow that Max is sitting on, not a padded collar that cuffs his midsection.

The Smoking Blueprint

Behold, The Smoking Blueprint

To quote:

Eliptical [sic] cushion with opening for the operator standing through the middle — cushion to apear [sic] squashed in the middle.

It appears squashed because Max is supposed to be sitting on it, not through it.

Ladies and gentlemen of Jabba's court, I rest my case.

Ladies and gentlemen of Jabba’s court, I rest my case.

UPDATE: This post prompted a friend of Brandon’s to notice that Max’s “ears” in the maquette really resemble flippers. I was so fascinated by this idea, I sketched it out on a whiteboard. Amazing how it changes your view of a character you thought you knew.

Will the real Max stand up?

Will the real Max stand up?

Pablo Hidalgo is paid to know the difference between Romba and Lumat and dies a little bit inside when you misspell Wookiee or Lucasfilm. He lives in San Francisco and also on Twitter as @infinata.

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