“Oh, how nice of the-oh. Oh.”
Marvel’s Star Wars ongoing series, by Charles Soule, Ramon Rosanas, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Clayton Cowles, is currently embroiled in the War of the Bounty Hunters event, layers upon layers of crossover shenanigans as familiar faces old and more recent all battle to control the inanimate space-popsicle that is Han Solo after the events of The Empire Strikes Back. Qi’ra’s here, and the feelings are messy and complicated! Princess Leia is distraught! Luke Skywalker is filled with doubt over re-confronting his father! It’s all big and dramatic and jam packed with cameos, so far, so Star Wars.
Ignore all that. Do the Star Wars thing: Hyperfixate on a very minor but still deeply nerdy reference that is basically the foundation of all that is earnest, and so very silly, about the galaxy far, far away. Which means we’re going to ignore the parts of this week’s Star Wars #16 that’s all about those big, epic things, as Darth Vader, Qi’ra, Leia, and a zillion seedy criminals bid for ownership of the hit new holo-show Han Solo! On Ice! — and instead, we’re looking at the captain of the Son-Tuul Pride War Cruiser Dark Syndicate.
The captain of the Son-Tuul Pride War Cruiser Dark Syndicate, like all good Star Wars characters with a rich and obscure backstory, is in literally two panels of Star Wars #16. In what is kind of a dick move, all things considered, Luke uses the Dark Syndicate’s eagerness to pick a fight with the orbiting Imperial vessels attending the Crimson Dawn’s auction for Han as a distraction so he can bring his X-Wing down to the planet below. Hounded by TIEs, Luke dips his X-Wing close to the Dark Syndicate, hoping that enough missed shots from his foes on its hull will encourage the crew to join in and open fire on the Empire. Luke’s right, shenanigans ensue, and, well…
The Dark Syndicate is immediately blown up for the pleasure. Womp womp. But we’re not even here for that brief trolling on Luke’s behalf, but instead, for who the captain of the Dark Syndicate looks like. The shock of white sideburns in frazzled, jet black hair. The sizeable stature, the fur coat. This isn’t just some random background character who’s entire life gets snuffed out in a handful of panels. It’s… it’s Jabba the Hutt!
Sort of. Maybe, in another life. The Dark Syndicate’s captain is an homage to Declan Mulholland, the character actor who is best known to Star Wars fans as the man who once almost played Jabba the Hutt. While we know Jabba as the impressively puppeteered slug creature we meet in Return of the Jedi, when filming the first Star Wars, George Lucas couldn’t yet afford such an extravagant technological effort to bring Han’s debt collector to life.
Lucas shot a scene of Han being confronted outside the Millennium Falcon by “Jabba,” but instead of a slug, Jabba was just a human being: Mulholland, specifically, clad in the fur-lined coat we see in Star Wars #16’s panels above. The scene was ultimately cut, Lucas dissatisfied with the compromise, only to be dug up decades later and included in the Special Edition of Star Wars: A New Hope, with Mulholland replaced by a CG Jabba, complete with an unfortunately herky-jerky edit of Harrison Ford walking around what would’ve been behind Mulholland, but in the Special Editions, is now Han stepping on Jabba’s tail in the weirdest way possible.
And now, decades after Mulholland was erased from Star Wars history for a second time, he’s now back where he belongs with a place of his own in the galaxy. It lasted, like, two seconds before he was promptly erased from it yet again, sure, but now he’s a symbol of how deeply, nerdily silly a thing Star Wars can be.