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SYFY WIRE Lucasfilm

'Light & Magic' panel lights up Star Wars Celebration with stories about ILM's early days

Including the not-so-salacious story behind how Jabba's little buddy got his name.

By Vanessa Armstrong
Light & Magic Season 1 Episode 1

The Millennium Falcon owes part of its design to the dirty dishes in Joe Johnston's sink.

Johnston, who was one of Industrial Light & Magic's first employees, was tasked with redesigning Han Solo's ship after the original design was too familiar to the one in the contemporary show Space 1999, and Lucas tasked Johnston to come up with a new design fast.

"I was feeling a little bit of pressure, and I went home and was sitting there at two in the morning ... and I'm looking in the kitchen and there was a stack of dishes that seemed to have always been there," Johnston said during today's the Light & Magic panel at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, attended by SYFY WIRE. "And I was thinking, if you took a plate here and put another exactly like it on top, that's sort of like a flying saucer. But if you put engines in the back, that implies it's going to go that way and if you put a cockpit in front, well that gives it a nose."

Johnston drew up a few drawings based on the original inspiration, one of which ultimately became the Millennium Falcon, although Lucas moved the cockpit to the side rather than being up front.

Light & Magic Season 1 Episode 3

This anecdote was only one from the panel on the upcoming Light & Magic series, a six-part documentary that sheds light on the workings of Lucasfilm's special visual effects division, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). The series, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, explores what inspired the filmmakers who worked with the VFX shop, and follows their stories from their earliest personal films to bringing George Lucas’ vision to life.

Johnston shared the SWC stage with Light & Magic executive producer Ron Howard and Lucasfilm executive Lynwen Brennan, as well as his fellow VFX powerhouses Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, and OG ILM employee Rose Duignan. Kasdan also joined virtually, as he unfortunately had a positive COVID test right before heading out for the event. 

The panelists also took part in a press conference that SYFY WIRE attended with a few other select outlets. During that discussion, Tippett shared how another Star Wars character ultimately got his name. (In the larger panel, Tippett shared that the figurine that became Akbar was nicknamed Calamari Man before Lucas anointed him as the Rebel General). According to Tippett, Jabba's little buddy Salacious B. Crumb got his name when he and a colleague got Mexican food for lunch one day and had a few too many beers. "My tennis shoes were untied, and I leaned down to tie them and kept saying, 'My shoolaces! My shoolaces!'" Lucas apparently heard the story and used that as the inspiration for Salacious' name. 

These stories tease what drew Kasdan and Howard to create the docuseries in the first place. "I've been around these movies for a long time," Kasdan said during the larger event on Celebration Stage. "I've known some of these people in that time, but I never in 40 years really understood how it happens. What I did know, is that ILM is a house of geniuses, and somehow George Lucas had the vision to bring these people together." 

You can learn more about ILM's early days as well as get a behind-the-scenes look at their work on films over the decades when the six-part docuseries from Imagine Documentaries and Lucasfilm premieres exclusively on Disney+ on July 27.

Looking for more sci-fi TV? Check out shows like Resident Alien, Brave New World, Project Blue Book, Eureka, Heroes, Intergalactic, and more streaming now on Peacock. Looking ahead, SYFY has new series The Ark in the works from original Stargate film writer/producer Dean Devlin, as well as Stargate SG-1 producer Jonathan Glassner.