For many Star Wars fans, The Rise of Skywalker lives and dies by its unexpected breakout character, the teeny-tiny droidsmith known as Babu Frik. The character (voiced by Harry Potter's Shirley Henderson) proves instrumental in helping our heroes locate the Sith wayfinder, but before he was hacking into C-3PO's head, Babu was in the food-service industry.
According to The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (on sale next week), an early idea called for the story's protagonists to cross paths with an 18-inch alien "directing traffic" in the "chaotic kitchen" of a galactic speakeasy. Sometime after that, the tiny creature was given the name of Babu Frik (tweaked from "Babu Zazi"), bumped down to 9 inches, and relegated to a species of creature "who, for generations, cleaned the engines of Star Destroyers due to their diminutive size." The plan was to have Frik be in possession of a "sabotage brick" that disables First Order technology, "but that turned out to not be right for this movie," co-screenwriter Chris Terrio says in the book.
"Babu Frik was a character that was kind of after my time," the art book's author, Phil Szostak, tells SYFY WIRE. As creative art manager at Lucasfilm, he was briefly a member of the movie's in-house production design team led by Lucasfilm's executive creative director, Doug Chiang.
"It was a character I didn’t really know too much about until I started seeing the art come in," Szostak adds, admitting that he began to learn a lot more about li'l Babu during interviews with Neal Scanlan (creature and droid effects creative supervisor) and Jake Lunt Davies (creature concept designer).
Before he found his pivotal place on Kijimi, Babu was nearly "a fortune teller-type character who was a signpost for our main characters — a way to get them to the next step," Szostak explains. In the book (pages 126-127, to be exact), you'll find a slew of unused concept art for the character, who could have ended up mole-like, a visual cousin of Dr. Seuss' the Lorax, or insectoid. On that last front, Szostak is glad his fellow Lucasfilm creatives kept brainstorming until they hit pay dirt.
"I think as cool as a little insect alien character would be, I don’t think it would be as relatable to the audience," he says. "Obviously, Babu Frik is so beloved and is such a joy onscreen that it’s really good that he evolved into what we got. I think he’s a much more relatable character than an insect would’ve been. It’s amazing how it’s hard to predict which characters are really gonna take hold and resonate with fans, and Babu Frik is definitely one of the big ones in The Rise of Skywalker."
Finally, Babu (at least as we know him) came into being when the aforementioned kitchen alien was blended with "a blind ship-builder of advanced years with a connection to Rey's youth as a scavenger on Jakku." Her cave-like home would have served as a refuge for the protagonists, but the unnamed character (introduced in late 2017) never made it into the finished product.
Babu's trademark hood and helmet came via Ivan Manzella, a creature concept designer and senior sculptor. Director/co-writer J.J. Abrams responded well to the image, and Frik's final look was simply refined from there.
When The Rise of Skywalker hit theaters last December, Babu Frik had reached his final form: a cute, small-statured droid maven with a cozy workshop on snowy Kijimi, who later shows up during the final battle on Exegol. As 3PO will try and tell you, the two of them go back a long time.
The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker goes on sale from Abrams Books on March 31. You can pre-order a copy for $40 right here.