Thanks to the official art book for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, we got a glimpse into the visual development process of fan-favorite character Babu Frik (voiced by Harry Potter vet Shirley Henderson). Now Empire brings us some fresh intel on how the fate of the diminutive, Kijimi-based droidsmith may have been decided by one of Hollywood's most legendary directors.
“It could be a rumour, but I believe J.J. [Abrams, director and co-writer] screened the movie for Steven Spielberg, and at the end Spielberg said, ‘What happened to Babu?’” Neal Scanlan, creature and droid effects creative supervisor at Lucasfilm, told the magazine for its upcoming issue. “Everybody thought, ‘Oh God, what did happen to Babu?’”
Spielberg's alleged reaction sounds pretty genuine, don't you think? After making E.T., the guy is a definitive authority on how to handle adorable cinematic aliens. Moreover, as a producer on Gremlins, he overruled the idea of Gizmo becoming Stripe within the first 20 minutes. He insisted that the lil' fuzzball should stick around as Billy Peltzer's sidekick for the rest of the movie, and the rest is history. The celebrated filmmaker has an almost prophetic sense of how audiences will latch onto certain characters, and his insticts were, once again, right on the Beskar when it came to Babu Frik.
When the First Order destroys Kijimi with one of their Death Star-equipped vessels, we're meant to believe that Babu and Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) have perished. According to concept artist Ivan Manzella, Frick was originally supposed to die before the production rescued him for the final battle on Exegol, where he delivers a joyful little "Hey! Hey!" from inside the cockpit of Zorii's ship. Even Henderson reportedly admitted her surprise at the pint-sized alien's survival, which was grafted onto the climax via a trove of Frik-related content that was shot but not used in the final cut.
“We shot several other sequences,” Scanlan explained. “The ILM guys found one, lifted out Babu and put him into Zorii’s ship at the end."
If you go back and watch the scene with this knowledge, you can kind of tell that his little pop-up moment was made by a computer. Gotta love movie magic, folks!
Naturally, there's also been a friendly cuteness competition between the makers of Babu Frik and Legacy Effects, the makers of Baby Yoda on The Mandalorian.
"I can't help but enjoy the fan debate over who ranks highest," Scanlan said. "With a slightly self-satisfied smile on my face, I think Babu is slightly higher."
"Baby Yoda is cuter, but he's designed to be super cute," Manzella offered. "I could have made Babu super cute, but he was always ugly cute. It would be nice to see him evolve in other things—maybe 'The Baby Yoda and Babu Frik Show.' Your move, Disney ..."
Empire Magazine's latest issue goes on sale this Thursday, April 16. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now available for purchase on digital platforms.