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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

ROTJ AT 30: DANCING QUEEN! A TRIBUTE TO OOLA



By Scott Weller and Kenneth Chiu

Despite spending a year and a half working on a special issue of RETURN OF THE JEDI in time of publication for its then 2007 publication, and after hours of scanning and collecting and checking info, I’m annoyed to say there was something I didn’t go into as much detail on as I think, in retrospect, I should have done. Not a something, more of a someone. A someone who isn’t mentioned in as much of the copy as she should have been-and I don’t know how I missed her: Jabba’s slave girl/dancer Oola, as played by the talented Femi Taylor. Perhaps her large omission from the copy was due to the fact that so many of her scenes are in the SPECIAL EDITION of RETURN OF THE JEDI, which we haven’t covered –the tribute issue being strictly dedicated to the pure original 1983 version of the movie- and this may have unconsciously hindered my judgment in this instance. So, my apologies to all you Oola fans out there who appreciate the late green skinned alien dancer- a brave soul who met a sad, ignonimous end as an entrée on the Rancor’s dinner menu. 

We’ve obviously covered a bit on Miss Taylor/Oola in our pages of behind the scenes material anyway, but we could have done a lot more about her (though readers, don’t despair, there’s still plenty to read in our 572 page MAKING OF issue that will more than compensate for some of the missing info). With this blog, however, I intend to restore some of the balance regarding the character.

So, with additional thanks to one of the world’s greatest Oola fans, Kenneth Chiu, here’s some excellent extra info compiled that we wanted to let you all know about…


1.  For the role of Oola, whose final image wasn't locked in yet at Pre-Production, Lucas and Marquand decided that they needed a black actress to play her, due to possible color issues when applying the makeup.  Femi's agent was asked that the actress show up in a swimsuit, which she did, and was asked to move/walk.  She recognized the director, Richard Marquand, as a family friend and talked to him later on, re-introducing herself.  When she passed the first audition, she was then invited to a grueling dance audition with then choreographer Anthony Von Last.  She was told she won the role as she gave him a ride.

2.  Her brother Benedict was the one who gave Femi's contact info for the Special Edition.  She was in San Francisco
 when she was called.  Her brother had worked with Rick McCallum and was a good friend through working with him on Young Indiana Jones.

3.  Initially, plans were for Femi to go to California to stay during filming, but Femi preferred to stay in London
.  As a result, they took a face casting of her face to show to Lucas.  Rumour was that an entire body cast was done.  At least, it was done for Claire Davenport also, so that Lucas could have an idea of their body shapes.  Make-up tests were done as well as the head tail fitting with Stuart Freeborn in attendance to receive feedback to how green and alien the character was supposed to be. The green paint took about three to four hours to apply on her first appearance because they had to put the paint on her in layers and wait each time for it to dry. The leash she was attached to on Jabba was twenty foot long and she was occasionally almost strangled by it! For the Special Edition the make up took longer as they were using a different paint that came off more easily. In between takes she could not lie down or move.

4.  During filming, she would have chitchats with Claire Davenport, Anthony Daniels, and Mark Hamill.  Also, possibly something more with Billy Dee Williams.

5.  She volunteered to do her own stunts.  Originally, a stuntwoman was to be painted green, but because she was capable of doing the stunt, body harnesses were to be used.  For the close-up, she would fall to the ground.  From behind, she would jump off a box into the hole and crouch down as the throne was rolled over the hole.  A thing to note was that she hit the side of the trap with her right arm. Fourteen years later, Femi would again perform her own stunts by falling into the recreated Rancor Pit using gymnastics training she took when she was younger.

6.  Richard Marquand pushed for a stronger identity for Oola, who did not have a name in the script and was named during filming.  He originally showed Femi storyboards of Oola escaping, getting captured, and then facing her fate in the Rancor Pit. A large portion of her dance sequence was dropped during editing.  This can be seen in the Lapti Nek music video.  (Footage can still be seen in Youtube). Oola also had some dialogue that was cut out from the film, whilst a scene where Jabba was licking his lips, keenly anticipating her final fate, was apparently toned down by a concerned Lucasfilm during the editing stages.

7. Parts of the original choreography by Anthony Von Last were shown in David Tomblin’s Return of the Ewok film for Warwick Davis, where two other dancers in the movie were given dance roles.  Evidently, more dancers were involved before they decided it would be just Oola dancing.  Evidently, the original choreographer did the dance auditions for Oola (of which Femi found out she won the role when she gave him a ride).  The choreography was handed to Gillian Gregory.

8. Femi Taylor did perform a dance sequence for the Special Edition in front of the other dancers and actors, but the dance was not used due to problems with the head tails slapping her when she did her turns.  She was to twirl, step, and then twirl in the opposite direction.  This can be seen in the MTV Star Wars Special Edition documentary.  Evidently, Lucas did not hire a choreographer this time and suggested the dance to Femi.  Originally, they had her struggle in front of the blue screen and stand up from a kneeling position. Rick McCallum suggested they follow Oola through to the pit.  As a result, they asked Femi to stay longer and built up a re-creation of the Rancor Pit for her to roll down into.



Don't forget, our immense AFICIONADO issue dedicated to the making of JEDI is still available on PDF, here: STAR WARS AFICIONADO ISSUE 14 - THE MAKING OF "RETURN OF THE JEDI"



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