As a member of The Companion, you’re supporting original writing and podcasting, for sci-fi fans, by sci-fi fans, and totally free of advertising and clickbait.
The cost of your membership has allowed us to mentor new writers and allowed us to reflect the diversity of voices within fandom. None of this is possible without you. Thank you. 🙂
Before the arrival of Jar Jar Binks and friends in The Phantom Menace (1999), Return of the Jedi (1983) was usually considered the most childish of the Star Wars films.
Unlike the Harry Potter saga which attempted to “grow” with its audience, Star Wars never stopped trying to recruit new young fans. The downside of this was that by the time the Ewoks and other child-friendly characters arrived in 1983, the children of the New Hope era of 1977 had grown into cynical teenagers. And, whether fictional or not, many were still moaning about this by the time they were in their twenties and thirties. “What about the Ewoks eh? They were rubbish. You don’t complain about them!” comic shop owner Bilbo (Bill Bailey) points out to Tim (Simon Pegg) after he’s complained about The Phantom Menace once too often in Spaced (1999-2001). Similarly, “All Jedi had was a bunch of Muppets,” muses Dante (Brian O’Halloran) in Kevin Smith’s cult classic, Clerks (1994).
But this was unfair. While undeniably childish in parts, much of Return of the Jedi is surprisingly risqué. The opening scenes set in Jabba the Hutt’s Palace are the sleaziest in any of the Star Wars films. Often Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and her golden bikini are unfairly blamed for this. In reality, Jabba himself is by far the worst offender here: he is completely naked (and enormously phallic) throughout all his scenes. Looking back, it seems amazing in today’s environment that nobody was bold enough to approach Jabba on set and suggest he put some clothes on.
The sense of weirdness is enhanced by the appearance of today’s subject, Malakili, keeper of Pateesa, the terrifying rancor which lived in Jabba the Hutt’s basement/dungeon. Bare-chested and partly hooded, Malakili looked like the missing link between Star Wars and world of Emperor Caligula.
This article is here to support Databank Dive Episode 4, in which ForceCenter’s Joseph Scrimshaw and Ken Napzok have a ton of fun discussing the same subject.
Give it a listen here 🎙️
Shadow of the Beast
Malakili’s big moment isn’t quite ‘blink and you’ll miss it” but it’s pretty close.
To quickly recap, by the early stages of Return of the Jedi pretty much everyone has been captured by the forces of Jabba. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is encased in carbonite like the world’s least practical desk top, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) has been requisitioned for translation duties (which, tbf, is his actual job) while Leia is effectively being forced to embark upon an adult modeling career.
It is thus left to Luke (Mark Hamill) to rescue everyone and save the day, a plan which is threatened when he falls through one of Jabba’s trapdoors into the lair of the Rancor, a formidable monster described by its real-life creators as “a cross between a bear and a potato.” The beast soon kills a Gamorrean guard, one of the orc-like warriors who tumbles into the monster’s domain with Luke by mistake. Luke himself, however, proves a different matter and manages to dispatch the Rancor speedily by squashing his head under a giant portcullis.
It is only at this point that we meet Malakili who we see rushing to the scene following the Rancor’s demise. He is undeniably a tough-looking character. Were you ever unlucky enough to find yourself sentenced to be tortured to death for committing an act of treason against King Richard II in 1394, Malakil’s exactly the sort of man you might find assigned to cheerfully carry out the job.
Malakili nevertheless quickly reveals his vulnerable side. On seeing the dead monster, he immediately bursts into tears.
See also: Star Wars | Monkey See, Monkey Shoot: Celebrating Rogue One’s Bistan by Chris Hallam
Absence of Rancor
Poor old Malakili!
Although to be fair, we know very little about the man at this point. Neither he nor the Rancor were specifically named in the film (he was listed only as ‘human rancor keeper’) and neither British actor, Paul Brooke, who played him nor Ernie Fosselius who supplied his sobs was credited in the film. Brooke, was in fact, a familiar presence on British TV and film screens until his retirement in 2009 appearing in Bridget Jones’ Diary and the 2004 Jude Law version of Alfie on the big screen, and on the small screen… well, everything.
Peering down his IMDb profile, honestly, the biggest surprise is that he hasn’t done an episode of Doctor Who – although he did appear in the 1996 radio serial The Ghosts of N-Space. He’s one of those actors.
But why is he crying? Is he genuinely upset that an animal he has grown to love and care for is dead, or is he worried he’ll be for the chop now his usefulness to Jabba has ended? Does he have any involvement in the upkeep of the Sarlacc (which to be honest, is a fairly useless ambush predator) to or was the Rancor his only responsibility? Does he perhaps sense, intuitively, that Jabba’s reign of terror is coming to an end and as such is experiencing a moment of existential crisis? Is it an allergy from the thick layer of dust in the lower levels of the palace? Or is he just an emotional character, easily moved to tears?
The Making of Malakili
Happily, Return of the Jedi was literally half a lifetime ago now and a fair amount of back story has been created for Malakili in the years since. As is so often the case, the trail leads to Kevin J. Anderson and Bantam Books. Anderson both edited the anthology Tales from Jabba’s Palace (1995) and wrote its opening story, ‘A Boy and His Monster: The Rancor Keeper’s Tale’.
We know that he was a human from the planet Corellia who developed a genuine affinity with Pateesa the Rancor after working in Jabba’s circuses. He is reported to have been sold into slavery at one point after accidentally allowing one of the beasts to escape, an error that had fatal consequences for certain audience members.
Although devastated by Pateesa’s death, the fall of the House of Jabba does not seem to have marked the end for Malakili who after various ups and downs helped assist Freetown in its battles with the Red Key Raiders, a collection of bandits who emerged after Jabba’s fall. Ultimately, he seems to have ended his days running the Crystal Moon Restaurant at Mos Eisley with Porcellus, the former head chef of Jabba’s Palace.
In truth, it is not inconceivable that Malakili might yet turn up for a cameo appearance in the new series of The Book of Boba Fett, given the new series’ post-Return of the Jedi setting. But ultimately it is just nice to reflect on the idea of an aging Malakili, busy taking orders but not so busy that he cannot occasionally cast an eye on his contented gorging customers and pause to remember a dear old friend: Pateesa, the semi-sentient reptilian Rancor of Tatooine who took such simple and innocent pleasure in eating people alive.
Star Wars | How Temuera Morrison Reclaimed Boba Fett (And Made Him Māori)
Star Wars | Ben Solo’s Redemption and the Dark Sider’s Path Home
Chris Hallam is a published author and freelance writer based in Exeter. In the past, he has written for magazines such as DVD Monthly and Geeky Monkey. He provided all the written content for the Star Wars Clone Wars and Smurfs annuals for 2014, and the Transformers annual 2015. He continues to write for Yours Retro, Best of British, and The History of Comics, 1930-2030.