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Star Wars | The Rise and Fall of Max Rebo

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Every legendary band has its golden moment: the exact point where everything came together perfectly. For The Beatles, it was Hamburg, 1962. For Oasis, it was undoubtedly Knebworth, August 1996. And for the Max Rebo Band, it was surely the palace of Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine around twelve minutes into Return of the Jedi (1983).

One can only imagine the heady atmosphere at the gig itself. Jabba’s days were numbered and many of those watching must have known it. Trawling through surviving footage of the trio performing today on Disney+ gives us some idea of what it must have been like to be there at the time. Despite this, some aspects of the performance have long been disputed. For many (typically those who watched the original version of the film), the performance was dominated by the band’s three core members: Max Rebo himself on keyboards, Droopy McCool on woodwind, and the irrepressible Sy Snootles on vocals. According to these accounts of the show, they sang a version of ‘Lapti Nek’, which translates from Huttese as “Work It Out.”

Others, particularly those who have watched the Return of the Jedi Special Edition released in 1997, tend to remember things differently. They recall a slightly larger line-up – 12 of them, including backing singers and dancers and other hangers-on – and a different song being performed, ‘Jedi Rocks’. To some, it might seem odd that the group selected the lair of Jabba the Hutt as the perfect venue to perform a song celebrating Jabba’s enemies. But Jabba’s time, as mentioned, was very nearly up. Perhaps the group just sensed which way the wind was blowing, or maybe there’s always been a streak of punk-rock rebelliousness to the group – a willingness to kick against the pricks/Hutts that we got only the slightest glimpse of.

All joking aside, the music the Max Rebo Band plays is officially defined as ‘jizz’ music, But there is nothing to say about that at all. Let us continue…

This article is here to support Databank Dive Episode 5, in which ForceCenter’s Joseph Scrimshaw and Ken Napzok have a ton of fun discussing the same subject.

Give it a listen here 🎙️

Rebo Rebo, Your Nose is a Trunk

What, then, do we know of enigmatic front-man, Max Rebo himself?

Well, we know he was a male Ortolan and was born the youngest of five siblings. He was born with the name ‘Siiruulian Phantele’ but at some point, this was changed. We do not know why. Perhaps ‘Max Rebo’ was deemed to be more commercial and less Ortolian-sounding? Perhaps there was already another artist named ‘Siiruulian Phantele’ performing? The truth remains a mystery one of many such surrounding the character. Some have noticed the name ‘Phantele’ is an anagram of the word, ‘elephant.’

At any rate, some points about Max’s life remain contentious. There seems to be general agreement that he spent much of his life in pursuit of food, often agreeing to be paid in food rather than money often to the consternation of his fellow bandmates. The bulk of this comes from the Kevin J. Anderson-helmed anthology Tales from Jabba’s Palace (1994) and the story ‘And the Band Played On: The Band’s Tale’ by John Gregory Betancourt, which has since been cast into the canonical trash can, so much about the Jizz-master’s life and character is up for debate.

It is unclear whether all of Rebo’s bandmates survived the violence which accompanied Jabba’s downfall. The band certainly did not, however: whether alive or not, they ceased performing together soon afterward. Optimistic accounts of Max’s life maintain that he ended his days on Coruscant, having set up his own successful chain of restaurants entitled Max’s Flanth House.

Rebo Rebo, Your Fingers are Blue

Music can often present a bit of a problem for anyone working in science fiction.

While, on the one hand, the genre has helped inspire some of the greatest soundtrack albums and scores ever produced, on the other, it’s very hard to know what sort of tunes the characters involved would actually be listening to themselves, particularly if the film is set either in some obscure alien society or in the future. The music legends of the 2030s are, after all, for the most part, today, still at school today. How can we possibly know what will be fashionable even in 2031 let alone 10191 (the setting for Dune) or 802701 (the era of the Morlocks and the Eloi in The Time Machine)?

Filmmakers have found a variety of solutions to this issue. Sometimes, for example, in a film set a few decades hence you’ll see a scene in which a DJ on a car radio announces he or she’s going to play some ‘golden oldie’ from the ‘recent past’ thus justifying the presence of a pop hit on the soundtrack which obviously hails from the year the movie was made. Very old music, meanwhile, also has a timeless quality hence why Stanley Kubrick includes so much classical music on the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Great visionary though he was, even Kubrick could not have been expected to foresee the actual music of the year 2001, which included the hits of Coldplay, Kylie, or Steps. Perhaps this was for the best. 

See also: Star Wars | Ben Solo’s Redemption and the Dark Sider’s Path Home by Gem Wheeler

Rebo Rebo, How Could They Know?

Of course, Star Wars isn’t set in the future or anywhere near the Earth at all. The franchise thus takes the boldest step of all: producing its own unique and distinctive brand of alien music. The greatest danger here is that the music might start to sound dated. This was the main reason given for updating the Max Rebo Band’s music in the Jedi Special Edition. Like many of the Special Edition changes, it remains contentious, with some repelled by Sy Snootles’ frenzied Tina Turner impression during the newer song, and the coke-addled bellowing of the band’s new hype-man Joh Yowza.

The Sny Snootles rod puppet was replaced by CGI contortions and nightmarish ruby red lips, but there in the background – rest of the core trio that we now think of as the Max Rebo Band’s ‘original line-up’ played on as they always did with minimal tweaking: McCool, the upright tardigrade with the flute-sax, and Rebo himself – a sort of crumbled blue bin bag wedged into a 360-degree organ, just as they should be.

The character of Max was played by Simon Williamson – who also played a Gamorrean guard, a Mon Calamari officer, and puppeteered Nien Nunb – who complained: “The main difficulty was that it made me deaf for a few days. As I couldn’t see I had to be given instructions by an earphone, but it got so tightly wedged into my ear that it affected my hearing for days after.”

In truth, we have probably not seen the last of Max Rebo. Keep your eyes peeled: he popped up in the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett and we could be seeing a lot more from him, especially if he gets wind of the sums paid on the festival circuit for ’80s reunions.

The music. The performer. The alien. The undisputed master of Jizz. The legend of Max Rebo will live on forever.

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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 RetroBest of British, and The History of Comics, 1930-2030.

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