Star Wars legend Phil Tippet demystifies Admiral Ackbar's name at Celebration Weekend

·3 min read
Phil Tippet
Phil Tippet

Special effects wizard and filmmaker Phil Tippet has been there since the beginning. After making revolutionary stop-motion characters for the original Star Wars trilogy, Tippet established himself as one of the best in the business, working on RoboCop, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Jurassic Park, and Starship Troopers. Not a bad run for a guy who helped name two of Star Wars’ weirdest characters, Admiral Ackbar and Salacious R. Crumb.

Tippet spoke with remarkable candor at Star Wars Celebration Weekend’s Light & Magic panel, revealing that George Lucas came up with names the way we always assumed: Jamming two very literal words together.” For example, “Sky” and “Walker.” Back when he was still Star Warsing, Lucas did as an Imperial recruiter would do in Solo decades later: Name it as he sees it.

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George Lucas loved options and would frequently ask special effects supervisors like Tippet to bring him different designs and characters. “On Return of the Jedi, George tasked me with getting a few sculptors together and work every week, making up little design maquettes. And so we would bring out our work on Friday, and George would look through them and go like, ‘Well, this yellow thing with the blue polka dots and the stilt legs, that’s the singer. The little blue guy with the flipper here is going to play the organ.’”

But when he came to something that looked like a fish-man, Lucas gave pause. “‘What’s this?’” Lucas asked Tippet. When Tippet told him it was a “calamari man,” Lucas responded, ‘Ok, well, that’s Admiral Ackbar.’”

“I had no idea who Admiral Ackbar was, but that’s what George would do. He would come up with these stupid names and act like he had names for things. It’s like, we’d tell him that we have this calamari man, and he’d come back with ‘Mon Calimarri.’”

Ackbar wasn’t the only one to get a name on the fly. At the press conference following the Light & Magic panel, Tippet finally revealed the origins of another character with a “stupid” name: Salacious R. Crumb.

“Disney’s gonna love this,” Tippet responded when asked if he had any other naming stories. According to Tippet, while working on Return Of The Jedi, the end of a very long run of naming aliens, “George wanted Jabba to have a little pal.” So after the design by Tony McVey was set, Tippet and several others went for some beers at a local Mexican restaurant.

“I realized my tennis shoes had come undone, and I bent over to tie them, and they were in a knot, and I kept saying, “My shoelaces, my soo-laces, my salacious.’ That’s the name of the character!” And that character turned out to be /Dexter Jettster/ Salacious Crumb.

So there you have it, not every Star Wars name can be an Unkarr Plutt or an Ariel Poof. Some happen because tying your shoes can be tricky.

Phil Tippet’s long-in-the-making Mad God hits Shudder on June 16. It’s the perfect way to thank the man in your life for naming Salacious Crumb.