Prologue: On Jabba the Hutt and Pizza the Hut

(Edit: This post is dedicated to Tristan, Sage, and Llew, without whom I might never have become a Jedi. To quote Tristan, “You spelled sarlacc wrong.”)

Evidently, the notorious gangster became locked in his car and ate himself to death.
-Spaceballs

While I continue my work on the Quantum-Botticelli Personality Test, I’m also working up a post about modern comedy; this is the prologue, inspired by re-watching Spaceballs last night.

Who, exactly, is Jabba the Hutt? He is, in Star Wars, the embodiment of everything human that technology cannot successfully erase — an ancient and stubborn nexus of atavisms. In a galaxy seemingly ruled by an Emperor with absolute power, Jabba is a reasonably powerful gangster who answers to no-one. He represents primitive violence: his name suggests “jabbing,” and in fact his cronies use ancient weapons and jab with them. He is also a “jabberer,” who makes a hash of an increasingly interconnected galaxy (i.e. a global culture and economy) by speaking in strange, backward tongues. Not only does he require subtitles, but so does Greedo and everybody else around him (the weird imp he keeps as a pet speaks pure gibberish).

Jabba proves that the Force is not an ancient, harmonizing, natural element, but rather a mystification of technological power. Remember that Yoda demonstrates his mastery of the Force by lifting Luke’s spaceship out of the (blatantly symbolic) swamp. Jabba the jabberer resists the universalization of discourse and culture, unlike his translator: “Your tricks will not work on me, boy.” Here he is not only speaking as a “backward” citizen, but also as that part of the psyche that resists being colonized by language or tamed by rationality. Luke defeats Jabba by having a robot lob a technological marvel at him (his lightsaber). Still, there is always the risk that technology gone astray will lose its foothold, and be swallowed up again, in a disgusting regression: Boba Fett being swallowed by the huge mouth of Sarlak.

Jabba also represents the body at its most disgusting (you don’t have to be a toddler to think that Hutt = Butt, but plenty of the people watching Star Wars are). Jabba lives in the bowels of an underground fortress, and forces Luke to defeat the Rancor. The Rancor is not only “wrath” (to go along with “Greedo” and the slaves kept as objects of “lust”) but also, with apologies to Dogma, a shit monster. Jabba is, in a way, the embodiment of waste: he lives on a planet of desert wastes, profits by usury, and enjoys to excess. Thus he represents a slew of infantilisms that Luke must overcome/repress, sinful tendencies that inhabit the unconscious together with objects of repressed guilt (the frozen Solo). Luke has to overcome the deep stains of a planet called, naturally, Tattooine.

In Spaceballs, Mel Brooks satirizes all this by rejecting Lucas’s binary of the appetites, on the one hand, and industrial light and magic on the other. We have entered the age of fast food and home video (at one point, characters actually watch a VHS cassette of Spaceballs). Instead of sequestering Jabba, Brooks turns him into an advertisement for takeout: Pizza the Hut. (In case we missed the point, he promises to kill the hero by “placing an order” for him.) Jabba’s sidekick now looks like Max Headroom and wears Kanye glasses. Instead of a face-to-face encounter, we only see Pizza on a series of television screens. He is drippy and disgusting (what are we excreting? turns into what are we EATING?) and, toward the end of the movie, he eats himself to death in a consumer frenzy.

Of course, faced with the degradation of industrial food, we begin to believe that healthier foods possess magical qualities, and can save us from being digested alive by Fast Food Nation. That is why the heroes in Spaceballs must seek the wisdom and protection of Yogurt, and must prostrate themselves before an enormous statue of Yogurt. But this means that Yogurt actually gets its power from Pizza, which is why Yogurt is living in Jabba’s old quarters, and why his ring of power comes from a Cracker Jacks box. It is from within this stronghold that Yogurt reveals how the Force evolved into the Schwartz: merchandising, merchandising, merchandising.

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