With the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray now on sale, Entertainment Weekly is featuring five days of new behind-the-scenes stories from director J.J. Abrams. Here’s the final installment… A Star Wars whodunit, finally answered.
EPISODE V: WHO KILLED CONSTABLE ZUVIO?
First off, maybe he’s not actually dead. How can you kill someone who barely exists?
Whatever his fate in the Star Wars universe, Constable Zuvio was effectively exterminated in ours, with his disappearance becoming one of the most enduring real-life mysteries of The Force Awakens.
The character burst into the pop-culture consciousness as one of the alien creatures revealed last September during the merchandise bonanza known as Force Friday. There were Zuvio toys – not just the cheaper, kid-friendly action figure built for heavy-duty backyard play, but an elaborately rendered 6-inch Hasbro Black Series collectible for the serious Star Wars completists.
Then in November, with just a month left before the movie’s debut, a First Look photograph made its debut, showing a close-up of this saucer-helmeted lawman with the exceptionally angry eyes – flanked by two similar-looking deputies in the background. Zuvio had a posse.
The anticipation kept building: How would Constable Zuvio fit into the new saga? Was he aligned with the Resistance or the First Order – or did he have some separate agenda of his own? The possibilities for this galactic denizen seemed endless.
But the questions remain, for one simple reason…
Constable Zuvio wasn’t in the movie.
Like, at all.
At the holidays, the Star Wars aisle in any given store was a wasteland of empty hooks and barren shelves, with consumers voraciously snapping up nearly every plaything they could find. But often a small army of Zuvios – glaring fiercely from their packaging – was left behind to populate these desolate landscapes. Unwanted. Unnecessary. Unloved.
Now, the Blu-ray of The Force Awakens is out, but even that offers scant clues about who Constable Zuvio may have been. But redemption for the character is not far off. A new book of Star Wars fiction finally gives the lawman his moment in the scorching Jakku sun.
Entertainment Weekly decided to do our own investigation. How did this obscure character begin? What were the original plans for him? And how did he disappear?
While rounding up the usual suspects, it was natural to request an audience with Pablo Hidalgo, a key member of the Lucasfilm story group, and the renowned canon expert for all things Star Wars.
Zuvio? Yeah, he’d heard of him. In fact, he named him.
A QUESTIONABLE CONSTABLE
“I got to name him as part of working with [creature effects supervisor] Neal Scanlan and talking to the creature shop crew,” Hidalgo says. “We knew, with Star Wars being Star Wars, that we’d want a name and identify as many characters as possible for potential toys, potential storytelling, potential what-have-you.”
Visual effects artists are great at designing aliens, but historically speaking, they’re lousy at naming them. That’s how the original trilogy ended up with characters dubbed “Walrus Man,” “Squid Head,” and “Yak Face,” among other classic monikers. These days, Lucasfilm enjoins members of the story group, like Hidalgo, to christen them.
“The notion that this guy was some sort of lawman in Niima Outpost came from the creature department,” Hidalgo says. “So we coined the name for him, and that name got married to an action figure, and thus the legend of Constable Zuvio was born.”
At the time, months before the movie was finished, Hidalgo wasn’t sure how much screen time Zuvio might get either, but he crafted a compelling backstory for the character, which could be passed on to toy manufacturers or novelists and short story writers.
Zuvio also featured prominently in Hidalgo’s own book, Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The Visual Dictionary, a detailed guide to characters and objects from the movie, some of them only glimpsed on screen. Zuvio’s photo dominates a full-page, and the text describes him as part of the alien Kyuzo race, with recycled armor, and a local militia made of two fellow warriors from his homeworld. “Zuvio has a strong sense of justice and cannot be bribed,” the guide states.
Despite a sinister appearance, he’s actually a good guy. “You know, life is tough on Jakku,” Hidalgo says with a laugh. “So even the good guys are rather harsh.”
The Lucasfilm canon police became just as curious as fans about Zuvio’s whereabouts in the movie, so when the Blu-ray dropped last week, Hidalgo scoured those scenes on Jakku for evidence of the constable. And … he actually found something!
Well, it’s out now. So your patience is rewarded, Constable Zuvio spotters. pic.twitter.com/gl3WehlEWf
— Pablo Hidalgo (@pablohidalgo) April 1, 2016
There’s Constable Zuvio, off to the right with his back turned, as Rey and Finn make a run for it in the Niima Outpost marketplace. “I think there’s like four frames of him. Literally,” Hidalgo says.
As fascination with Zuvio has built, a number of rumors have emerged. Fans who’ve pored through the Blu-ray of The Force Awakens like it’s the Zapruder film think they see Zuvio dying by lightsaber in Rey’s “Forceback” dream sequence – but no, that’s a different character (albeit one who share’s Zuvio’s love for helmets that would also look nice filled with fruit on your coffee table.)
“If you do a search on the character there is this myth starting to evolve that he was part of a sequence that was cut out of the film,” Hidalgo says. Speculation centers on Rey’s beat-down of Unkar Plutt’s thugs when they try to droidnap BB-8, with the Constable stepping in to break up the fight instead of allowing Rey to finish it on her own.
But the truth is: no, that was never part of the story.
These questions led us to the man himself – J.J. Abrams, the director, producer, and co-writer of The Force Awakens. When Constable Zuvio’s name was mentioned, his response was telling:
“Umm… which character was it?” Abrams asked.
LAW DON’T GO AROUND HERE, LAW DOG
You know, Constable Zuvio? Wide-brimmed helmet? Face covered by a mask? Bedroom eyes …
Eventually, it rang a bell.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know who he is,” Abrams said. “If you look at any of the creature shop behind-the-scenes photographs or videos, you’ll see that there are so many characters. And each one of them had a name and a designation. In every shot on Jakku we figured out where they would all go and what they would do.”
So, he was a background character. A piece of living scenery.
“He never had a line of dialogue, no,” Abrams says.
The character simply fell victim to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In other words, not being present in the background when Finn and Rey were doing important things in the foreground.
But how did Zuvio end up so prominent in the toys and other pre-release hype? Abrams and Hidalgo both say the planning for those things happens months before the release. And at that point Zuvio could have been in the movie. He just got unlucky.
“I guarantee you that as they were reviewing ‘safe’ characters that can be made into action figures and presented to the public, that was one of those characters,” Abrams says. “They had no idea and, frankly, we wouldn’t know either back when we were shooting, if he would end up in the final cut.”
Abrams says there were plenty of other creatures and characters who only got a few moments of screen time. “Each one of whom will probably, eventually, get made into a figure,” Abrams says. “This was just one that I guess didn’t end up in the movie as they had hoped.”
Hidalgo points out that there’s a lot of precedence for this. “[Zuvio] fits in the great tradition of characters like Snaggletooth or Pruneface. Characters that you might have had actions figures of as a kid, but were hard pressed to identify where exactly they were in the movie,” Hidalgo says.
But now, redemption is on the horizon.
There is a place you can find a legit Star Wars story about Constable Zuvio, even if it’s not onscreen.
BACK FROM THE BRINK
With his new book of short stories, Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens – Vol. 1, Landry Q. Walker has rescued Constable Zuvio from oblivion. The lawman is the lead character in the first story in the collection, “High Noon on Jakku,” a galactic western involving a transport heist, a shoot-out, and a gang of outlaw droids.
Zuvio is even on the cover of the book, front and center. You can’t miss him.
Walker penned six stories for the collection, and says he was captivated by Hidalgo’s early descriptions of the character, even though it was only a brief background sketch. “I think it’s the description that’s probably on his toy package, a toy which I waited in line at midnight on Force Friday to buy,” Walker says. “Um… so… one less on the aisles!”
In a galaxy full of bounty hunters, criminal scum and hives of villainy, Walker says he liked the idea of someone trying to do good in a remote wasteland.
“Constable Zuvio seems to take himself and what he does very seriously,” the author says. “And you have to commit yourself. Why not just leave Jakku if you have an opportunity? He’s got some measure of influence, you figure he could get on a ship somewhere and go to a planet with less sand.”
Instead, Zuvio stays. He’s sacrificing some of his happiness to make the place better for people who are unable to leave – like Rey, for instance. (Not that she needs help, as we know.)
“I just found that really intriguing and different,” says Walker, whose other work includes writing the comics series Danger Club and co-creating the cartoon Scary Larry. When he started writing, he hadn’t even seen finished designs of the character (those came later, with Walker adding specific details to the story on rewrite.)
“When I was watching the movie, I was watching it just like everyone for any sign of the character of Zuvio. Looking for him over and over again,” Walker said. “Every time I saw the movie, I’m just searching for Zuvio, not paying as much attention to the film as I should have been.”
While writing his Western, Walker had no idea he was becoming part of a mystery.
“He really did look like he was geared up to be someone, you know?” Walker says. “It’s funny because we have this perception, ‘Well there’s a toy, so he’s got to be important.’ But if you think about the history of Star Wars and the first wave of toys we had, how important was Hammerhead?”
For now, Zuvio’s tale has been told – both in real life, and in the galactic realm. Those seeking a true moment of glory for the unlucky constable, should find satisfaction in Walker’s short story collection.
That doesn’t mean he survives, but finally, at long last, Zuvio lives.
More from EW’s The Force Awakens Blu-ray week
Part I – Mark Hamill’s ‘hurculean’ role in that famous table read | Part II – Kylo Ren’s mysterious table of ashes explained | Part III – Dozens of terminally ill fans saw ‘The Force Awakens’ before release | Part VI – How to blow up a droid - an EW Podcast with J.J. Abrams and the VFX team
For more Star Wars stuff, follow @Breznican.