By ERIC P. NASH
Published: January 26, 1997
Published: January 26, 1997
TWENTY YEARS AGO, the film maker George Lucas expanded everybody's notion of how fast a movie could really move with the first installment of his ''Star Wars'' trilogy. A new generation of moviegoers will be introduced to ''Star Wars'' on Friday, when the film returns to the big screen with a digitally remastered soundtrack, new scenes (including a meeting between Han Solo and the gelatinous Jabba the Hutt) and some visually enhanced effects.
Part of what makes the ''Star Wars'' universe such fun is that the characters seem to emerge from their own complex cultures. Then there is the ear-tickling felicity of the names. It's hard to resist saying Boba Fett, Bounty Hunter, out loud just to try it on the lips. Just where did George Lucas come up with all these weird names?
''Basically, I developed the names for the characters phonetically,'' Mr. Lucas said. ''I obviously wanted to telegraph a bit of the character in the name. The names needed to sound unusual but not spacey. I wanted to stay away from the kind of science fiction names like Zenon and Zorba. They had to sound indigenous and have consistency between their names and their culture.''
Much has been made of the director's use of world myths from Joseph Campbell's ''Hero With a Thousand Faces,'' but ''Star Wars'' is also a synthesis of the treasure trove of American pop culture -- everything from comic strips, pulp fiction and films ranging from John Ford's ''Searchers'' to Victor Fleming's ''Wizard of Oz'' to Akira Kurosawa's ''Hidden Fortress.''
''Star Wars'' in turn has spawned a galaxy of sub-industries -- more than two dozen novels, trading cards, action figures, role-playing games, scores of websites and guides specializing in intergalactic arcana -- many of which have been consulted in preparing this interstellar who's who.
Darth Vader: Mr. Lucas went back to the Dutch root for father to arrive at a name that approximates ''Dark Father.'' Vader's original name is Anakin Skywalker. Anakin is a variation on a race of giants in Genesis, and Skywalker is an appellation for Loki, the Norse god of fire and mischief. The inspiration for Vader's face mask was in all likelihood the grille of a '56 Chevy.
Luke Skywalker: The name of the character played by Mark Hamill derives from the Greek leukos, or light, an interesting contrast to Darth Vader. Luke of the Gospels was a gentile who converted to Christianity, an appropriate name for a boy who discovers the power of the Force.
Tatooine is the name of Luke's home planet, derived from the town of Tataouine in Tunisia, the country where the desert scenes in ''Star Wars'' were filmed. An early draft of the script was called ''The Adventures of Luke Starkiller.'' It's easy to read Luke S. as a stand-in for Lucas.
Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has braids that resemble dinner rolls, but her name evokes the lovely Princess Dejah Thoris in the John Carter of Mars tales by Edgar Rice Burroughs, as well as Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien in J. R. R. Tolkien's ''Lord of the Rings.'' The surname Organa reflects the conflict of nature and technology seen in the forest-dwelling heroes pitted against the machines of the Empire, according to Lucas's biographer, Dale Pollock.
The name Han Solo (Harrison Ford) capitalizes on the archaic sound of Han, a variation of John, to set us in a mythical world. The name Solo addresses his key character issue: Solo is a lone gun who must learn to trust others and identify with a greater cause. The swashbuckler's name also recalls one of the great pop culture adventurers, Napoleon Solo, ''The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'' Napoleon Solo, by the way, first appeared as a minor hood in the James Bond novel ''Goldfinger.''
R2-D2 According to Mr. Lucas, the robot who resembles a whistling Hoover vacuum cleaner got his name from a sound editor's shorthand for ''Reel Two, Dialogue Two'' during the making of his earlier hit, 'American Graffiti.''
Chewbacca, the towering Wookiee, was a name inspired by Indiana, Mr. Lucas's rambunctious malamute. (The dog also lent his name to the hero of the film maker's Indiana Jones series.) Wookiee comes from an ad lib in ''THX 1138,'' the film maker's first feature film: ''I think I ran over a Wookiee back there.''
Jedi, the name of the ancient knighthood, is a tip of the hat to Burrough's Barsoom, where lords bear the title of Jed or Jeddak.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), also known as old Ben Kenobi, is revealed to us as a Jedi knight and introduces Luke to the power of the Force. Obi is the Japanese word for the sash used to tie a kimono; it may connote the Jedi knight's status as a martial arts master. Similarly, Wan sounds like the Japanese honorific suffix san. ''OB'' is also short for Old Ben, but there is chatter on the Internet that his name is really OB-1, a cryptic reference to Mr. Lucas's much anticipated history of the Clone Wars in future ''Star Wars'' installments.
Ewoks, those almost unbearably cute, highly marketable teddy-bear characters who saved the day in ''The Return of the Jedi'' inhabit the forest moon of Endor (the witch in the Book of Samuel hailed from a similarly named locale). Their name may sound like a variant of Wookiee, but is taken from Miwok, the Indian tribe indigenous to San Rafael, Calif., the location of Mr. Lucas's Skywalker Ranch.
Boba Fett, at least according to one fan on the World Wide Web, is a sly reference to another hotshot jockey, Bob Falfa, the drag racer played by none other than Mr. Ford in ''American Graffiti.''
Banthas, the shaggy, screw-horned mounts of the honking Sand People, are a variation on banth, a beast found on Barsoom. The Sand People bear similarities to nomadic tribes in the science fiction writer Frank Herbert's desert classic ''Dune.'' The diminutive Jawas, who chatter like the cartoon chipmunks Chip 'n Dale, call to mind Indonesian Islam. Their name is perhaps echoic of Moroccan Gnawa trance music.
Photos: In ''Star Wars,'' aboard the Millennium Falcon, the Wookiee Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), left, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) attempt to evade Imperial star fleet. (20th Century Fox) (pg. 11); Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), wielding his light saber. (20th Century Fox); Darth Vader, a lapsed Jedi knight, has embraced the Dark Side. (20th Century Fox) (pg. 22)