The movie puppeteer who operated alien villain Jabba in Return of the Jedi has given up intergalactic crime to start a new life in the hushed corridors of a library.Toby Philpott, 67, climbed inside Jabba the Hutt to work his left arm, head and slimy flicking tongue in the sci-fi classic . But 30 years after working on the third Star Wars film, he is leading computer courses in Cardiff Central Library – and he tells noisy library-users: “Don’t jabber.”
Toby’s career has taken him from street-performing in Mexico to working as a clown in London and becoming a puppeteer for Muppets creator Jim Henson.It was while working for Henson that he landed the role of operating Jabba the Hutt – described as a “loathsome slug of an intergalactic gangster operating on the outer rim territories”.
Father-of-two and grandfather Toby said:
“It took a team of four of us to operate Jabba – he wasn’t so much a costume as a wendy house you had to climb into.I was sitting down with my left arm in his, and my right swivelling his neck and tongue. As the left hand I got to eat frogs, hit people, smoke a hookah.David Barclay worked the right side, Mike Edmonds was inside his tail, and someone else had to control the eyes from outside.The challenge was working together so Jabba looked like one sentient creature, and not four guys in a tent.
“So we’d get George Lucas to address Jabba rather than us individually which did freak him out a bit at first.”In the mid 1990s I was scratching a living as a circus trainer, so I took a temporary job with the library just to eat.Then it got made permanent and I just drifted away from performing.”
Now he works for Cardiff Council helping deliver computer training to the community. Toby said: “Many people ask me why I started working here and all I can say is why not? Finding Jabba the Hutt working in a library is no more unusual than most of my life has been.”