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John Celestri, the animator behind Boba Fett

November 26, 2017

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the greatest cinematic experience of all time, 1977's Star Wars. That is something that Lucasfilm has made sure we all knew through special marketing and internet buzz. One thing that Lucasfilm may not want you to know is that this year also marks the 39th anniversary of the Star Wars Holiday Special. Time and a great amount of effort has been spent on suppressing this piece of the Star Wars legacy due to its...umm...well it's not very good. Not at all. The actors all seem to have phoned in their performances, no one understands what the wookiees were yelling about, and we can only stir or whip for about 30 seconds before losing our minds. However, there is a saving grace to the Holiday Special: The Boba Fett Cartoon. 


The Boba Fett Cartoon has long been held in high regard by the fans as the genesis of Star Wars animation. It gave us the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy and truly felt like a Star Wars story. I recently had the opportunity to speak with John Celestri, the animator of the Boba Fett character, who has worked in animation for over 4 decades. John has worked on several animated projects that you may have seen, such as He-Man & The Masters of the Universe, The Care Bears Movie, and X-Men Evolution to name a few. Lucky for us, John was willing to let us ask him a few questions that we've had kicking around in our brains.


Honor The Force: 

Your animation of Boba Fett in the Holiday Special Cartoon is so iconic. It was literally the first time we saw one of the greatest characters in all of Star Wars lore. Did you have an indication or feeling of how well this character would be received?



I was hoping it would be received well. But back then (1978) you never knew how the audience would react, especially since we are talking about a TV audience sitting at home in their living rooms…it wasn’t like sitting in the back row in a theater and watching an audience’s reaction. There was no way of gauging their reaction (via ratings) until many months after you had done the work.


Honor The Force: 

In animating Boba, were you given specific instruction on how he should look or were you given an opportunity to add your own touches?



It was George Lucas who requested that the studio I worked for (Nelvana) design the look of the cartoon in the style of French artist Jean “Moebius” Geraud, whose work could be seen in “Heavy Metal” magazine. That direction and a black-and-white home movie showing a person wearing Boba Fett’s  prototype costume were basically all the cues we had to work with. All the color models and basic designs had to be okayed by Lucas before production of the cartoon proceeded.


Regarding the animation itself, the biggest challenge was how to give a performance without facial expressions. I had to use hand gestures and body attitude...not so broadly as a pantomime artist, but with economy of movement. I approached playing Boba Fett as a Clint Eastwood-style character in a spaghetti western, with mannerisms expressing a sense of extreme self-confidence. I used macho posing, tossed his rifle across his body from one hand to the other. In one particular scene, I had Boba adjust the fingers of his glove before gesturing with his hand. I timed tilting Boba’s helmeted head to go up and down, side to side to change the arc of the helmet’s rigid eye-opening to reflect the tone of his dialogue delivery.  All of these were some of my touches.


Honor The Force: 

Is there a specific image from the Holiday Special that stands out as the most satisfying for you to have produced?



There are several: the opening scenes of Boba seated in his saddle, giving the beast a whack to “settle down!” And the scenes at the end: Boba’s slow backing away, to make his escape.


Honor The Force: 

Time, critics, and even the fans have not been kind to the Holiday Special. How does it feel having a great piece of animation forever attached to one of the most disliked television programs ever? 



Actually, I feel quite proud that the animation stands on its own as being the seed that helped grow the character of Boba Fett.  Fact is, the Nelvana Studio staff was very young and inexperienced, myself included. I had been in the animation business a mere three years and had been a professional animator for only a year and a half when I did that animation…what it lacks in finesse is made up for with energy and commitment to doing my best…  and then it was the only performance associated with Boba until “The Empire Strikes Back”. (I was extremely disappointed that the live-action Boba had so little screen time in “Empire”.)  Truth be told, I wish the animated sequence in Holiday was officially acknowledged as being part of the Star Wars "Canon," but that's not my call.


Honor The Force: 

According to your IMDB page, you have animated quite a few other projects as well. Besides the Holiday Special Cartoon, which project was one of your favorites to have worked on? 



I would have to say that “Rock and Rule” was one of my favorite projects... especially because I got the chance to animate three completely distinct characters:

Cindy (the female giant rollerskating disco dancer); Officer Quadhole; and Mylar the nightclub owner.


Mr. Celestri, Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us and for honoring the force with your contribution to Star Wars. May the force be with you, always.


John was nice enough to provide us with all the sketches that you see in this article as well as the Youtube video below that showcases more of his original sketches. Enjoy!

Check out John's Blog: https://johncelestri.blogspot.com



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