There’s a long line outside a grimy cantina on the Outer Rim world Aduba-3, a wasteland of a planet where no one ends by choice. Word has spread around town like wildfire: two strangers, a Corellian and a Wookiee, are hiring spacers for a job. One of the spacers, desperate to get a chance to leave the hellish world, can’t take the long wait anymore.
“Outta my way, rodent!“, he growls to the big-toothed alien in front of him, “I just found out that new guy is hirin’ spacers and I want some money so’s I can get off this rock!”
The big-toothed alien turns his head around and spits back with a snarl:
“I ain’t no rodent, cap’n, an’ I’m next in line.”
And that was how the world was first introduced to Jaxxon, the Lepus carnivorous, a tall green alien in a red jumpsuit that seemed to be taking pointers from the books of both Han Solo and Bugs Bunny, and who became one of the first non-movie characters to join Luke, Han and Leia in the Star Wars universe. He would go on to appear in just a handful of comic book issues in 1978, but the mark he left in the galaxy would be indelible.
If you’ve never read these stories and you’ve only heard of Jaxxon through chatter on the internet, it’s very likely that your opinion on the big green rabbit is not very positive. If there is a poster child for those who don’t appreciate the campiest side of Star Wars, it has to be Jaxxon: he’s, after all, a massive green-furred space rabbit with an attitude. You can’t get much more cartoony than that. It’s perhaps not surprising that Jaxxon hasn’t been seen in the current continuity aside from a couple of humorous non-canonical appearances. He’s the kind of character that seems destined to be a footnote in comic book history, little more than an inside joke that can only be enjoyed ironically.
But that changed all of a sudden when IDW’s Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall tweeted the following:
And if you want to the feeling of '80s Star Wars comics with your kids, our Star Wars Adventures series is gonna feature an appearance by Jaxxon this spring. https://t.co/FABri9AKbe
— Chris Ryall (@chris_ryall) February 28, 2018
Without any special fanfare, Jaxxon’s canonization was announced in a simple quote-tweet. The tweet didn’t go unnoticed, with sites like Nerdist running to report of Jaxxon’s triumphant return. We still don’t know if his appearance in IDW’s anthology title is going to be little more than a cameo or if he’s going to be getting his own tale, but there’s one thing we know for sure: Jaxxon is back.
So how did a character that appeared in a total of four comic issues back in 1978 get such an infamous reputation? How did he become the original Jar Jar Binks, loved by children and hated by apparently everyone else? And what does his return mean to the Star Wars universe? Is there still space for a green rabbit in the galaxy far, far away?
And who is that green rabbit anyway?
Well, as I mentioned above, that green rabbit is nothing less than one of the first Expanded Universe characters ever created, a character that was conceived during a time where no one was completely sure of what the right tone for Star Wars was. Our friend Jaxxon showed his ears for the first time during the first original storyline in the Marvel Star Wars series. Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin had finished adapting the original Star Wars film, a comic adaptation that had become a blockbuster of its own, and were ready to start adventuring in the murky waters of whatever happened after the end credits faded off.
This comic book storyline had a large responsibility, being just the second original Star Wars storyline overall after Thomas’s own “The Keeper’s World” in Marvel’s long-defunct Pizzazz Magazine, but the creative team were more than up to the task. Howard Chaykin was a true artist whose Cody Starbuck comics had impressed George Lucas himself, and writer and editor Roy Thomas had already become a legendary name in Star Wars history: it was him, serving as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, who suggested licensing Star Wars when it was still a completely unknown property, a decision that according to former Marvel editor Jim Shooter saved the company from what could only be called “a death spiral”. “Roy Thomas Saved Marvel.” JimShooter.com Thomas had fallen in love with Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art, instantly understanding that Star Wars was closer to space fantasy than to hard sci-fi and that it had everything to appeal to Marvel’s audience. Despite Stan Lee’s initial reluctance, Thomas managed to sign a deal that brought the Star Warriors to the House of Ideas and the rest, as they say, is history.
For this original storyline Thomas was given a few guidelines, namely that he should not really use Luke and Leia too much—or Vader at all. After his suggestion of writing a Clone Wars-era story was also shot down, he decided that the best idea was to break up the heroes and to focus the first storyline on charming scoundrels Han Solo and Chewbacca. Thomas, Roy, and Richard Ardnt. “Makin’ Wookiee.” Alter Ego 145, Mar. 2017. [Unless otherwise noted, all information in this piece comes from this source: this issue includes a gargantuan … Continue reading Perhaps seeing how Akira Kurosawa’s shadow loomed over Star Wars, Thomas decided to do a riff on Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven using Han Solo and Chewbacca alongside six new colorful misfits that would be joining them in defending the good people of Aduba-3 from a gang of roving marauders.
One of these Magnificent Eight (or “Star-Hoppers of Aduba-3”, as future lore would call then) was a six-foot-tall green carnivorous rabbit with a short fuse named Jaxxon. According to his own recollections, Roy Thomas was inspired to create this take on a “space Bugs Bunny” in part by thinking he had seen a Porky Pig-looking alien in the Cantina sequence, either in the rough cut or on some early production sketches, even though he hasn’t been able to identify this mythical Porky alien ever again. Depending on who you ask, our space bunny got his name from one of Bugs Bunny’s old catchphrases, from the word “jackrabbit”, from Thomas’ hometown of Jackson, MO, or from a combination of one or more of the previous. It’s not clear who decided his skin should be bright green, though!
What is clear is that Thomas felt—and still feels!—a lot of affection for Jaxxon. He was as adept with rat-a-tat repartee as Han Solo himself, and carried his weight as an old cynical gunslinger despite being basically Bugs Bunny in a Flash Gordon jumpsuit. Legend says that controversy followed him from day one: it’s not a simple task to determine how this first original storyline, “Eight for Aduba-3”, was received, although some comments in the letters pages would lead us to suspect that not everyone shared the affection for the green rabbit that his creator professed. We hear too, that no matter what older fans said, kids loved him—not too different from how Jar Jar Binks was received, as Thomas often comments in good humor.
Roy Thomas’s run on Star Wars ended with issue #10, just a couple of issues after Jaxxon and friends abruptly disappeared from the title. Jaxxon’s sudden departure soon caused many fans to assume that George Lucas himself had asked that the big green rabbit make no more appearances in the comic, a rumor that has often been decried as unsubstantiated. Yet that’s exactly how Thomas remembers things going down: according to his own recollections Lucas had some concerns with the story even though it had been pre-approved before publication, disliking how close the Aduba-3 storyline was to The Magnificent Seven and apparently being particularly irritated by a certain rabbit spacer. In a massive interview he gave venerable comic magazine Alter Ego to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, Thomas reminisces about getting a phone call from Lucasfilm letting him know that “George really didn’t like the ‘green bunny’ character. He felt it was just too humorous, or cartoony, or something.” He adds: “It was about at this point in the conversation that […] I decided on the spur of the moment that, after #10, I’d be leaving the book.” Later on in the interview he mentions that, when Archie Goodwin—his successor on the title—used Jaxxon again in issue #16, he heard that “word came back immediately from the Lucas people that Jaxxon was never again to be used! The ‘green bunny’ was verboten!“, adding that despite his irritation he could “understand George’s feeling. He was worried about someone not taking the characters or the series seriously.”
Thomas has mentioned a few other reasons for his abrupt departure from the title, like his feeling unappreciated, his irritation over the fact that the comic creators were not getting anything on the way of royalties despite the massive success of the comic, and his dislike of the restrictions placed by the then-emerging rules of Star Wars continuity (he’s the first to say that these restrictions were completely legitimate, as George was the father of the creature, but he’s also humorously noted in several interviews that he enjoyed returning to the Conan the Barbarian comics because Robert E. Howard wasn’t around anymore to complain about the story). Thomas, Roy. “Star Wars: The Comic That Saved Marvel.” Alter Ego 68, May 2007. But it was the criticism of a character he didn’t think was that much worse than Chewbacca that ended up being the tipping point that led him to throw in the towel, so yes, from a certain point of view the big green rabbit was the reason that Star Wars lost its first comic book writer.
That aforementioned issue sixteen would be the last time fans of the original Marvel series saw Jaxxon, and it’s a testament to the affection Thomas had for his creature that he himself wrote to the letter pages praising how Goodwin had treated his “beloved creation […] Jaxxon the Rocket Rabbit” Star Wars #20 (Feb 1979) (and it bears mentioning that this issue also introduced us to Jaxxon’s ride, the awesomely named starship Rabbit’s Foot). Despite being a pioneer, Jaxxon became little more than an anecdote, part of a tale that became more and more distorted as new fans started knowing of “the green rabbit” secondhand.
Old gunslingers die hard, though, so Jaxxon was never completely forgotten. Twenty-five years after Jaxxon had first hopped in our local comic stores, Dark Horse Comics started reprinting the original Marvel series, of course including the Aduba-3 saga. He even got his own databank entry, perhaps thanks to the efforts of self-confessed Jaxxon fan Pablo Hidalgo, back then in charge of web content at StarWars.com. Hidalgo himself, with Cory J. Herndon and Michael Mikaelian, would also bring him and the rest of the Aduba-3 gang back to the Expanded Universe proper through an article in Star Wars Gamer magazine that updated the old story and created a lot of new lore for our green rabbit. Did you know that he was actually a Lepi from the planet Coachelle Prime?
All these latter-day references helped a new generation of fans acquaint themselves with the big green rabbit. And perhaps precisely because of the infamy that has surrounded him for decades, Jaxxon has become popular with a surprising number of fans, placing third in a 2012 poll about which characters Star Wars fans most wanted to see as an action figure and being the focus of several fanworks like the satirical fan comic Jaxxon’s 11. Not everyone has been that fond of the green rabbit, and official sources have been less shy when it comes to showing their disapproval of Jaxxon than with the similarly-controversial Jar Jar Binks. He was named as one of Star Wars’ goofiest characters in Star Wars Insider #83, for example. Even reference books had it in for the rabbit: the pages of Secrets of Shadows of the Empire called the early Marvel comics a source of “continuity glitches” where the main characters often seemed “out of character”, singling out poor Jaxxon as one of the many “campy creations” that emerged from the era (and we can only surmise that the authors didn’t expect then-relevant-and-cool Dash Rendar and Prince Xizor to end up regarded as equally-campy creations and ur-examples of “extreme” nineties aesthetics). Most infamously, the skeleton of someone…quite similar to Jaxxon…appeared in the animated series The Clone Wars; we can’t tell if the idea of including what appeared to be the corpse of Jaxxon came from George or not, although if we believe Thomas’s account about how he never was too fond of our green buddy we could certainly entertain the thought.
Jaxxon’s apparent goofiness is the reason no one is indifferent to him: depending on how you like your star war cooked, you have to either love him or hate him. Is Jaxxon a silly character? Perhaps, but in a universe with Ewoks and Gungans it doesn’t seem fair to call him especially ridiculous. He fits into what Mike called “the wacky species slot” in his piece dedicated to another Marvel rabbit-like species, the Hoojibs. Even if Lucas thought that this particular case went too far, he has often maintained that whimsy is an essential component of Star Wars. There’s no real reason why Jaxxon, and more creations like him, shouldn’t be allowed a place at the table.
And let’s be honest: it’s quite possible that Star Wars is silly by definition. After all, it’s a universe where farmboys learn psychic powers from small green goblins, old hermits milk green milk from alien sea cows, and there are drug dealers literally called Sleazabaggano; even the most serious military sci-fi works set in the universe have Imperial admirals walking around with Force-eating lizards perched on their shoulders. Would a big green rabbit look too cartoony on the big screen? It is certainly a possibility, but luckily he first appeared in a medium where a colorful cartoon didn’t really stand out as too far-fetched—and, besides, Rocket Raccoon would want a word with you. What we can’t say is that Thomas and Chaykin “missed the point” of Star Wars when they created Jaxxon and company. After all, it was just months after the movie had premiered, decades before every single influence on Star Wars had been meticulously analyzed and classified, yet Thomas and Chaykin had thought from the start: “of course: samurai movies, Westerns, fantasy, space opera…that’s what this is about, not just sci-fi”, understanding the magic of Star Wars mere months after the premiere. And okay, maybe Jaxxon missed the mark by a little bit, but there’s no denying that by creating him his parents indicated that they understood just how important humor, whimsy and not taking oneself seriously were for Star Wars.
Personally, I hope that no matter what happens to him in Star Wars Adventures this becomes not just the start of a Jaxxon Renaissance, but the first act of a real Weird Star Wars Renaissance that keeps the universe fresh and highlights what makes it so different from the rest of science fiction. We’ve had decades of fleet movements, secret societies and political conspiracies: allowing a few more riddling witches, crying mountains and big green rabbits into the party won’t do us any harm.
|↑1||“Roy Thomas Saved Marvel.” JimShooter.com|
|↑2||Thomas, Roy, and Richard Ardnt. “Makin’ Wookiee.” Alter Ego 145, Mar. 2017. [Unless otherwise noted, all information in this piece comes from this source: this issue includes a gargantuan 53-pages-long interview with him!]|
|↑3||Thomas, Roy. “Star Wars: The Comic That Saved Marvel.” Alter Ego 68, May 2007.|
|↑4||Star Wars #20 (Feb 1979)|