Today is May, 4th. Also known as Star Wars Day because of the dumb pun “may the fourth be with you.” I hate puns. But I love Star Wars more so I’m thrilled to embrace the celebration. And, clearly, I’m not alone in my love of that brilliant, weird, dark, goofy galaxy far, far away.
But, of course, when something makes a lot of people happy on the internet, it pisses other people off. During the build-up to The Force Awakens, I read a Telegraph article with the clickbaity title “Star Wars fans: for God’s sake, get a grip, it’s only a movie.” The article was the typical vitriol arguing that liking Star Wars was fine, but why would grown adults cry about it?
I understand the perspective. I have always loved Star Wars both sincerely and ironically. On my Star Wars themed comedy album Rebel Scum (recorded before the release of The Force Awakens) I defined Star Wars like this:
“It’s a series of movies, books, video games, etc. that tells the story of a bunch of space wizards who keep cutting each other’s hands off with laser swords. It’s been a dominant force in our culture for almost forty years even though we all pretty much agree only one of the movies is actually good.”
That sounds dismissive, but I mean that as a compliment. From the day of its release, Star Wars has been more than a movie. It’s a phenomenon. Star Wars is like a huge plate of nachos. Ultimately, the movies themselves are like the chips. They’re solid and delicious but they are a delivery system for cheese, guacamole, salsa, memories, relationships, old friends long gone, etc.
Last year, right after the trailer was released for The Force Awakens, I went to the Star Wars Celebration convention in Anaheim, California. I’ve attended a lot of conventions. When I first approached the convention center, I was uneasy. I was concerned it would feel like San Diego Comic-Con. I was afraid it would be hot and packed, filled with people who are having fun, but are also desperate to get the next thing: an autograph, an exclusive action figure, a spot in a panel, a toilet stall to themselves so they can figure out how to urinate through their Steampunk Boba Fett costume.
My concerns were almost immediately assuaged.
Seconds after I walked into the convention center I saw my favorite cosplay I’ve ever seen. I immediately asked the person if I could take their picture. I’ve never done that before.
The cosplay was this: a person dressed as the action figure version of a character known as Hammerhead.
Here’s a little background on Hammerhead. He was one of the most bizarre and truly alien aliens featured in the Cantina scene of A New Hope.
He was one of the four “cantina creatures” made into action figures by Kenner. Because this was the wild halcyon days of movie tie-in merchandise, Kenner just used the film’s loose production names for characters as the names of the action figures.
As a result, a lot of the original Star Wars action figures have names that now sound like horrible slurs: Hammerhead, Walrus Man, Prune Face, etc.
Of course, the character once known as Hammerhead has been fleshed out a bit in all the expanded fiction since then. He’s an Ithorian named Momaw Nadon. He was actually the High Priest of Tafanda Bay on his home planet of Ithor, but he was banished after revealing agricultural secrets to the Empire in a desperate attempt to save his planet’s jungle from being decimated by turbolasers. So, he ended up on Tatooine, day-drinking in Chalmun’s Cantina while listening to Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes play some good old jizz-wailing music. (All of this can be verified on Wookieepedia.)
But we didn’t know or care about any of that back in the day. He was just a super freakish, super cool brown alien with long fingers and big feet wearing a blue onesie that looked strangely similar to James Bond’s terrycloth bathrobe from Goldfinger.
And we loved him. He was technically my brother’s action figure so while I got to play with him, I never truly owned Hammerhead. I just coveted him.
I still remember the day my brother bought him. We were moving across the country from Minnesota to Oregon. We stopped at a Children’s Palace toy store along the way. Our parents said we were behaving well on the cross country trip so we could each buy an action figure. We decided to both get cantina creatures. My brother picked out Hammerhead and I got Walrus Man.
We played with those action figures for years. One day, we decided to simulate an action packed battle between all the bounty hunters and day-drinking Cantina scum. We set up our figures all across our room and took turns firing at one another’s characters by shooting rubber bands to blast them off their perch.
My brother had knocked over most of my figures, but Bossk was still standing. The reptilian bounty hunter aimed his laser rifle carefully and took a shot at Hammerhead who was perched high on the top post of our bunk beds.
The rubber band blaster bolt grazed Hammerhead’s arm. He spun around and he teetered for a moment then suddenly toppled over, his weird alien legs kicking in the air.
As a comedian and a fan of comedy, I can say, in that moment, Hammerhead performed one of the best pratfalls I’ve ever seen.
My brother and I laughed and laughed and then retrieved Hammerhead from the pillow we’d placed beneath the bed to break his fall.
Many years later, I walked into the Anaheim Convention Center, and saw that action figure walking around.
Within five seconds of seeing the Hammerhead Action Figure cosplayer, all of those memories flooded into my head. All of the ridiculously detailed Star Wars factoids, the smell of the plastic, the details on his blaster, the image of those brown alien legs flailing in comedic majesty and falling off my bunk bed.
All of it.
So while I understand how absolutely ridiculous Star Wars is, the one thing I can never agree with is that it’s just a movie.
So, thanks, wonderful weird human who decided to dress up as an action figure of a character with two seconds of screen time in a decades-old movie and walk around a convention center spreading joy.
You made me very happy and I’m sure you made Momaw Nadon proud.
May the Force be with you, Hammerhead.
A version of this article was originally published on the great Alice Lee’s essay site The Yearbook Office. Thanks, Alice! If you’d like to hear more of Joseph’s thoughts on Star Wars, you can check out his podcast Force Center and follow him on twitter.