Sci-Fi Scandal! Second Sy Snootles Speaks, Claims Lucas Was “Keeping Company” With First Snoot
By James Greene Jr. on May 19, 2011 @ 12:02 pm
Two weeks ago, we ran a lengthy article about “Lapti Nek”, the intergalactic disco jam by Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band that appeared in the original version of Return of the Jedi (since deleted in favor of CGI nonsense). One of the more curious points uncovered by our research for said article concerned the timeline of the two most famous “Lapti Nek” recordings: While Internet resources generally suggest that the Michele Gruska “Club Mix” of the song was recorded and released after Lucasfilm lost the master tapes of the Annie Arbogast version actually heard in the film, several behind-the-scenes videos that predate Jedi’s completion (all easily found on YouTube) clearly feature variations of the Gruska recording.
If Lucasfilm already had a couple different takes of “Lapti Nek” under their belt by Gruska, including the widely released “Club Mix”, why did they drop Arbogast’s version into Jedi’s final cut? No disrespect to Annie—her “Lapti Nek” is spunky and classic, and she also wrote those delightfully wacky Huttese lyrics—but she was just an in-house sound engineer for Lucasfilm whereas Gruska was apparently an independently contracted professional session musician. An e-mail to Lucasfilm yielded no help (“I apologize, but I do not know the answer to that,” wrote PR person Amy). Intellectual curiosity growing by the minute, we tracked Michele Gruska down (via Facebook, of course) to see if she could drop some knowledge. Did she ever!
“I auditioned [in Los Angeles] to sing for Return of the Jedi, then they asked me to sing ‘Lapti Nek’ for the Jabba The Hutt scene,” wrote Gruska (pictured, left), who currently works as a vocal coach in California. “It was both another day’s work and challenging on two counts—one, learning this new made-up language on the spot was not too easy, [and] two, it was unnerving singing for [20th Century Fox music supervisor] Lionel Newman, THE John Williams, and George Lucas.”
Gruska got the job and, ecstatic, shuttled to San Francisco to record the final version(s) of “Lapti Nek” some time before Return of the Jedi was completed. So how did Annie Arbogast’s “Lapti Nek”, which can be assumed was merely a scratch track before Gruska was hired, wind up in the final cut?
“My version was definitely going in the scene,” remembers Gruska. “But unfortunately at the time the rumor was Anne was keeping company with George Lucas. Oh well.”
Scandalous, if true! Perhaps that explains why the Arbogast master tapes were mysteriously “lost” and why George later digitally scrubbed “Lapti Nek” out of every post-1997 Jedi release. Maybe the affair ended badly. On the other hand, there’s just as much reason to believe absolutely nothing ever went on between George and Annie in a non-professional capacity. Maybe George just thought Annie sounded more like an alien than Michele Gruska, so he put the former in the movie and saved the latter for the commercial vinyl releases (where polished, professional singing counts for more). Shame on you, Kevin Burns, for missing this subplot in your otherwise great Empire of Dreams documentary.
But I kid the Schenectady-born director who also helmed Behind the Planet of the Apes. The tales of Carrie Fisher partying all night with Harrison Ford and big handfuls of yay on the set of Empire Strikes Back are admittedly leagues more interesting than any canoodling that went on between the Supreme Beard and one of his underlings. Still, if either party wishes to come forward and refute (or confirm!) this wild accusation made by Michele Gruska, by all means hit us up. This story is sort of the Schwartzenegger love child deal of the Star Wars universe.