JONATHAN COULTON: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton here with puzzle guru Art Chung. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thanks, Jonathan. Today we're broadcasting from NPR's studios in New York, and we're opening the phone lines to contestants from across the country. Two contestants have won their way to the final round. And soon we'll find out whether Mary or Owen will be our big winner. But first, it's time to welcome our special guest. When people at Lucasfilm have a question about the "Star Wars" universe, they turn to one man - Pablo Hidalgo. He's basically Lucasfilm's own personal Yoda. Pablo joins me in-studio. Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.
PABLO HIDALGO: Hey, thanks for having me.
EISENBERG: So, you know, we have something in common right off the top.
HIDALGO: What's that?
EISENBERG: We're both Canadian.
HIDALGO: That's right.
EISENBERG: You grew up in Winnipeg.
HIDALGO: Winnipeg, Manitoba, yeah.
EISENBERG: Even by Canadian standards we call it Winterpeg (ph).
HIDALGO: Oh, yeah.
EISENBERG: Because it is actually cold.
HIDALGO: Very much so. There was a story a few years ago about the fact that it was colder in Winnipeg than it was on Mars one night or something. I don't know if that was true, but it's like, yeah, that sounds about right.
EISENBERG: Is it as cold as Hoth?
HIDALGO: Yes, colder actually.
EISENBERG: Now, you've said that the coldness of Winnipeg actually influenced your childhood in a positive way that has led you to the career you have.
HIDALGO: Oh, I would think so. As I said, Winnipeg is this great incubator for indoor hobbies.
HIDALGO: Because you're trapped indoors, you know, you have to do something with yourself for...
HIDALGO: ...Upwards of six months.
EISENBERG: Right, as the sky is gray.
HIDALGO: Yeah. So I contend that you're going to find the best model railroad builders, the best, you know, hobbyists of any sort that keeps you inside in Winnipeg. There was a lot of, like, traditional animation that came out of Winnipeg. And I'm certain that's because you don't want to go outside, so you might as well draw hundreds of thousands of drawings in sequence and make a film out of it, you know.
EISENBERG: And from an early age what were you drawn to?
HIDALGO: I was drawn to "Star Wars."
HIDALGO: I mean, I was drawn to fantasy in general. But "Star Wars" was just this great place to visit ultimately.
EISENBERG: Did you have a character that you related to?
HIDALGO: I don't know about relation. I don't know what it says about me that my favorite character is and will always be R2-D2.
EISENBERG: You're the comic. It's like the sidekick comic, sort of sarcastic...
HIDALGO: He's small. He's helpful. I don't know. I share those attributes.
EISENBERG: Very sweet. You know what? You could argue that R2-D2 has a bit of a Canadian mentality.
HIDALGO: I think he does. He's helpful, I mean, and he may gripe but ultimately he'll come through in the end.
EISENBERG: So at Lucasfilm your title is creative executive, which I have to say sounds a little made up.
HIDALGO: Well, yeah.
EISENBERG: What is actually your day-to-day job?
HIDALGO: My job essentially is to know "Star Wars" backwards and forwards so that I could answer and field any "Star Wars" questions that come my way. We work as a group - part of Lucasfilm called the Story Group. And we basically work with creatives of all types who are interested in telling stories in "Star Wars." And we help them find the stories that they're trying to tell and make sure it fits into the overall "Star Wars" universe. And they'll have all sorts of questions because it can be very intimidating to enter in this universe - where to start, where do we begin. And I'll help guide these people through that place and answer whatever questions they have and then review whatever it is that they're creating to make sure that this all fits going forward.
EISENBERG: So are you constantly - people are coming up to you, peppering you with questions and you have to say, no, that does not happen in the "Star Wars" universe?
HIDALGO: Not constantly, but a lot of times I'm just given sort of this gut check of something. Like, you know, what do you think of this, what do you think of that? A lot of times there are authors or artists or what have you that are really interested in pulling back some veils of mystery. And there are some things that we want to keep cryptic or open to interpretation. You know, we kind of shy against people trying to put too much definition on the force...
EISENBERG: Sure (laughter).
HIDALGO: ...On Yoda...
HIDALGO: ...On things that should remain mystical because you don't want to know, you know, where Yoda does his grocery shopping or...
EISENBERG: Right. It takes all the magic away.
HIDALGO: Exactly. To me it's like he's better to be this mystical sage than someone who has to, you know, deal with all the physicality and dull stuff that comes out of being 900 years old.
EISENBERG: So let's talk about the latest "Star Wars" film "Rogue One." Now, this takes place before "Episode IV - A New Hope." It's about the rebels stealing the plans for the Death Star.
HIDALGO: That's right.
EISENBERG: So this is kind of a interesting thing because you are a fitting "Rogue One" in to a timeline that already exists for the viewers. Was there specific challenges with having to work that out?
HIDALGO: In many ways, you know, it's funny. As fantastical as "Star Wars" is, we're treating it as a historical film. Which means aesthetically we have to match some of that 1977's vibe, you know.
EISENBERG: Before there was great technology.
HIDALGO: Yeah. So you have to make certain calls. Like, you can do things really slick and high tech, but is that right? The other thing...
EISENBERG: So when you're dealing with, like, consoles where they're dealing on the ships and stuff like that or it has...
HIDALGO: Or like they have a handheld computer and, like, everyone on the set has a handheld computer which is more powerful and more slick than what these characters are carrying.
HIDALGO: But that's right because that's the "Star Wars" equivalent.
EISENBERG: That's interesting. Now, we know a couple of things about our listeners. They are nerds and they love trivia. So if you could to appeal to our listeners, specifically my husband, can you give us a really beautifully nerdy nugget of "Star Wars" trivia?
HIDALGO: Well, do you know of Vader's breathing, where that sound comes from, right?
EISENBERG: Tell me.
HIDALGO: It's the inside of a scuba mask. And so just imagine Vader wearing scuba gear.
HIDALGO: And I don't know if that makes him more intimidating or less intimidating (laughter).
EISENBERG: I think less intimidating, less intimidating. Is there a little nugget, like, from the new characters that are out there? Is there a little bit of nugget of...
HIDALGO: There is, actually. If you take a look at Finn - the character played by John Boyega...
HIDALGO: ...In "The Force Awakens," his old Stormtrooper number, FN-2187...
HIDALGO: ...Twenty-one-eighty-seven is also the number of the prison cell that Princess Leia was held in aboard the Death Star.
HIDALGO: And the reason why is that reference in and of itself, 2187, is a reference to a National Film Board film by Arthur Lipsett called "21-87." It was a very big influence on George Lucas, a very interestingly edited short film out of Canada. So as you and I know, there's our Canadian roots there just continuing forward.
EISENBERG: I feel like when my husband listens to this, after hearing that specific piece of trivia, he's going to close his eyes and just be silent and happy.
EISENBERG: It will be like a deep meditation.
HIDALGO: I'm happy (unintelligible).
EISENBERG: That was excellent. Now, Pablo, you are an expert on all things "Star Wars," so obviously quizzing you about it would be futile. So instead we are going to test you on one of your other interests.
EISENBERG: Action figures.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Did you have a lot of action figures as a kid?
HIDALGO: I had a fair amount, but, again, this is one of those things where I think limitations helped me because I didn't have as many. I had to basically work with what I had and come up with ridiculous stories from toys from different toy lines and, you know...
EISENBERG: And you put them together in broad scenarios.
HIDALGO: Yeah, it was the original mash-ups, right, yeah.
EISENBERG: Very good. So I'm going to be reading marketing copy from an action figure that was for sale in the '80s or early '90s, and you just have to tell me what the action figure is. And if you need a hint, our puzzle guru Art Chung is standing by.
ART CHUNG: Red One standing by. Is that the right one?
CHUNG: Uh oh.
HIDALGO: Technically, if your call sign is Red One, you're Red Leader.
CHUNG: Oh, Red Five standing by.
HIDALGO: That's better.
HIDALGO: It's a good thing I'm here.
EISENBERG: OK. Are you ready?
EISENBERG: If you get enough right, Sarah Morrow (ph) from Hartford, Conn., is going to win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.
HIDALGO: Wow. OK.
EISENBERG: Pablo, we might have one for you, too. I'm just going to let you know. There might be one rolling around that you can have as well. Here we go. Here's your first one - the piratical adventurer with a heart of gold is 12 inches tall in this version. He has a fully detailed cloth uniform, laser rifle, movable arms, legs and neck and a Rebel Alliance honor medal.
HIDALGO: (Laughter) That sounds like the 12-inch Han Solo.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) That is the 12-inch Han Solo. Yes, a replica not exactly to size but close. I like their marketing copy that used piratical.
HIDALGO: Piratical - kids love that. They're drawn to, Mom, get me the most piratical toy.
EISENBERG: Yeah, right, exactly. That's like a pirate that went to Yale.
EISENBERG: Here's your next one - accessories for this action figure include two nunchakus for fast, furious, frenzied fighting, two ninja stars in case you miss the first throw and pizza disc, good enough to lick but made to flick.
HIDALGO: That would be a Michelangelo "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle."
CHUNG: We were concerned you didn't know which one of the four but obviously...
HIDALGO: But he's the party dude.
EISENBERG: He's the dude.
HIDALGO: I know he's the party dude.
CHUNG: Right, right.
EISENBERG: You're doing great. Here's your next one.
HIDALGO: I can just see that Rubik's Cube right now.
EISENBERG: I know, eye on the prize, eye on the prize, yeah. Function - espionage. Due to his small size, he dares to go where others can't and won't. He's the most energy efficient and has the best vision of all of the Autobots.
HIDALGO: That would be Bumblebee.
HIDALGO: Bumblebee is my favorite Transformer.
HIDALGO: Because he's small and helpful. See, do you see a trend here? You see there's...
HIDALGO: Yeah, there's a...
HIDALGO: I'm all for the little guy.
EISENBERG: I guess kids love energy efficient robots.
HIDALGO: That was big in the '80s.
HIDALGO: I mean, I think Ralph Nader did Transformer commercials back in the day. No, he didn't. He didn't
EISENBERG: (Laughter) That would be amazing.
HIDALGO: That'd be amazing, wouldn't it?
EISENBERG: OK. Push button for a super tough uppercut punch on this character cursed by the power to absorb the abilities, motives and life forces of anyone she comes in contact with.
HIDALGO: That sounds like Rogue, the X-Man.
EISENBERG: That sounds correct. Do you think it's a little unfair that the female X-Man's power is that she sucks the life out of you?
HIDALGO: I think it may say something about the writer at the time.
EISENBERG: What they were going through.
HIDALGO: Possibly, yeah. I don't know. I try not to analyze these things too much.
EISENBERG: Right. You're doing great. You're basically nailing this. We've got a couple more for you.
EISENBERG: This bad guy wears a helmet and a suit that costs as much as a jet fighter and can withstand a direct hit from a heavy machine gun and anything up to a 357 magnum.
HIDALGO: Whoa. Is that the armored Cobra Commander?
EISENBERG: It is the armored Cobra Commander, my friend.
HIDALGO: Wow, it is.
EISENBERG: Now, you know a little bit about G.I. Joe, I believe...
HIDALGO: I do, yeah.
EISENBERG: ...Because you wrote a...
HIDALGO: I wrote a guide to G.I. Joe, yeah. So G.I. Joe, again, my childhood and anyone around my age is going to say the same thing. It's like their childhood was dominated by "G.I. Joe," "Transformers," "Star Wars" "He-Man," like all this stuff.
HIDALGO: And, you know, we never put our childish things away. We (laughter)...
EISENBERG: Now, as a Canadian, were you fiercely aware that G.I. Joe was American?
HIDALGO: I was because - and this is - you've got to love Canada for this, right? Hasbro Canada did their darndest and they took the toys and they got rid of the American flag stickers and they put Canadian flag stickers on it.
EISENBERG: They did?
HIDALGO: They did, yeah. And occasionally they changed the tag - or the birthplaces. Like, each figure would come with a file card, right?
HIDALGO: So occasionally they changed the birthplace of some of the G.I. Joe so they'd be Canadian, all right.
HIDALGO: Thinking - I don't know what they were thinking. They were thinking...
EISENBERG: So they'd be, like, from the Nanaimo Sea (ph) or something like that.
HIDALGO: Yeah. So they're thinking that this will help keep Canadian culture alive to all these kids who are playing with this stuff. But they neglected to remember that we're also watching the cartoon, which has a real American hero sung over and over again.
EISENBERG: That's right.
HIDALGO: We're also getting the comic book, which tells us, you know, basically that the toys are living a lie.
HIDALGO: But, you know, we appreciate it.
EISENBERG: But it's still nice.
EISENBERG: Here is your last clue - the hungriest of all ghosts. No pizza or doughnut is safe when he's around.
HIDALGO: Is that Slimer?
HIDALGO: Yeah, OK.
EISENBERG: That is Slimer, the green ghost Slimer from the real "Ghostbusters." No peace or doughnut is safe when he's around.
HIDALGO: So keep im away from the Michelangelo figure or else you've got a lot of tension right there.
EISENBERG: See, I can see this is what you did with your action figures.
HIDALGO: Exactly, see.
EISENBERG: You put them together into a new scenario.
HIDALGO: You find the narrative, yeah.
EISENBERG: You got them all right. I might - double checking that. Puzzle guru Art Chung, how did Pablo do?
CHUNG: He took everything we had at him and beat it to a pulp.
CHUNG: And he and Sarah Monroe (ph) both won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.
HIDALGO: We each won one.
EISENBERG: Yeah, we...
HIDALGO: We don't have to share one, right?
EISENBERG: That's right, you get your very own that you, you know, that can interact with, perhaps, Bumblebee or...
HIDALGO: (Laughter) Perfect.
EISENBERG: ...Whatever the best friend will be. Pablo Hidalgo, thank you so much. Pablo Hidalgo is the creative executive at Lucasfilm. And the latest "Star Wars" film "Rogue One" comes out on December 16. Thanks for joining us.
HIDALGO: Thanks for having me.
COULTON: (Singing) Met him in a swamp down in Dagobah where it bubbles all the time like a giant carbonated soda. S-O-D-A, soda. I saw the little runt sitting there on a log. I asked him his name and in a raspy voice he said, Yoda, Y-O-D-A, Yoda, yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda. I've been around but I ain't ever seen a guys who looks like a Muppet but is wrinkled and green. On, my Yoda, yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda. Well, I'm not dumb but I can't understand how he can lift me in the air just by raising his hand, oh, my Yoda, yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda. Yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda.
EISENBERG: That was Jonathan Coulton singing "Yoda," The Weird Al parody of "Lola."
COULTON: Oh, yeah.
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