This fall, no one would blame you if you mistook the East Bay town of Benicia for the Cloud City of Bespin, one of the gas giants of the Anoat sector. That’s thanks to Hanalee Pervan, co-owner of Benicia’s One House Bakery and a tremendous fan of sci-fi and fantasy. In 2020 Pervan and her mom, bakery co-owner Catherine Pervan, created the viral trio Pain-dough-lorian, Baby Dough-da, and the Pandroid. This year, the duo created the classic scene of Han Solo frozen in carbonite at the end of “Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back,” dubbing the lifesize creation Pan Solo. “We’re such big fan girls,” Hanalee says.
The pair creates their fantastical sculptures for the annual Downtown Benicia Main Street Scarecrow Contest. The mom-and-daughter duo start really preparing three months in advance, then turn on their targeting computers three weeks before the holiday. For those last weeks, the two worked the bakery by day and on Pan Solo each night. The technical processing of the creation is intense — rather than clay or paper mache, everything has to be feasible with dough. The edible art piece is mixed material but leans heavily on what’s known as dead dough, or yeastless dough made with more sugar to keep its shape longer. All of the bottom pieces are baked until they’re “rock solid,” Hannalee says, then, slowly, the baked pieces are added to wood and metal. The duo used a heat gun for the finishing touches, after lots and lots of baking and molding. “It’ll expand, it’ll shrink, it’ll crack,” Hannalee says. “You never know with dough.”
But that pose is so iconic, and just the right amount of scary, that the Pervans said they just had to do it. “We love puns, like Java the Hutt, so it’s fun for us to see how many we can squeeze into it,” Catherine says. The big runner-up idea was to build Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors but, logistically, a creation that big in the oven wouldn’t have worked. Guardians of the Galaxy characters were high on the list of possibilities, too, so maybe next year.
Solo is installed outside the shop at 918 1st Street for free visitation and will be around through a few days after Halloween, night and day. There are 47 total businesses participating in the town’s festivities, so a full walk-through of the affair is worth your time. Eventually, Pan Solo will be composted (hopefully no dianogas in the Bay Area for this Solo to fend off). He’s one of 28 creations this year, and voting for the scarecrow contest ends Sunday, October 23 — though even when the contest ends, the fanfare will live on in the Pervans’ hearts. “I’m already planning next year,” Catherine says.