Tag Archives: Darth Vader

Kenneth Coombs – His Star Wars Story

Panic not, readers, this story was completed on schedule but it was a close one; we had to double our efforts!

It took a lot of waiting, but we finally encounter Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi with a grand entrance to make even Darth Vader himself drop to one knee. It was an iconic scene and our guest is here to talk us through it.

Kenneth Coombs has a huge acting CV with heavyweight films such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Octopussy, Superman IV, Batman and Rush combined with TV appearances on Minder, Space Precinct and Lewis. Ken is as experienced as they come in film and television, but he also portrayed an Imperial Officer in Jedi. A tiring role, no doubt, with Darth Vader’s pressure on him! Ken talks us through his role and the fandom he has encountered since.

Thank you, Ken, for sharing your story with us. How are you keeping at this difficult time?

It’s a problem really because I’ve got so much time on my hands and because of my age I’m not supposed to go out, but thank God for the good weather we’ve had! It’ll get better and I’m still doing the film work. The last one I did was the beginning of the week that everything closed down, so hopefully once it starts again it will pick up. We have to remain positive.

You were part of one of the most iconic moments in Star Wars, the huge scene that introduced the Emperor. Before we go into any detail on that, how did you end up there?

It was early in my career in film, I think it was my third or fourth film. I was sent up to Elstree Studios by my agent for a part in Revenge of the Jedi, as it was known then.

I didn’t really know what it was. I’d seen the first Star Wars film at a charity screening in Leicester Square and I thought it was fantastic, but I hadn’t seen Empire and it wasn’t until I got there that I realised what I was going to be working on. It was a simple way of getting into it.

By the time of Return of the Jedi, the Star Wars saga was in full flow. Did it feel “big” at that point?

Not when we were making it to be honest. I was lucky to be chosen as an Imperial Officer. I just as easily could have been a Stormtrooper, but it was a case of not fitting the costume as Stormtroopers needed to be smaller. A lot of my friends were Stormtroopers. Once you got into that costume in the morning you couldn’t get out of it until the evening, whereas I had a bit more comfort.

The scene with the Emperor’s arrival and the reveal looked massive and had a very military feel to it. Was it massive on set?

I’m not quite sure how many of us were there, 150 maybe. It wasn’t CGI in those days, it was painted on glass. There were about five rows of Imperial Officers and five rows of Stormtroopers so it wasn’t until you saw it on screen you realised how large it was. You could see the bare bones of the studio from certain angles.

Personally, what would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars?

At the time it’s just another day and another job, but with hindsight I remember it very fondly and I’ve got quite a clear view of that day. When you are working with the same group of people on different days you make some great friends.

The humorous thing that I remember about the shoot was after lunch. I wear glasses and we had done two run-throughs where I had forgotten to take my glasses off. The officer next to me whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “You’ve got your glasses on,” and thankfully it wasn’t used in the takes.

I didn’t realise I was an Imperial Officer, actually. I was referring to myself as one of Darth Vader’s “Men in Black” and it wasn’t until I started doing conventions that I realised what my position was, ha-ha!

I suppose you were quite lucky because you aren’t behind a mask or prosthetics. Was that an advantage during the shooting?

I was incredibly lucky and I’m on the front row there, the only one with a moustache. It’s easy to spot me and they used the shot with me on the toys, which was doubly lucky. I only found out about that when I was sent one from America and I saw my picture on the back. I hadn’t realised that, so it was great because I knew I’d done the role but how could I prove it, and suddenly I’m on the action figure photo and I’ve managed to use that ever since.

You went on to small roles in many huge films. Was Star Wars the catalyst for that?

It doesn’t really work like that to be honest. With Superman and Indiana Jones and so on, a role in one doesn’t influence the others. I did four Bond films, too. You’ll get fans at conventions who are there for Bond, Batman and the other ones as well. Willow and Space Precinct are popular, too – a lot of these films or shows have a following. I think I’m close to 600 roles now. So long as I can get up in the morning, I can still do it.

As an actor, is it a challenge to be known as someone from Star Wars?

Not at all, I take it as a great compliment. What’s so nice about the conventions is that you are meeting the fans and these days it’s grandfather, father and sons – a whole new generation picks it up. I watched Jedi again on television and I can see why people have more fond memories of it. There are more people than the newer films and the tone is a little lighter.

I’m very proud of having done it. Jedi is my favourite thing I’ve ever done. I’m on TV repeats of stuff like Minder all the time and it’s not quite the same, ha-ha! I just wish I’d gotten into them sooner and worked on the previous two films. I’ve always thought at my funeral they should play the Imperial March for me going in or coming out.

I hope we are talking about a long way into the future there! Speaking of the future, what roles do you have coming up?

I have to be a bit careful as I’ve got three or four I can’t mention because of non-disclosure agreements, but I’ve worked recently on the Hugh Laurie comedy Avenue 5, The Crown and a BBC and Apple TV show called Trying with Rafe Spall, so look out for those.

No shortage of Ken on your TV screens everyone! You can contact Ken directly here to purchase signed figures and photos in the absence of conventions.

Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

Spencer Wilding – His Star Wars Story

You were not summoned here to grovel, readers. This Star Wars story is one that should bring you a lot of excitement. Few people can say they have portrayed the greatest villain in cinema history, but Spencer Wilding is an actor who can say just that.

This being a Star Wars-related website, introducing Darth Vader would be clumsy as it is stupid. He is the greatest bad guy the franchise produced and only those who wish to choke on their aspirations would dare say otherwise.

Spencer has had a lot of cool roles including in Batman Begins, the title character in The Wolfman, a White Walker in Game of Thrones and the guy who stole Star Lord’s Walkman in Guardians of the Galaxy…that’s him too, but when all that leads us to Darth Vader, we begin to learn the power of the dark side…

Thanks for joining us, Spencer. You had a very special role in Rogue One and the first person I’m speaking to from the film…

Setting the bar pretty high there aren’t you.

No pressure! How did you feel when you got the news that you were going to be Darth Vader?

It didn’t happen in one day; it was a process. The process started 30-40 films ago for me because they are not just going to chuck any tall actor in that suit. They have to be very confident in you. Vader hadn’t been around for a long time so they had to get it right. It’s a very special thing. Mr Dave Prowse is the man and he played him when I was born in 1972. He played a Minotaur in Doctor Who as well as Frankenstein’s monster, so he had a lot of other stuff going on, too.

My first audition was a self-tape with my agent in Manchester, the second was a self-tape a week later and then I got another self-tape…so three before I even got to the studio. We didn’t know what production this was for or who the character was going to be, nothing. We had to sign non-disclosure agreements, but I sort-of had a feeling. Using the force obviously. When we actually found out who it was it became clear why I had to go [Spencer makes a Darth Vader breathing sound which is very difficult to put in writing, thanks Spencer] at the end of every line!

The final audition was at Pinewood Studios and that was the big tick. The role was shared with Dan Naprous who did the fight scene at the end. It was just an honour to be asked to play the part.

What kind of lines do they make you read for this kind of role?

It’s additional dialogue that we had to read but the character comes through. I have a good voice for it which helped the other actors. My voice isn’t too squeaky and that’s helped in similar roles I’ve done. Darth Vader is a hell of a presence and really takes over your body.

You’ve had to do the reverse of a lot of the original actors by the sounds of it. Through doing Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Guardians of the Galaxy and everything else you’ve done, you’ve had to earn this opportunity. Was the slog to get there worth it?

I’ve done a lot of iconic characters over the last decade; Darth Vader is right up there. I was the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster so there’s a lot of big players. Every character I’ve played I have an equal respect for all of them to be honest. It doesn’t matter if it’s the guy walking behind Liam Neeson or the lead role in Green Street 3, it’s very special to get a part in a film – it’s a gift for me.

Does it bother you being in these roles with costumes or prosthetics compared to say, the role in Green Street where you can be seen as yourself?

I think some actors think differently but I feel as an actor you give a character a spirit, a presence, a soul, and bring it to life really. It doesn’t matter if you are dressed as a monster or putting on a leather jacket beating the hell out of people.

What is your best story personally regarding Star Wars?

I was five when the original came out in 1977. My dad was supposed to be taking me to the Saturday matinee showing in Prestatyn. I was very excited, every kid wanted to see that for the spaceships and all that. I was one of those kids when my mates were watching football, I wanted to climb a tree and find some animals or go running through wastelands. I would look at the stars and want E.T. to come down, I have always believed we can’t be the only ones out there…

When my dad went to take me to the cinema, he wasn’t into it so he took me to see Pink Panther instead. I was sat there waiting for the spaceships, I was only five! I remember the conversation eating my popcorn asking where the spaceships were. My mum took me in the end…ha-ha.

To be part of the Star Wars franchise, something people dream about, to be Darth Vader…you know I’d have been happy cleaning a toilet on Star Wars but to play such an iconic character, for the production and for the Emperor to believe in me, it’s an honour. When I put on the gloves, the pants, the helmet and all of that, I respected the character so much more after doing that.

Becoming Darth Vader being your personal highlight, how did it feel for you the first time you put that suit on?

It was something else. The very last audition, Darth Vader was rumoured to be returning and Spencer Wilding turns up and he is six foot seven… people were wondering, what’s he turning up for?

When I did the last audition there was a little tent in there, they pulled the curtain back, there were his gloves, his boots, his pants, the helmet, the cloak…you end up meeting the character. It’s very much a “if the slipper fits” situation but once I put the boots on, they fit like a glove, especially after I chopped my toes off ha-ha. I got the helmet on and my eyes went black. A presence comes over you and the atmosphere changes and you think, “Okay, here’s here”.

It’s not me, it’s Darth Vader.

Very few people have got to wear that suit. Is it weird walking around the set, are people acting weird around you?

People react differently when Darth Vader is on set. The presence he has, when he walks on deck you get a feeling from people and they aren’t acting. He’s a very special character and I get him now. I understand why he is the most iconic cinema bad guy of all time; I didn’t get that in the beginning. I understood he was a bad ass character but when I put the outfit on I really understood.

You say Daniel did the fight scene. Which scenes were yours?

Daniel did the end fight which is a very cool scene. He smashed it as he’s a top swordsman. I did all the other scenes and all the promotional stuff but we both shared the character.

I’ve seen you at conventions and you seem to buzz off it. What’s your take on the fan side of it?

I love conventions. I didn’t realise I was a geeky person until I started attending them. My daughter loves it and does a lot of cosplay. What I really love about them is the passion to make costumes and to be a character. I probably do give away more pictures than I should though ha-ha.

I met you last year at a convention and I took my nephew, Jake, to meet you for a photo with Ray Park as a birthday present and there was a short queue and a big line for the next shoot and everyone was looking impatiently at us while you guys were giving us a bit of a martial arts show. We thought that was really funny, by the way! How good is it to also mingle with all the other stars, too?

It’s incredible! I met Stan Lee at Mega Con and loads of other legends and I get to go to the front of the queue ha-ha. I go in a day early to a lot of conventions to meet kids at schools and stuff like that, encourage them to get into conventions. You don’t hear any negatives only positives at conventions…it’s beautiful, man.

We are locked down right now, how are you keeping busy and have you got any upcoming projects?

I’ve got a show called Devil coming up at the end of the year, we already filmed that in Prague. You know what, I’m dipping in and out of roles and I’m in my hometown with my kids. I’m happy and relaxed but wishing everyone stays safe and uses the force for good.

Thanks to Spencer for the great chat and insight into becoming Darth Vader. Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

Chris Parsons – His Star Wars Story

I am wondering why are you here? Because you are looking for another Star Wars story? Found one you have, I would say! This story has quite the price on its head, too

The Empire Strikes Back brought with it a group that would change Star Wars folklore in a very short amount of screen time, the Bounty Hunters.

A mysterious group, their scene with Darth Vader presented a threatening and engaging line-up and made for one of the most memorable scenes in The Empire Strikes Back. Contrary to Admiral Piett, we did need their scum. Among them was 4-LOM, played by our new guest Chris Parsons who not only featured in that role but had multiple other appearances within Star Wars, including acting as a double for C-3PO!

What does a feared Bounty Hunter and a lovable interpreter have to tell us about his time in Star Wars? We better get straight to it! Chris thanks so much for speaking to us, how did your involvement in Star Wars come about all those years ago?

It all came as somewhat of a surprise. Having done what I now believe to be pick-up shots on the original, I was asked to attend an audition at EMI Elstree with no indication of what it was for. When I arrived at the studios, I was shown into a dressing room and on the bed was the costume of C-3PO. The production wanted someone to play a double for Anthony Daniels’ character on The Empire Strikes Back.

Other artists had tried before me and either didn’t fit in all of the costume or mostly could not deal with the head pieces being screwed together, which made it impossible to get the costume off without any help. I decided then and there that this costume would not beat me, and I subsequently got into it with the head secure.

I then perfected the walk and learned to do the voice of what is now the iconic C-3PO. As filming progressed, I must have proved my worth to the second assistant directors (Roy Button and Steve Lanning) as the two of them allowed me to portray ten roles in total over the original three films, one of these was the Bounty Hunter 4-LOM who has been very good to me. Without a doubt, I owe my current privileged fan interest to be down to Roy and Steve, who were in my opinion the two best in the business at the time, and both have gone on to great achievements.

Chris as E-3PO

You had a lot of involvement in it and Empire is one of the biggest films of all time. How do you feel about appearing in that now that you look back on it?

At the time of filming Empire, I think everyone working on it felt it was something special to follow the original, but I had no idea quite how big a following this film would attract over the many years since its release.

Apart from the actors, of course, it was down to the crew and in particular the magical director that was Irvin Kershner, who is sadly missed, so of course the fact that I was involved in this film portraying many characters is a sense of great satisfaction to me.

What would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars?

One of my best stories involves the late, great Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. During the filming of The Empire Strikes Back, I was wearing an all-in-one black leotard which was the base clothing I wore when portraying C-3PO or my other droids. I had left one of the stages and was on my way to a dressing room up a flight of stairs. I was near the top when Carrie and Mark, who were on the way down, thought it would be funny to mess around with someone they knew, a young teenager dressed in only a black leotard.

Their plan was to try and de-bag me. They laughed as they set about their evil task and I fought them off with vigour, conscious of the fact that these two people were leading actors in the film and if I had hurt them in any way, there would have been hell to pay and I probably would have got the sack! I’m pleased to report that I won the day with my garment left intact.

I doubt many can say they’ve been attacked by Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia; they must have been wonderful to be around. One of your more famous characters, 4-LOM, has built up quite a cult following, as have so many of the Bounty Hunters. Have you followed his story in other mediums?

I’ve read about 4-LOM in the paperback books and look forward to seeing if he appears in the new Mandalorian series. This new series is of great interest to me and I would like to reprise the role of 4-LOM if the opportunity came my way.

Chris has spoken, Jon Favreau, let’s get it done! Do you own many of his action figures?

Around my home I am fortunate to have I think at least one of all the various 4-LOM figures made, although I’m sure a few have escaped me!

Does working on Star Wars make you want to continue working in that genre, or branch out more?

Working on Science Fiction films is enjoyable but when you play the type of characters I did, they do not really test you as an actor. It would be interesting for me, now that I am a lot older and more experienced with life, if I could play a hard man in a similar way to someone like Vinnie Jones or Ross Kemp.

There would probably be a market for 4-LOM in Afghanistan or 4-LOM’s Football Factory, regardless I think it would be great to see more of you. You’ve been in some terrific non-Star Wars films including Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Shining. What has been your favourite film to work on outside of that galaxy?

I have been very lucky to have been involved in some other extraordinary films even with my personal limited exposure. One can sometimes sense that the film will be of interest to the fan base, such as Yentl, whereas others I have worked on seem to have lacked that all-important spark of interest.

Aside from Star Wars, one of the most enjoyable films I’ve been involved with is another classic, Quadrophenia. I was in various locations with different scenes and you could really get into the character you were playing.

Sounds like we would need a whole new interview for that! To finish up, do you have further acting plans? 

I have my own business interests but seeing as fans at conventions kept asking me if I had any interest in future acting, I’ve decided to renew my acting memberships and acquire a new agent with a view of securing new parts.

Keep an eye out for Chris in the future – we will keep our fingers crossed for an appearance in The Mandalorian, with hopefully no disintegrations.

Working with an established artist, Chris has commissioned an exclusive 18″x 12″ limited edition 40th Anniversary print of 4-LOM, which would have been available at conventions, you can contact Chris directly here if you are interested in adding this to your Bounty Hunter collection!

Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

Alan Austen – His Star Wars Story

Long have you waited for the next instalment and wait no longer, Their Star Wars Stories Strikes Back with the first of many interviews from the original trilogy.

We don’t need to see our guest’s identification though, he appears many times throughout arguably one of the greatest films of all time, so many times in fact that we had to make him list them.

Our guest is The Empire Strikes Back’s Alan Austen, so let’s open the blast doors for him and talk Snowtroopers falling over, extremities of Harrison Ford being cold and a certain famous scene where we address the rumour that Alan was in Carbonite or a Stormtrooper or both!

Absolute pleasure Alan and thanks for giving up your time, we have a lot to get through with your involvement in The Empire Strikes Back, how did it all start?

I joined the Film Artists Association and Central Casting a month or so before the film and as part of the process you were supposed to phone in every day to check for work. They were always quick as they had thousands of members calling them and one day they said can you be at Elstree Studios at 6 in the morning for a film called ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, it was my first job through them and happened really quickly.

I hadn’t seen the first Star Wars film at this point but Alan Harris (Bossk), who sadly passed away recently, took me under his wing on my first day. As I got more into it, I started making friends with the other guys and some of us are still friends to this day. It was a big learning curve for me and every film I did after that was a bit of an anti-climax to be honest, you kind of go on set thinking “Where’s the magic?”

Does it take some pressure off that you hadn’t seen Star Wars? I can imagine now people walk onto a Star Wars set feeling an immense amount of duty. Did that make it easier for you, would you say?

With hindsight I think it did. If it had been the phenomenon that it is today maybe I would have felt differently. It’s a similar situation to when I did Raiders of the Lost Ark the following year. If Steven Spielberg had been the Steven Spielberg that he is today, I don’t know if I could have done it.

It was a gradual introduction to the Star Wars universe, we were dressed as Hoth Rebels and had to just run past a camera, and that’s when I first got talking to Harrison Ford. Obviously, I knew who he was but he wasn’t the box office sensation that he is today. This was him finding his feet, too. We were able to talk on a very casual basis; I wasn’t awestruck at all.

What would you say is your best story from working on The Empire Strikes Back?

Oh, so many! I was in the tunnels of Hoth with Harrison, just he and I during one of those long waits pacing up and down between takes. It was really hot on Hoth! We were dressed up for arctic conditions with lights all around us in the Spring of 1979 and I said “Harrison, is it warm enough for you?” and he said “Kid, I’m sweating my balls off!” Harrison is a funny, witty guy who would throw his own stuff in there.

I can’t really come up with a best story although there’s a shot of Carrie Fisher laughing that was a behind-the-scenes shot which is a story I will tell in a book I am writing. The greatest thing about working on Empire was some of the friendships I made, John Mogridge (Hoth Rebel, Snowtrooper, Stormtrooper) is still a great friend and we met on set. John and I were the Stormtroopers who placed Han Solo into Carbon-Freeze during the “I love you, I know” scene, that was a stressful few days! You could barely see through the helmets, but it was such a crucial scene to be involved in. We were both picked out to do that as we had developed a bit of a rapport and we didn’t want to get it wrong. It was the end of July 1979 and a lot of people had come and gone by that point.

Going back to what you said about Harrison throwing his own stuff in there, the original line was supposed to be “I love you too” and he famously improvised that right?

I think he probably said the other line a few times, we did so many takes of that scene, more than I can count but he cut it down to “I know”.

Did I not read that you were also Han Solo in Carbonite? You would have been in the scene twice!

I’ve seen a lot of confusion about this. We’d all finished on the film and the sets were being broken down, the main cast had returned to America and I got a call from Central Casting in September of 79 and they said can I go back on Empire. They told me they wanted me to double as Harrison Ford, I thought they were joking but sure enough I got dressed up as Han where they had me twiddling knobs, flicking switches, swivelling round and stuff like that.

Because of Star Wars lifelong friendships were formed and for that I will always be grateful. One standout moment though, there’s too many!

You are making me want your book now Alan! You pop up everywhere in Empire Strikes Back, which role was your personal favourite?

The Snowtrooper scene could have been very different!

Stormtrooper without a doubt. I was a Hoth Rebel to begin with, then they dressed us up as Snowtroopers for a short time. There are a few photos of us all falling into a heap, the guy in front tripped when we enter with Darth Vader and we all crashed into each other! After that I was a Stormtrooper, a Bespin Guard, an X-Wing pilot briefly, not a very flattering photo of me doing that by the way! Mainly it was a Stormtrooper, a lot of running about, firing blanks and chasing after Carrie, it was all a lot of fun.

I saw you got drawn back into acting via the convention circuit, how do you find attending these events?

They are wonderful! John and I often get booked together; no-one knew where John was for a while but now we are back together and we get booked together. We love meeting the fans, we enjoy telling our stories. I’ve done quite a few in Germany now and we go down well over there. I’ve nothing but praise for conventions, they are brilliant!

It’s a wonderful thing isn’t it that so many people want to engage with you due to Star Wars no matter what the size of the role is, I’m not sure how many other film franchises can claim to have that lasting effect.

It’s the enthusiasm that comes across. I watched all the films but I didn’t for years. I didn’t go to the cinema to watch it and I turned down Return of the Jedi (Your writer makes a surprised noise!) I don’t know if that was a good or a bad decision. They wanted me to be a Stormtrooper again, but they were clear that there’s not much work on it and I had other things going on, so I turned it down.

I saw through attending events that you appeared in “Salient Minus Ten” the award winning short that brought you back into acting in 2017, how was it to be back in front of a camera?

Salient was more reactionary acting, I hadn’t been in front of a camera for 10 years at least and it was like falling off a log, a bit rusty obviously. Someone must have liked my performance as I got a best actor award although I haven’t seen what the competition was like! I think when you do something for the best part of 30 years it becomes second nature, you walk onto a film or TV set and you know what to do.

Could a future Star Wars project tempt you into the bigger screen?

100% I would be there although I wouldn’t do it as a background artist. In 1984 I started getting a lot of good stuff on TV and then Absolute Beginners came along and I discovered lots of my old friends were on that. The surprise was it was a David Bowie film and I’ve got to say it was the happiest film I ever worked on. I had about a month working on that but after that I said that was it, no more supporting roles in films. Salient Minus Ten was the next scripted role that came along and I was very happy to take that on.

But you got to meet Bowie which must have been a real honour, I’m staring at a portrait of him on the wall as it happens! Where can fans meet you next?

I’ve just shot a short film called “The Other Soul to Evie” by Martin Daniels, who is quite an up-and-coming director. It’s about mental health and I’m playing the father to two adult children, a son and a daughter, and the trailer is available to view on YouTube. I’d like to work with Emma Dark again and follow up Salient Minus Ten when she’s ready.

I’m out doing a lot of conventions, Holland in April, Germany and Folkestone in May and following that Los Angeles in December. I try to do as many reputable conventions as I can, so I hope to see fans there!

Thanks to Alan for the excellent story, hope you the dear readers can catch Alan on his convention travels and check out the trailer for “The Other Soul to EvieOn Youtube by clicking here! Until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.