Greetings, exalted ones! We can’t spend too much time nodding to each other waiting for something to happen this time around. We better get talking to our guest who has a story that makes even Princess Leia’s powerful friends jealous.
Stephen Costantino, musician extraordinaire and accidentally-famous Gamorrean Guard, is joining us because Blues Harvest told us he plays a mean guitar, but also because he’s got a wonderful story about getting into Return of the Jedi.
Normally Their Star Wars Stories focusses on the fond memories of being on the movie itself, but Stephen’s story is how he got there. It’s one you better read otherwise the Sarlaac awaits, and Stephen knows all about being in there…
Hi, Stephen, and thanks for joining us. You are a lucky one at the moment as your passion is something you can do right at home. How are you keeping busy?
I’m in a recording studio just going at it, five days straight now. It’s kind of cool as I can do a lot online, too. I was in Las Vegas doing my last show and everything was shutting down as I was leaving. It was very surreal, I must say.
I do believe you are the first person I am interviewing for the website who has already been mentioned in a story. Any messages for your friends Blues Harvest?
Love those guys, I can’t wait to go on air with them again. Those guys are my boys, so talented and they make me feel so at home and welcome in the UK.
We should get into your Star Wars journey because it’s excellent. How did you end up in Return of the Jedi?
I met Corey though my Sensei as we were both martial artists. Corey is obviously Billy Dee Williams’ (Lando Calrissian) son and they lived together at the time this was all going on. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gone to his house.
I had always respected Billy Dee from things like ‘Brian’s Song’, ‘Lady Sings’ the ‘Blues and Mahogany’. I was a fan of his as an overall artist. Corey and I started playing together in the garage there; we were really open and had a lot of influences on our music. It was magic, we lived for it every day.
One day we were working on material and we were at a high point creativity-wise. Billy had come in and said to Corey, “Do you want to come stand in for me?” Corey asked where, and it was in Yuma, Arizona, for Return of the Jedi. Corey was a little hesitant; he knows it’s not as glamourous as people think and it’s a lot of work. Corey said we were at a high point and had some doubts, but Billy said, “Why don’t you bring your guitars along, maybe perform a bit on the set?”
Next thing I know we are in Yuma. It’s a Sunday which was a day off for everyone. In the back of the hotel they had these cottages for the cast and crew and everybody is hanging by the pool. That was the first time I met Peter Mayhew coming out of a four-foot hot tub, towering over me. Mark Hamill came along; he made me feel really welcome. Then we started going out to the set and that was a lot of long, hot days, and out there the sand was like an ocean because of the winds.
There were a lot of hours just hanging around which was incredible. I got to hang out with Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Carrie Fisher and Stuart Freeborn, who had an indelible effect on me. It was magnificent seeing how that workforce was put together, building this city and tearing it down.
By the third or fourth day, Billy invited us along to dinner with producer Howard Kazanjian, and I said to Howard, “If I’m out there, put me to work, I’ll do anything.” The next day they brought us in and by that point Corey was doing some background stuff and they made me a Gamorrean Guard. We had some pictures taken of Corey and I with the masks off, and that was put away.
The costume was all latex but there were marks on the floor they said, “Follow that, Luke’s gonna kill you and you are going in the Sarlaac pit for a thousand years.”
I have really great memories and I didn’t talk about it much in the past because I just thought I was another guard; there are a lot of guards in different scenes. About 10 years ago, those pictures resurfaced and the guys at Burnley Star Wars Fan Fun Day found out I was the guy behind the mask who got killed by Luke and they asked if I’d ever signed autographs. I said, “I didn’t know I could,” so they sent a lot of stuff over from England – and I’ve got nice handwriting, being a writer – and that’s how it became known that I played the guard. Pretty amazing journey!
Brilliant story, Stephen! In terms of the whole experience, what else do you remember fondly from working on Jedi?
One night there was a blackout in all the rooms so we lit a bunch of candles. Corey had a bass and I had a guitar and we just played a bunch of music for everyone – that was incredible.
The relationships with people like Stuart and Kenny Baker…Kenny had some incredible stories to tell. He had a Rolls or a Bentley and of course the steering’s on the other side. He called the hotels up but when he got to a hotel he’d get out really quickly and they could have sworn someone pulled up. He was hysterical he had such a sense of humour.
This was the first question I thought up for you as I’ve been wondering this since I was a kid… Were those Gamorrean Guard costumes as hot as they look in the desert? They don’t look very tailor-made for heat…
Oh god…yes. When they took the top of the costume off Corey would have to hold me up, I was like humpty dumpty! You couldn’t sit down and they had to put a blow dryer in my mouth for air – it’s safe to say it wasn’t the most comfortable.
For yourself, I know Star Wars had a lasting impact on you and you are obviously a big fan. Being a Gamorrean Guard has led to the name of your music label, and I believe you have a tattoo of your logo?
I was at Celebration 2015 and they had a tattoo alley who were all approved by Lucasfilm and Disney to be there. I told my girl, “I want a tattoo but I want him playing the guitar.” I didn’t have time on the day, so the guy agreed to come round my place before he left the next morning and he did a tattoo of my logo until 2am – I love it.
You are more well-known for music, so how would you describe your music for those who haven’t heard it?
I’m from New Jersey so in the 70’s I went to see Led Zeppelin a few times, King Crimson, Miles Davis, and there weren’t too many boundaries for music. I’m from Hoboken, same place as Frank Sinatra, so we are a big Sinatra family. You add that with rock music like Jeff Beck and the British Invasion; a lot of influences there.
People say I sound like Pink Floyd or Peter Gabriel, and I’ll take that, but I’ve got a little of everything. I love jazz, too. I don’t know hip-hop that well, but being from the east coast, that’s the genesis of it. I started working with Brett Mazur in that game and I started to get pretty hot in that because they liked my old-school style of playing and they could sample it. I was also in a band called ‘The Cronies’ with Billy Wirth from the film Lost Boys, we wrote together.
Music plays such a huge part in Star Wars, in your opinion does any film franchise manage the musical side better?
Music’s a huge part of my life. I was into soundtracks before I was involved in Star Wars. As far as synchronicity is concerned, John Williams…you know he crossed over into some big movies like Indiana Jones and that’s pretty amazing. He does it in a classic way that you don’t hear often. I love the Tangerine Dream soundtrack from the movie Thief which James Caan stars in, Scorsese and the way they use source music.
My last question for you is also music-related, as it’s so important to you. You mentioned that pesky Luke Skywalker sees you off into the Sarlaac pit. What song would you like to dub over that scene if you could?
I thought ‘Starship Trooper’ or ‘Your Move’ by Yes, but me going into the pit probably something that tells a story I think it has to be ’30 Days in the Hole’ by Humble Pie.
On that musical note, we thank Stephen for his time and look forward to catching more of his music in the future. Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.
Did you enjoy reading this interview? From one Star Wars musician crossover to another we go to Tim Dry who played for The Queen, supported Duran Duran and played J’Quille in Return of the Jedi. Read more by clicking here.