Tag Archives: Luke Skywalker

Stephen Costantino – His Star Wars Story

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.

Nick Maley – His Star Wars Story

I’ve been waiting for you readers; we meet again at last. Star Wars Stories are a wonderful thing with each mention of a character’s name, actions and of course their quotes, but aside from that the saga brings with it visual escapism into worlds that we can only imagine.

Mos Eisley Space Port is a prime example of that. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, as a wise Jedi once said. The creatures were otherworldly but also at the same time had something a little humanoid about them – ever wondered why?

Well who better to ask than Nick Maley, creature creator extraordinaire with some serious heavyweight films to his credit, including not only A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back but Superman and Highlander, too. Nick was part of the team who created the characters of Mos Eisley including Greedo and Ponda Baba, The Wampa, Tauntauns and a certain diminutive green character who is quite famous too. We will get to that.

Nick it’s a real pleasure and as you know I’ve been really keen to talk to you and share your story. Before we get started though it seems you have an alias, do we go for Nick or “That Yoda Guy”?

“That Yoda Guy” is something that came about many years ago when I was first in the Caribbean and even though this doesn’t sound like something you would do, I accidentally ended up with an art gallery!

Boats are kind of a small space when you live on them so my wife Gloria and I took on a little house and it had this funny building out the back which I used as a little studio where I started painting. Eventually a local prestigious hotel asked me to do an art exhibit around the pool for a day. I went and did this event and thought to myself, it may pay for a few Pina Colada’s, and the hotel offered me a space in the lobby to put a full-time gallery. That lead to opening up a gallery adjacent to  the island’s cruise ship dock as it had been made into a duty free zone and someone from the ships told me they do talks about things to do in the local area, saying give me some photos and we can talk about you.

The tourists get off the ship and they can’t remember the name Nick Maley so they were asking “Where’s that Yoda guy?” So to help the tourists we put up a big sign that said “That Yoda Guy” Island Arts and it’s stuck ever since.

For the actors I have spoken to this is an easy question but for yourself this is massive! Let’s try and talk the readers through your involvement in Star Wars special effects and make up…

You know I don’t remember the names of half these characters and the funny thing is they didn’t have these names when we were making them, they were called “Ugly #1 through #5” and things like that. Greedo didn’t even have a name, he was just described as “Alien”. There were five of those, they were called “The Martians” and one of them got picked to be the alien that gets shot. I made Greedo’s tasselled mohawk, and all the worts were made individually because we were sticking them onto a character that had been made for a Birds Eye pea commercial and trying to stop it looking like the alien from that.

I made eyes for most characters in the principle photography on that first shoot. They weren’t going to trust me with anything major as I was the new kid on the block but I got to be involved in little bits on characters. We went off and did Superman and Superman II, did a job for Gene Roddenberry, and then we went back to Star Wars; by that time I was a solid part of the crew.

To look more at the list you worked on, it includes a lot of the Mos Eisley Cantina, The Wampa and Tauntauns. You also contributed to Chewbacca, Snaggletooth, Dr Evazan, Mynocks and Ugnaughts and many more. Initially describing such creatures and physically making them must be pretty tough. What kind of guidance do you get initially on what you are creating? 

We had very little time for the Mos Eisley Cantina; you can’t really measure that time by today’s standards. Stuart Freeborn (Makeup Supervisor), his ideas were very terrestrial so he would say, “Let’s have a character that’s like a crocodile or a bat.” I think the idea of anything off the wall didn’t really register in his imagination. George (Lucas) came in with a drawing he had done in the airport, basically an oval sideways with lots of eyes on it and said, “I thought we could make something like that!” and of course we did, he was looking for out-of-this-world stuff.

Ponda Baba was about the most unearth like one that we did (by Chris Tucker who went on to do Elephant Man). Ponda’s hand was ultimately not used which is a good story. Basically, I made a sucker hand for this character we called “Fly”; these sucker hands got passed around including onto Ponda. You know the story, he has the argument in the scene and his arm gets cut off…I made the arm and they didn’t want it to look like Obi Wan cut it off for no reason, so they put a pistol in his hand so it was implied Obi Wan was going to get shot. They realised this huge sucker hand couldn’t hold a pistol so when they got back to the States they shot it again with a different hand that was hairy, but in all the wide shots he has sucker hands until his arm gets cut off and reveals a hairy hand.

Nick (in the noisy sweater) in 1976 with other make-up techs (left to right) Chris Tucker, Graham Freeborn, Kay freeborn and (sitting) Sylvia Croft

What are your thoughts on being in the team that designed Yoda?

If I could have made only one thing, the backup Yoda that I made for Empire Strikes Back would have to be it because I’ve been living on it ever since. The movies where I was head of department, I wouldn’t have got had it not been for that. Stuart was the mastermind behind all the creatures on Star Wars and he deserves the title of ‘Yoda’s Creator’, also Wendy Midener, she was very influential as she fabricated the bodies, she sculpted the hands, the feet, and Dave Barclay worked on the lip extension too; they are all “Yoda guys”.

While Stu was working on the prototype they wanted a walking Yoda for the shot way off in the distance. Then they wanted a radio controlled Yoda so I worked with radio control specialists Ron Hone and Dennis Lowe and fitted skins and final assembly on that for the one in Luke’s backpack and a backup for the main puppet.

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

The department was in crisis, as was the movie itself, when the main puppet had some hiccups, so they left Yoda as the last thing to be filmed. You’ll see there’s a lot of shots where Luke’s talking but there’s no Yoda in the foreground because Yoda is out being repaired, so Luke’s talking to a stick!

Myself and one of the trainees stayed for three days and three nights building the backup Yoda from bits that were lying around. I sent Bob down to the bicycle shop to buy brake cables, we didn’t have time to order anything; this was just a matter of putting together whatever we could. We worked 60 hours in those three days. I took the puppet down to Wendy who was one of the puppeteers by that time and we were too tired to drive home so we went in the storeroom, laid down and went to sleep. We slept for about 23 hours!

They finished the day’s filming and went through the night; it was seven in the morning and they have rushes (raw footage shooting) at eight in the morning. Normally I wasn’t important enough to go look at the rushes but I knew they were using the puppet we built, so Bob and I slipped into the viewing theatre and there were only five of us in there; George Lucas, the cinematographer and the first assistant, then a couple of rows back there was me and Bob the assistant.

The scene that put chills down my spine was seeing the Yoda we built with his head in the box, throwing stuff over his shoulder. For me, I’d struggled for thirteen years to get into the business, to get enough work, and every job you give 100% to because you don’t know if that little job will be the one that makes a difference to you. In that viewing room, in that moment, I knew that would be the moment that people wouldn’t forget.

That is a story that will take some beating Nick, truly wonderful. Were there any characters where you thought, I’m not sure how this one is going to work?

The truth of the matter is when you start out with a script for any film, you often don’t know how you are going to pull off what is needed. On Highlander we kept on saying, when a head gets cut off you see “The Quickening”, but as an effects guy you read it and you think, what is that? I said to Russell Mulcahy, what is this? He said I don’t know we have to make it up. I pulled in a friend of mine and we put some story boards together and each night Russell would come by and we would explain what we had.

We were going to see this five times, so we wanted to make the drama build in the movie. The first time you see it in the underground car park you don’t actually see what’s going on – I designed it so you see it reflecting in hubcaps and the underneath of cars. The second time we did it so that you see shadows on a wall. To my mind it was all a little Hitchcockian. Each one of those on film was exactly to my storyboards.

Obviously, Star Wars has enabled you to do some great things but now you are on a Caribbean island, Sint Maarten running the “That Yoda Guy” exhibit, what made you come up with that?

As I got older I started to think about how one could retain the memories of the people I worked with while they were still young enough to remember what they did, so I came up with this idea to build a museum that at the same time was a non-profit foundation that would encourage young and old people to follow their dreams, be all they can be and live extraordinary lives.

People would come to see me just as much to talk about Star Wars as to buy a piece of art. Often I’m asked, “How did you get started?” when of course the real question is, “How can they get started,” and so I found I was explaining things over a long period and I discovered through what I was saying that I do have a philosophy on being successful in life.

I’ve faced a lot of negativity when I was trying to get into movies and dealing with effects, and when you try and do something exceptional or something different you will find that people always want to encourage you to get a proper job and do something more normal. When people visit, I was trying to encourage them, give them faith in themselves and help them understand it’s a lot of work. If you want to be lazy then you better set off and get a normal job, as I say in my book, you can’t live an extraordinary life by being normal. All your heroes are abnormal people because normal people accept life and be the same as everyone else, the standards of normality.

Two of the people who worked on Rogue One came through the museum and I gave them advice on how to get connected and how to separate themselves from that crowd. Once you are in, then how do you fit in? When you are around a group of unusual people, you need to be the exceptional one in that group.

Nick’s book, “The Do or Do Not Outlook: 77 Steps to Living an Extraordinary Life” is available online. If you are in the UK you can check it out here and here.

Should you ever find yourself in the small nation of Sint Maarten in the South Caribbean you’ll find yourself with a pretty big Star Wars surprise…if you are interested in visiting the “Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit” you can check out more information on the official website by clicking here

More Star Wars Stories are on the way but until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Thinking of what to read next? Argh! Stormtroopers! Check out our Star Wars story with Alan Austen who portrayed a number of characters in Empire Strikes Back. Read more by clicking here.

This is not the scene from Toy Story…

Blues Harvest – Their Star Wars Story

Welcome back readers, this is an unexpected pleasure, we are honoured by your presence.

Dispensing with the pleasantries, this time around we have a different group of guests bringing you their Star Wars story. Your eyes do not deceive you; ‘group of guests’ is correct or more accurately, a band! This site isn’t only to tell you stories of people involved in the filming of Star Wars but also fans with an interesting story or two to tell. Blues Harvest are a band made up of Nick (Lead vocals), Adam (Guitar), Andrew (Keyboards), Jess (Bass guitar) and Andy (Drums).

Blue Harvest was the working title of Return of the Jedi and carried the working tagline “Horror Beyond Imagination” in order to keep filming as secret as possible, a convenient title to make use of for a blues playing band! Name-puns, Mark Hamill endorsement and more is covered as we chat all things Star Wars music!

Blues Harvest, welcome and congratulations on being the first fans to feature on the site, and a fantastic group of fans you are too! Andy, you are the drummer in the band and have the pleasure of being spokesperson on these questions, what is your band’s connection to Star Wars?

All five members of Blues Harvest are huge Star Wars fans as well as musicians. Outside of the band we all live fairly Star Wars filled lives, from collecting figures to hosting panels at conventions and even writing and illustrating canon Star Wars content. Our frontman, Nick Brokenshire, is a comic book illustrator and has penned several tales for IDW’s ‘Star Wars Adventures’.

Impressive, most impressive. So how did your band come together?

In 2013 there was an opportunity for some musicians to perform at a ‘Dinner with the Stars’ event for Burnley’s ‘Star Wars Fan Fun Day’ and at the time we were a group of friends who met regularly to record a geek podcast so the idea came out of discussions on that show. We had the idea of forming a band to play a selection of classic blues and R&B songs with ‘a Star Wars twist’ and Blues Harvest was born.

We still perform some of the songs we re-wrote for that first show, namely Death Star which is based on Eric Clapton’s ‘Crossroads’ and Obi-Wan Kenobi, based on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’.

Your band’s name will raise a few smiles in the Star Wars community, what made you settle on that name?

We went through a lot of puns at first, ‘Chewie Lewis and the News’, ‘Boba Fett Shop Boys’ and ‘Abba the Hutt’ were all contenders. But since we play Star Wars blues songs, we got to the original working title used during the filming of ‘Return of the Jedi’ and added the letter s. Now if anyone asks, I tell them we take our name from season one, episode 12 of the Ewoks cartoon named ‘Blue Harvest’!

Alternative band names from the Ewoks cartoon; ‘The Travelling Jindas’, ‘Rampage of the Phlogs’ and ‘A Gift for Shodu’, seriously if anyone is in the market for band names the 80’s Ewok cartoon is where it’s at! So now we know how you came to be, what’s the band’s best Star Wars story?

‘Rampage of the Phlogs’ didn’t fit on the Clapperboard

We’ve had lots of amazing Star Wars experiences but for us the highlight has got to be Star Wars Celebration in Chicago. We had the distinct honour of being invited to perform at ‘A Night at Canto Bight’ – a multi club bash with 3,000 Star Wars fans in attendance. During the show we invited several special guests onto the stage to join us as we kept the party rocking, including our buddy ‘Darth Elvis’, Jett Lucas (Son of George), Taylor Gray (Ezra Bridger, Star Wars Rebels), Vanessa Marshall (Hera Syndulla, Star Wars Rebels), David W. Collins (Star Wars: Resistance) and a #MysteryPorg who is a Star Wars celebrity whose identity remains hidden, for now.

You have a bunch of honorary band members there and the list keeps on growing! I understand Jerome Blake (Mas Amedda, The Phantom Menace) and Laurie Goode (Hrchek Kal Fas, A New Hope) are also on the list of Star Wars personalities to perform with you. Who made the biggest impression?

The first celebrity to join us on stage made a huge impression on us, Stephen Costantino. Stephen played a Gamorrean Guard in Return of the Jedi, and in real life plays a mean guitar! He was a guest at an event we performed at and accepted our offer to join us on stage; he enjoyed the experience so much that we organised a second impromptu show whilst he was still in the UK. For us this paved the way for a multitude of guests who have since become ‘honorary band members’ and he’s welcome to join us for a jam whenever he likes!

Your material is getting diverse and because of your convention links you got to sing “Ghostbusters” with Ray Parker Junior, what were the excitement levels for that like?

Performing with Ray was one of our shared highlights as musicians. The Ghostbusters theme is a song that’s so well known, especially amongst the geek community, and being able to play live with the man himself was an absolute dream come true.

Other than that we’ve also been able to explore music from other franchises such as the Marvel movies; one time we had an amazing opportunity to perform The Avengers theme at Disneyland Paris, we’ve also performed songs from Back to the Future, I think we have to give thanks in part to the awesome ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ soundtracks for the varied opportunities.

We understand you have a special Star Wars fan, pretty much the master of Star Wars fans…what’s it like to hear feedback on your music from Luke Skywalker himself?

We rewrote the lyrics for The Kinks ‘Waterloo Sunset’ to ‘Tatooine Sunset’ and we had an idea that Mark Hamill might one day hear it but had no idea he would respond so quickly and so warmly!

He absolutely loved the track and tweeted us saying “Magnificent! I now declare this as my official, unofficial Luke theme song!” Reading that pretty much blew us away… Luke Skywalker himself has heard our music!

Blues Harvest: Endorsed by Star Wars royalty!

This is about as close as Their Star Wars Stories will get to interviewing Mark Hamill and we are OK with it. Back to music itself, Star Wars has created such close associations with characters based simply on music, how as musicians do you feel Star Wars achieves that so well?

Two words: John Williams. Without him Star Wars just simply would not have been nearly as successful. The themes he’s effortlessly developed make us love the characters in that galaxy far, far away, from Luke’s theme in the original movie through to Rey’s theme in the sequels. We love performing some of these themes on stage and introduce them in our music where possible.

To finish, a quick game of Kiss/Marry/Kill here with 3 of the most recognizable tunes, Duel of Fates, Binary Sunset and Imperial March?

Tricky question, let’s say we would kiss Imperial March and marry Binary Sunset. We would kill Duel of Fates, because it’s music to kill a Jedi to!

Blues Harvest regularly play in the UK and you can read more about them by clicking here.

Check out their appearance at Star Wars celebration, Chicago here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of honorary band member and Gamorrean Guard, Stephen Costantino by clicking here.

Enjoyed this story readers? Are you a fan with a cool story to tell? Tweet us @TheirStarWars and let’s have a chat! Until the next time readers, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.