Tag Archives: Original Trilogy Stories

Alan Flyng – His Star Wars Story

Welcome back dear readers, this is an unexpected pleasure. We are honoured by your presence. It seems no two Star Wars stories are the same but once in a while we have the pleasure of speaking to someone who has a fantastic life story to tell.

Our guest is Alan Flyng who portrayed a Stormtrooper, Hoth Rebel and many more roles in Empire Strikes Back while also appearing as an Imperial Officer in Return of the Jedi. However, there is more to Alan than Star Wars, from his solo performance at Winston Churchill’s funeral to his eventual career in Costume and Wardrobe departments.

Trying to do the whole story justice is difficult but we shall do our best, we talk about said funeral, an incredibly difficult education, the road to losing the bridge deflector shield, getting Dudley Moore’s son out of jail and much more…

Thanks for joining us Alan and I’m really interested to hear your story. How have you been doing recently?

I’ve had a bout of poor health which has lasted me several years, but the last lot has been with me since the start of lockdown. I had cancer several years ago and I’ve had numerous procedures since then. I was working on a BBC period drama in the costume department and managed to get a crowd of 2,500 out at four in the morning including 130 principles; I went for my operation and got back in time to get them all out of their costumes. I have paid for rushing the operation that day ever since.

You are on the mend now right?

I am, I finally have a clean bill of health. One thing after another but I am under an all clear!

Great to hear! Let’s start by taking a look at your career, I’ve read that you sang at Winston Churchill’s funeral is that correct?

Yes, I was sent to Eton just before my tenth birthday. I was admitted on the quality of my voice and that meant that I was away from home for three years and I hated that. Just before I started my first school term a request came in for a soloist, that was my first job at St Paul’s Cathedral, it turned out to be Winston Churchill’s funeral. I’m facing the Queen, Charles De Gaulle and various other European leaders…I was absolutely shit scared, but a prodding finger gave me a push and I was off.

I was bullied at Eton mentally; being under 13 I was forced to wear a uniform, a top hat and all that. I never wore my top hat; they gave up trying to make me after I threw my third one off the bridge in Windsor. I was forced to sit another exam to go up into the adult’s section, I decided I was not going to do that. I wrote my name with a quill pen and then for eight hours I wrote nothing…

How did you move on from that type of education into the film industry?

I studied business at college and then went to work at North Thames Gas in the finance department…what a stupid place to put me ha-ha. I did two years of this horrendous job…but I met the love of my life.

I retrained as a tour guide, I ended up doing three-hour tours of London in multiple languages. When I wasn’t guiding, I was singing. We set up home and we were blissfully happy when a friend of ours at Central Casting said we could do odd days with her. I ended up on one shitty film after another, trying to stay in the background. I quickly learned that if you aren’t seen you have more chances of being recalled.

I had been inspired by an autobiography called “Shake the Stars Down” by Yolanda Donlan, you can get it very easily online. She appeared in Gone with the Wind and all of these amazing films but always as an extra and she learned all these tricks about how to keep herself off camera. Her face finally was on camera as she drove a wagon in a western film. She lost control of the horses and the director thought it was wonderful, John Wayne saved her, and it did wonders for her reputation, but it stopped her future background work. She became a bit of a comedy interview; she went her whole life doing it until she got a role in New York which resulted in her becoming the sort of Judi Dench of America. It all started with extra’s work, it’s a fantastically funny book.

I guess it was the extras work with Central Casting that lead to your work on Star Wars?

I did loads and loads of roles, including speaking parts, but I was uncredited for some and that was because I had more than one agent which I wasn’t supposed to have. I had long hair back then and I was young, good looking, modelling for Pierre Cardin so I had to keep my look because a hair cut would lose me that work. I would take jobs where I could keep my hair!

That’s how I ended up with Empire Strikes Back because I was already in continuity for three other films and I had to return looking the same as when I started. My agent said don’t worry you are going to be something called a Stormtrooper and wear a motorcycle helmet sort of thing. I only had two free days…six weeks later I was still in the damn thing! I went as a Stormtrooper and became a Snowtrooper, Hoth Rebel, Hoth Technician…I was doing all sorts.

In the meantime I was appearing in Annie, that carried on and I decided I wasn’t going anywhere with what I was doing, I really wanted to do something else and my families background was in tailoring. I applied to the union to join the costume branch to get work behind the camera. I got accepted and I did my tailoring exam, took over as chief pattern cutter.

Just getting into that work I got a call from a designer to work on his first major film, I said yes. The day before I was due to start shooting in Wales, I went into the production office at Elstree Studios to sign my contract. On my way out, Dave Tomblin was there smoking like a steam engine at the gates of the studio (during filming of Return of the Jedi), he was the first assistant director. He asked me to do him a favour and I told him I was on my way to Wales, he said it would only take an hour. Being the prime idiot that I am…I agreed.

This is for your role as an Imperial Officer?

Yes, they shoved me into a black jumpsuit which was quite funny as I made 30 of those for the designer. I squeezed into one of these, got the hat on and went out but the director took one look at me and said “No, no, no wrong uniform” so I went back and changed. I thought I was doing a favour at that moment, I got into the grey officer uniform which I recognized as a German motorbike uniform.

They pulled me out again and they just wanted one line, I was shown to the position and I thought this is easy what do they need me for! They re-lit and literally walked me around the set shouting this line, I said is this necessary…I’ve done jobs as a town crier before ha-ha.

I got it out of them that the actor supposed to be doing the line was sitting upstairs waiting for his uniform to be dried down and pressed so he could try again, I was wearing it. He had screwed up multiple times doing the line as he had a stutter! Anyway, I finally said my silly line, “Sir, we’ve lost our bridge deflector shields” and then I had to dive to one side. I did two rehearsals and then they called Ken Colley (Admiral Piett) in and I thought I knew him, and we are looking at each other but had no chance to talk. We did the scene and as soon as I was done, I had to go see George Lucas, sign a contract and say thanks. He gave me an envelope and said don’t open it until you get out on the street… it was an absolute fortune to me and apparently, I jumped in the air!

I got all the way to Wales (for the previously mentioned designer role), the producer there said they had a phone call about me from George Lucas. He wanted me to re-record the line…they said “I was under the impression I was getting a costume designer not a fucking actor!” I told them I did it as a favour. He took some time to settle down, but he said it’s just as well that you are here because I’ve told him to fuck off!

I got a phone call later in the day from the production office and the guy was roaring with laughter because George Lucas had been laughing that he had been told to fuck off because the person on the end of the phone didn’t believe he was George Lucas! Anyway, that was the start of my 47 films in costume department. Ken Colley, I remembered where I knew him from because I walked into the wardrobe on that first day in Wales and my assistant said the first fitting here and in walked Ken Colley. We did five films together after that.

How do you reflect on the Star Wars roles now?

To me it was all something of nothing. I hadn’t seen A New Hope, but I heard about all of the staffing problems. I saw it years later; everybody I knew on the film wasn’t sure if they were going to be able to finish it.

Alan (Background) in the Empire Carbonite scene

Return of the Jedi was my last time officially on camera, the problem with Star Wars is you say the same things to the same crowd (at conventions). I’ve never cared less, I’m shamelessly indiscreet I’ll tell all ha-ha! I understand it from the fans point of view but not the actors. Most of the actors even in principle parts only did a few days. I appeared in other films where I was there beginning to end.

What part of the acting experience do you look back on most fondly?

I did a Quatermass film running around near Pinewood studios chanting “MMRAH” and waving my arms around with a poncho on and stripes of makeup as one of the ‘Planet people’. It was chronically bad but I remember thinking, I am getting paid £130 a day for this ha-ha, send us off chanting again I couldn’t give a shit… “MMRAH”!

On American Werewolf in London, five in the morning we were on a street corner and two minibuses turned up. The first bus was a press pack, sound recorder, hair, and make-up and in the second we were just photobombing London, film a bit, jump back in. I had nothing to do except be in the main Trafalgar Square scene where he transforms into a wolf. We were supposed to keep our eyes out for the police as we weren’t supposed to be there! I had floppy hair in the rain, a policeman is walking up in character but there were two real policemen coming and I’m trying to alert the crew, but we got stopped and threatened with fines. The camera is rolling all this time and I’m at the back laughing while the wolf is changing, and it stayed in the film ha-ha!

You mentioned that following on from all of your acting roles you started working in costume departments and your family was skilled at that, was that a natural progression?

Yes it was, I wanted a change of career. I’d worked in the film industry for so long at that point and I felt I was ready to do it. You had to be the member of a union and belong to a specific branch and getting into those was incredibly difficult. That’s why I ended up at the National Theatre to do my City and Guilds exam, I had to apprentice myself to a tailor. I ended up with a guy who was head of cutting, I was with him for three weeks until he dropped dead of a heart attack. I immediately had to take over. I stayed long enough to get my ticket and I left to do Giro City with Glenda Jackson and Ken Colley in 1982.

I got to the end of the film and then was doing one after another back to back, I was abroad a lot as I spoke foreign languages. The longer I was in the business the bigger the films got and the bigger the wardrobes became. One of the biggest films I did was Hamlet with Mel Gibson and Ronin with Robert De Niro but I was more known for the period pieces. I got paid a fortune for those too, my bank manager loved it!

Fantastic that you were involved in Santa Claus – The Movie by the way, superb film! My childhood thanks you for that…

Yes!  I was called by a guy called Pat, lovely old fella. His sidekick was called Minnie, they said they wanted me to do some bits and pieces. When I started they said, “We’ve got 112 dwarves or short people” and I said, “OK…what do you mean short people?”. They explained the principle actor, Dudley Moore is four foot eight so they are shorter than him, we looked at each other… let’s just say there were some stories about this in Hollywood. There were 112 of them…and they also said that Dudley Moore wanted me to be his personal dresser. How can I do that? Ha-ha! Dudley Moore was absolutely wonderful; we became good friends. I was his personal makeup artist, a witness at his last wedding and I got his son out of jail ha-ha! He and I spent weekends in Paris together, so that he could avoid UK tax! I enjoyed that side of the business immensely.

Quite a story Alan! What’s next for you?

I have nothing on the cards, the last thing I did was make a brass crown for a film. One day, I’ll get around to writing all of this up and I’ll be another Yolanda Donlan to shake the stars down!

With that, we end a thoroughly enjoyable interview! Alan accepts autograph requests for £15 (plus postage) on photographs of him as a Stormtrooper and Imperial Officer, you can check those out by clicking here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Check out the Star Wars story of Richard Cunningham who appeared as an Imperial Officer also in Rogue One by clicking here.

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

Andrea Wickman-Miller – Her Star Wars Story

Utinni! It’s time for your next Star Wars story readers and we have a great guest for you once again, Andrea Wickman-Miller. Andrea featured as a fan favourite of the worldwide Star Wars audience; she was a Jawa!

The diminutive cape wearers made scavenging cool long before Rey came along and featured early in A New Hope as we were slowly introduced to the wide variety of creatures that Star Wars would treat us to. Admittedly, Andrea has grown a lot since portraying a Jawa although it was hard not to as she was a kid at the time! Now a gym owner, Andrea takes us through her life now, skipping school to be a Jawa and a headless R2-D2…

Thanks for talking us through your Star Wars story Andrea, how have you been keeping busy through lockdown?

I own a gym in San Francisco that has been closed since March 14 due to Covid-19, so we had to switch to doing online training quickly. It was like building a new business in a couple of days! We have just recently been allowed to start training some clients outside as well, which has been great. I also have three kids ages 12, 14 and 16 and so I can honestly say I have never been busier!

What kind of work are you involved in these days?

I own the gym with my husband. I’ve been in the fitness industry for most of my life and always planned on opening my own gym. I was lucky enough to do this five years ago, up until now, we have been very successful. We are hoping to be able to weather this Covid-19 storm we are currently in.  I usually do a couple of conventions a year, but unfortunately this has also been put on hold for the time being.

I think you’ve told this story a fair few times, how did you become a Jawa as a kid?

I was living in Death Valley from the age of four until I was nine. When I was in second grade, seven years old, we had a strange request from a group making a film. They asked the school if it would be alright if they used eight kids in their movie and the school agreed. Remember this was late 70’s and I’m sure that they thought this would be a great experience for the kids. Boy were they right!

A few people working for the film showed up to school and measured several kids for height. I happened to be the right height that they were looking for, so I was one of the lucky ones to be chosen.

We were paid for two days of work, we received $25 in cash. Our first day we were taken to a hotel room to be sized for our costumes. The second day, we were taken out to the filming location which is very close to Artists Palette (Death Valley, USA). We carried R2-D2 up a hill several times, it was exciting and tiring!

Jawa’s at seven years old! How are your school reunions now?

I keep in touch with several friends from Death Valley on Facebook, but I left when I was nine, so no school reunions with this group unfortunately. I am now really good friends with another fellow Jawa actor, Tim Donaldson, we have done all of our conventions together. We are trying to get all of the Jawas together, but that has been challenging, as some of them can’t be found!

That sounds like a challenge! What would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars? The one that you remember most fondly.

My fondest memory is the excitement of being picked and getting out of school! I remember how excited and nervous I was about putting on the Jawa outfit, I was afraid of the glowing eyes! One of the funniest memories now, is at one point when we were carrying R2-D2 his head fell off!

How was it wearing that costume in that heat? I assume carrying R2-D2 won’t have helped!

Luckily, this all took place in January of 1977, when the weather can get quite cold.

Going a bit deeper into how it affects you now. Why do you think there is so much interest even now so many years on?

Watching A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi in the movie theater is something that I will never forget. The fact that I can vividly remember watching A New Hope at the age of eight speaks volumes. The films were so different from anything I had ever seen. The lovable R2-D2 and the strength and beauty of Princess Leia and the overall excitement and intensity of this “space film” is every girls dream!

I have asked a lot of people involved in Star Wars this question as a collector of Star Wars merchandise myself. Do you wonder “why do people want my autograph”? 

Several years ago, when a collector reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in doing a signing for their group, I was really sceptical. I could not wrap my head around why someone would want my autograph. Now that I have been doing this for a couple of years, I totally get it. It’s a deep love for a movie and wanting to have a piece of it is exciting and fun.

Finally, you mentioned you attend a couple of conventions a year, how do you find attending them?

I have only done a few conventions and had a blast doing them. My first one I was very nervous, like who would want my autograph? Will I be sitting at an empty table? I was pleasantly surprised to find that many people were interested not just in the autograph but my story as well. I have met so many wonderful people through conventions that all have one thing in common, we all love Star Wars.

Thanks to Andrea for joining us! Check out the gym Andrea now owns by clicking here and you can find her on Twitter and Instagram with the great username @hotjawa.

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? Why not check out the story of Jack Klaff who also featured in Star Wars – A New Hope as X-Wing pilot Red Four, click here for more!

Tim Dry – His Star Wars Story

Greetings exalted ones, once again we are heading out the Dune Sea! Jabba the Hutt didn’t just like scum in his palace, he liked his music too. Max Rebo and his band entertained him regularly in between the odd Rancor butchering…

However, within his menagerie of monsters you would be shocked to find a pair of actual musicians chilling out in the corner. This brings us to our guest, Tim Dry. Tim played J’Quille in Return of the Jedi and also a Mon Calamari officer but he was more well known for popularising the robotic mime movement of the 1980’s with Tik and Tok. Along with his Yak Face playing counterpart, Sean Crawford, he played Wembley with Gary Numan and supported Duran Duran among many other impressive musical achievements.

Today we talk about his music background, how he ended up in Star Wars, a very heavy costume and if playing in front of Her Majesty The Queen (yes the Queen is making an appearance in a Star Wars story) is as intimidating as Jabba the Hutt…

Great to speak with you Tim and I’m excited to hear your Star Wars story! You are a man of many talents being an actor, photographic artist, musician, writer and a pioneer of robotic mime so what would you say you are most famous for?

I’d say that I’m equally famous for having two character roles in Return of the Jedi and also for having been a part of that whole New Romantic music and fashion scene in London in the early 1980s as a robotic mime, making electro pop music and hanging out with cool people who were fashion designers, DJs, musicians, and artists in the new clubs like Blitz, Le Kilt, Club For Heroes and Camden Palace. My other works as a writer and a photographic artist do get me some very nice compliments and some meagre funds but nothing resonates in quite the same way as the first two. As long as I’m constantly creative and do my best to entertain people in whatever ways I can I’m happy.

Tell us about your early career and how you got started…

I was taught mime by a wonderful teacher named Desmond Jones. I started going to his classes in London in 1976 and I became obsessed with this almost unknown art form. About six months later I became a member of his mime company and we were doing shows in colleges and small theatres around London. From 1980, I was also part of a multi-media group called Shock and we mixed dance, mime, music and theatre together in a way that no one had really seen before. Barbie Wilde (Hellraiser-Hellbound) was my partner at the time and she was in Shock as well. We met Sean (Crawford) at a mime class one evening and asked him to join the group.

Fast forward a couple of years and Sean and I were working as the robotic duo Tik and Tok after Shock split up. The robot movement that we created became very popular. It was a very exciting time! Shock recorded two singles which were big on club dancefloors, they were produced by the hip London DJ Rusty Egan (Founder of New Romantic Nightclub, Blitz) and Richard James Burgess (co-founder of synthpop band, Landscape). I started writing some songs with Richard before Shock split up.

How did all of that result in Return of the Jedi?

One day in early January 1982 we were contacted by Desmond our mime teacher who said that he’d been approached by the production team on the new Star Wars movie because they were looking for mimes to play alien creatures. The reason being that as trained performers in physical theatre we could bring life and character to a costume. There were about 20 of us auditioning in front of Desmond and the co-producer, Robert Watts. We were told to just do some ‘Alien acting’ which we did.

About a week later Desmond phoned and said that both Sean and myself had been chosen along with seven other mimes to be in the movie which was wonderful. We drove up to Elstree studios a few days later to be fitted for costumes. I was given this fearsome character who was then only known as Tooth Face (J’Quille) and Sean was to play Yak Face and we proceeded to take our places on the incredible set that was Jabba the Hutt’s palace.

We did about three weeks in the palace and then a few days on his sail barge which was filmed on the back lot at Elstree, the exteriors of the barge were all filmed in the desert in the States, watching Jabba get killed by Princess Leia. Very exciting!

We had another week playing Mon Calamari Officers on the flight deck of Admiral Ackbar’s rebel ship, wearing nice light costumes, after our really heavy and hot previous outfits it was nice to actually see where we were going! With the money we earned from our work on the film we bought a couple of synths, a drum machine, FX units and a four track Portastudio so we could create our own music for our live Tik and Tok work.

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

The whole experience of being on a film set for the first time was pretty mind-blowing. The scale of it all and the attention to detail was unbelievable. There were so many people on the Jabba’s palace and sail barge sets that we could hardly move and so some of the action we should have been doing was unfortunately shelved. You had the camera crew, big cameras, performers, extras, stunt people plus the enormous heat from the lights and the smoke machines going it was very claustrophobic. But it was great fun for us to see Leia in her famous bikini climbing over Jabba and strangling him with her chain and Oola dancing before she went in the pit!

I did approach Harrison Ford, who was seated in a canvas chair on set reading his script in-between set ups, I asked him for his autograph as my then girlfriend was a big fan. He raised his head and saw this guy with long dyed black hair, wearing a sweaty white t-shirt and these huge furry trousers held up by elastic which were the bottom half of my costume. He looked momentarily disconcerted then smiled and graciously signed my bit of paper. To my horror, later that afternoon I realized that I’d actually managed to lose it somehow on my way back to the dressing room. I didn’t dare go back and ask him for another and I didn’t dare tell my girlfriend what had happened. I just said that he was really occupied with his script…sorry!

The scenes with Jabba the Hutt are iconic now and it being the third film I would guess at that point the menagerie of monsters was almost a normal thing but how was it for you?

We were told early on that it was a kind of conscious recreation of the New Hope cantina by the designers and production team, so we knew what to expect. I have to say that the creatures in Jedi were much more involved and weirder than those in the first movie. Because of the confines of the costume and poor visibility there was no way to get an overview until we saw the finished movie. I remember feeling sorry for the Gamorrean guard who took a tumble down the steps and also the poor guy who got hurled into the Rancor pit.

Was J’Quille as heavy as he looked?

Quite simply yes! I had three layers on and the fibreglass head was very heavy. They had to take it off between each take so I could get some air. The wardrobe girls would blow cold air from hairdryers down my neck. Some of the performers did actually pass out on set on day one before someone noticed what was happening. J’Quille was a heavy dude in every sense and not someone you’d pick a bar fight with!

I have to address this as I have a thing for action figures, Yak Face is an extremely valuable older figure and J’Quille I believe has been hard done by although he’s got a newer one, may I start a “Justice for J’Quille” movement? 

Yes, please do! His time will come!

What’s more intimidating; playing at Wembley, playing in front of the Queen or working for Jabba the Hutt?

Working for Jabba was a doddle! Playing Wembley wasn’t that intimidating really as because of the stage lights and the distance from the thousands of fans you couldn’t really see beyond the first few rows. Playing in front of The Queen was pretty nerve-wracking as it was done live in front of not only her and Prince Phillip but also in front of 14,000,000 people watching at home. We’d already done a show that night with Gary Numan on his Warriors tour out of London and a limo picked us up and drove us to the stage door of the Theatre Royal.

Yourself and Sean are on the convention scene together a lot, how do you feel about attending conventions?

We both love doing them. We’ve been all round the world now pretty much since 2003 and that’s a real thrill. We get to hang out together again and be naughty schoolboys! We love meeting and chatting to all the fans that come to the events, hanging out with fellow performers, having a few drinkies and some laughs. We also get to make a nice amount of cash which is always needed!

Because of COVID-19 everything has been on hold this year. Hopefully, things will settle down safely and we’ll be able to be out and about next year with our photos and our Sharpie pens.

It still amazes me that my modest contribution to a movie made 38 years ago still resonates with people of all ages from every country. Nowadays we get three generations of Star Wars fans coming along to see us and that really is incredible. I don’t think any other movie franchise has the same breadth of adulation and it really does make me proud to see all those happy faces. I shall be eternally grateful to Desmond, my mime teacher, for allowing all this to come to pass because of the skills that he imparted to me and his students all those years ago.

With that, Tim departs to his first virtual convention. In the absence of physical conventions, you can contact Tim for autographs via Facebook here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of fellow creature performer, Paul Warren who portrayed Varmik in The Force Awakens by clicking here.

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

Jack Klaff – His Star Wars Story

Dear readers, you are back! A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one…

We’ve had a good run of Star Wars heavy stories thus far but on occasion the discussion can veer off into more of the theory behind the big hit of 1977. That’s what we have here today with our guest, Jack Klaff.

Jack is a stage and screen actor with performances ranging from bad guy Apostis in James Bond to starring opposite Richard Gere in King David to Rawdon Crawley in a TV adaptation of Vanity Fair but today we talk his role as X-Wing pilot Red Four…or do we?

The explosive (pun intended) part was short but Jack’s got a lot to say about the success of the film and we ponder some of the burning questions related to Star Wars. For example, what is the correct amount of times to have watched Star Wars? Or is it Stan Wars? How do we describe the films best? What’s a Space Opera? All this and more lies ahead of you and we hope you enjoy the read…

Thanks for joining us Jack, how have you been keeping busy through lockdown?

I have been keeping busy in a variety of ways. I have a new agent who is very proactive, two films are coming up one of which is dealing with politics in the 1970’s and another I can’t say too much about but still to be getting offers is great. I’ve also been writing; I’ve done an online Samuel Beckett play with a great South African actor called John Kani (most recently King T’Chaka in Marvel’s Black Panther) and on balance I really can’t complain. My wife and daughter are here, my son isn’t far away and I have a granddaughter so we are all busy and happy.

Great to hear! From an acting point of view, the arts have been in the news a lot recently due to the pandemic. What has this period put into the spotlight from your perspective?

It’s put in the spotlight the fact that writers, actors, dancers, performers and musicians really do depend on live performances. We have a neighbour who is a cellist and she’s been working consistently all of her life. I went around to drop off a loaf of bread the other day and she wasn’t there, she popped round to apologize because she had been working in a restaurant. I have another friend, I have done three productions at least with this guy, he’s done theatre at every level and he last designed something for the London Palladium which is a jewel in the crown of British theatre. He’s now moving up the hierarchy of Asda Park Royal.

That is where we are now, freelancers doing those kinds of jobs and don’t forget there are people who work at the box office, critics and others who depend on the live experience who are not earning…

It’s great that people have adapted and things are beginning to return to normal, for now at least. Your screen acting experience happened quite early, were you drawn into performing at a younger age?

I grew up in South Africa and I did a tiny bit of screen work there. I have always flirted a bit with movies, I was often told I was ugly actually…

I did a Law and Economics degree but went to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre school and I was taken into the Bristol Old Vic Company there but after a year I had no prospects. One day in June 1976 I was told to go Elstree Studios and be in this film. There was no audition and my agent thought it was called ‘Stan Wars’ due to a misprint.

Jack opposite Richard Gere in King David (1985)

I hung around for two days, the actual filming was me being blown up, shaken about and George Lucas saying good job and that was it. I had no idea until 1977 that this was going to be one of the biggest movies of all time and that people were repeatedly seeing it. People were telling me they had seen it eighty times and I thought that was a lot until an interview I did two weeks ago where they said, “Eighty are you kidding me, I saw it eighty times just in July 77”.

I went to the Royal Shakespeare company after that and while I was there it was the release of Star Wars and everyone made a fuss of it. People would come up to me after a show and say, “Oh Mr Klaff we really loved that Shakespeare…were you in Star Wars?!” and slowly but surely, I saw what the fuss was about. I took myself to see it around that time. Please don’t tell anyone except for your readers, I have never seen it since.

I’ll tell you one other thing just so you understand, I’m a professional writer and I got involved in storytelling in the 1990’s. I got some gigs teaching in very posh American Universities teaching storytelling and it’s wonderful whenever the students know that I was in Star Wars because they really pay attention!

I can tell them that the background of it comes from a book called ‘Hero of a Thousand Faces’ by Joseph Campbell and how influenced George Lucas was by the notion of a mythology, comparative myths and which myths go deep into our culture and psyche. That is one of the reasons why Star Wars has such a hold on people, it goes deep into the basic needs that people have for great stories.

In the context of the rest of your career, the Star Wars gig sounds pretty straight forward, just going in and sitting down, getting blown up…

It was simple yes. You alluded to the balance of work while we have been talking; I’ve earned well through film, television and writing and that pays for the next project that you get on with.

One of the things that fascinates me so much is what do professional actors such as yourself think about it now. You do all these other roles, acclaimed theatre performances and then five or ten seconds in Star Wars is what people want to discuss, including myself! Does that bother you?

Well no, the point is that it’s not all people want to talk to me about, but a substantial number of calls do come in. I’ll be honest, every now again I have exploited it…

A guy got in touch with me in the early noughties and asked if I had ever done any conventions and I rather arrogantly said I hadn’t and he said well there’s one in Coventry if you want to come along. They mentioned some nice people would be there, they didn’t push the boat out they just treated us really nicely. I met a friend of mine there called Angus MacInnes (Jon Vander/Gold Leader, Episode IV), Angus is an ex-restauranteur actually and we talked about restaurants and life. Anyway, when I was in Coventry, there was a queue! I spoke to my wife and kids and said I might do them from time to time. I don’t earn a fortune from it, but I sign and I have a good time. I earned really well in Dallas and New York in the past and that keeps things ticking over while I’m doing other things.

I don’t think that’s exploiting it though, there is a market for it. I do it myself, I have several autographs behind where I’m sitting right now. Star Wars capitalized on an audience that wanted or needed something like that at the time. It wasn’t that different it was just an opera set in space with the romance and the larger than life characters…

I’ve never heard that before, an opera set in space…well done you it’s the first time I’ve heard that! Sorry go on…

Do you think the original film was just something George Lucas got right at the time or do you think it could be replicated with another film?

There’s many prongs to this but one I already mentioned was that he really studied myths, he went straight for the traditional mythical structure. He followed Joseph Campbell and the comparative notion of it. When you go deep into an understanding of how myths operate it’s not just the Greek myths but the myths that are part of the culture of peoples around the world.

Each myth has the notion that someone’s in an ordinary world, a call comes, there is a resistance to the call, there is a mentor, a persuasion to get the person to come over the threshold. Once you have that then you are grabbing people, it’s something that goes deep inside us. It just so happens that George Lucas really followed the instructions. I’m not saying he did it by numbers, but he almost did and when you do that you are able to go deep inside people.

Harrison Ford is a marvellous actor, he has a lot of things that go with what makes a good screen actor, he is very contained and so on and most importantly in his case he has tremendous wit. Carrie Fisher was a wonderful person, very witty, I thought her hair was a bit ridiculous at the time, but it’s grown on people. Mark Hamill is a very good protagonist in mythical terms because off screen he was energetic, a very nice person but when he’s in the film you project onto him a lot of wishes desires and so on. So, you’ve got your protagonist, you’ve got your friend, you’ve got your mentor, your really serious villain and that’s a major thing. It’s religious and it has something of the western and opera in it. At the time it had state of the art technology, there was an excitement to it. The combination of the narrative and the depth of what people go for, what they want to hear in music, around the campfire, in movies, that’s very deep and a very solid narrative structure.

George Lucas was young and hungry and understood how he could catch the zeitgeist, in addition to that Alec Guinness always had the magic touch, he was in the news as the most popular actor at the time which I find fascinating. We are talking about an actor in the same era as James Dean and Marlon Brando. There was something about him as an actor, he was always involved in a great number of big hits. He was one of the most famous actors in the world in the 1950’s and then you have this incredible figure of Darth Vader voiced by James Earl Jones plus, puppets! You had this kind of opera meets western meets The Muppets.

Jack (left) in a cover shoot to promote Vanity Fair

That’s a good way of putting it! Finally, back to yourself, I guess your theatre work outweighs your work on screen, how do you reflect on that now?

Yes that’s right. I have done some arty movies and some not, I had a wonderful role with Richard Gere in King David. I can’t tell you how many TV jobs I’ve had…some have been virtually leading roles like Vanity Fair for example. I don’t want to sound defensive; I know I’m not a household name but I’ve done a fair amount of good television work.

People like me go from job to job, I have a literary agent, a script agent, an acting agent, I kind of have a booking agent for my solo work and I’m a self-starter so in any given week I don’t think you’d believe what I go through. There’s not a single role where I asked for it!

When you get to my age, I do a lot of solo work, I’m a storyteller but if you were to ask me to look back on my life’s achievements Star Wars would be part of it as it hit the zeitgeist. I’ve written quite a number of things that I am proud of too, but it isn’t over until it’s over and I hope that my future projects are what I’m proud of.

With that, we end a very interesting call as Jack heads to birthday celebrations. In the absence of conventions, you can contact Jack for autographs via Facebook here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of creature creator Nick Maley by clicking here. Nick was responsible for many of the Mos Eisley Cantina characters, The Wampa and Tauntauns as well as Chewbacca, Snaggletooth, Dr Evazan, Mynocks, Ugnaughts and a a character you may have heard of named Yoda.

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

Mike Quinn – His Star Wars Story

Greetings once again, exalted ones. We have a pretty good reading on who we are speaking to this time around and it’s another Star Wars legend, Mike Quinn. Mike brought life to one of our favourite characters, the wonderful Nien Nunb, but in addition he worked on a list of characters so long that even he loses track himself sometimes.

Little known fact, he worked on every trilogy as he was an animator on Attack of the Clones adding to his reappearance as Nien in the sequel trilogy. Mike’s got a great story to tell, one of determination and a love for what he does so, let’s get right to it…

Really happy to be speaking with you, Mike. You’ve been in some truly great films as a puppeteer, actor and an animator so before we talk about Star Wars, which is obviously why we are here, how did you end up in that field?

My sister was in the business as a child; she sang, played piano and was in a few pantomimes. She was winning talent competitions and things like that. It wasn’t really my plan initially. I had glove puppets, hand puppets and marionettes as a kid. My first experience with performing was when I was eight. I had a few magic tricks and illusions and a Punch and Judy style puppet booth so I would go to the park and do a few magic tricks and finish up with a puppet show that I’d written.

I was still a kid at that point and I wasn’t that good. I was shy and what I was doing was under-rehearsed. When I was about 12 or so The Muppets show came along and hit big in the UK; I became an obsessive original Muppet fan! I wanted to know what these things were and how they worked. I spent my pocket money trying to construct puppets and I would practice the moves in front of a mirror. I was the first boy in school to take needlework – they weren’t that pleased about it – but I got to make puppets in school. Then came the premiere of The Muppet Movie which I bought tickets to go see in Leicester Square.

I decided this is what I had to do with my life. I grew up in Enfield, London, and I would regularly visit the Muppets tapings and bribe my way into the studios. I tracked the crew down in Hertfordshire where they were filming in a village; the Muppets were landing in a pond with Robert Morley. I gave Jim a “Please can I have a job” letter and I think it was his birthday that day so he thought it was a card but sure enough I got a call from the Executive Producer, David Lazer, asking me if I wanted to do a bit of puppetry on the film.

I was initially a background puppeteer, but I was doing big stuff pretty quick, assisting Jim with Kermit and Rowlf the Dog and doubling up in wide shots. That’s kind of how it all happened…with will, determination and a bit of luck.

Is your path into Star Wars somewhat similar to the other puppeteers and performers who made their way into the films? It seems like that group was quite close?

Almost the same yes…I never really auditioned which was quite good. We rolled from The Great Muppet Caper to The Dark Crystal and they sort of dovetailed.

The next picture coming in was “Revenge of the Jedi”. Towards the end of 1981, Robert Watts took on a lot of us with the right experience because we were trained up as Animatronic performers already. It was a quick chat and I ended up assisting Tim Rose with Sy Snootles and Admiral Ackbar. Next, I found myself working the puppet closeup for Ree-Yees and everything sort of flowed from there really.

If my counting is correct you have been involved in five Star Wars films to date is that right?

I think that’s about right if you count Attack of the Clones!

I saw you did animation on Attack of the Clones…

I was a character animator on Attack of the Clones, so technically that puts me into all three trilogies. I’m in good company there with Warwick Davis, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels. A lot of people don’t know that I do animation at all; it’s another way of bringing something to life and an extension of being a puppeteer.

I think a lot of people will think your role was limited to Nien Nunb but you were behind or part of a lot of well-loved characters within Star Wars…

I was a huge fan of Frank Oz’s Yoda in Empire Strikes Back and I worked with him on The Great Muppet Caper with Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and a little in Dark Crystal too. He pulled me in to help on Yoda and because I was small I fit in well. I also did a baby Ewok, assisted with Jabba the Hutt…to be honest I forget them all now!

Before I go into much more detail, what story do you remember most fondly from working on the Star Wars films?

Well broadly speaking, being a fan of the first two films just walking onto those sets and seeing the next stage in these films. Being on Dagobah I could sneak onto Luke’s ship and look around, seeing the actors in their new costumes, watching Han come out of carbon freeze, seeing the Falcon. I was 17, it was my third movie so the excitement and the wonder is what comes to mind.

To be co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon was amazing; it wasn’t really planned. I just have a lot of joy and gratitude about it all. I was there to work and do the best that I could and enjoy it all. Anything I did on my first three films set me up for life in terms of puppetry technique. Where else is better to get training for that in such a short space of time?

It must have been amazing. You are one of just a handful of people to pilot the Millennium Falcon and for a person of your age that must have been unreal?

It was crazy and a bit abstract for sure because it was such a big thing. Going back onto it for Rise of Skywalker (working on Boolio) when he hands the data down to Finn and of course I was in the final scene of The Last Jedi…it feels like an old friend!

It’s really interesting that you were so young actually. A lot of the people I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to from the original trilogy seem to reflect that at the time it was just another job. Their recollection of Empire and Jedi especially is very different to yours. Yours is more in line with the sequel trilogy actors and performers I have spoken to in that you’ve got a feeling of wonder and excitement about it…

You know what, that hasn’t changed for me either – I haven’t become cynical or tired about it. When I walked onto the set in the new movies, I didn’t want it to end! I enjoy being around these brilliant, creative, wonderful people. These films will be seen long after I’m gone, and I don’t take that for granted.

Throughout your career who created the biggest impression on you?

It would have to be Jim Henson as far as my whole career goes. He gave me chances, mentored me and were it not for Jim I wouldn’t be here now doing what I do.

I was reading about Kipsang Rotich (voice of Nien Nunb) and how the producers wanted him back. Star Was must be full of great little stories like that. Did you meet and work together, or have you never had the chance?

I shot my scenes for Return of the Jedi and we knew there were going to be alien voices, so we used to just lay down a guide voice in English. When we finished the film, I had a chat with Ben Burtt about Nien Nunb’s voice and Kipsang was an intern at Skywalker Ranch at the time, Ben got him to do it.

They found him again a month before the release of The Force Awakens and got him to record some lines. They used him in the Disney rides, too. He was working as a teacher in Kenya when they tracked him down! I was hoping that at one of the Star Wars Celebrations we would be able to do a first-time dual appearance. I thought it would be cool to meet him for the first time on a stage.

Were you expecting the call about the new films?

I engineered it to be honest, but I suspect they would have contacted me anyway. I thought they will probably bring back Nien Nunb and I wanted it to be me, so I built a little web page about that. I was working with Thomas Dolby (Singer of ‘She Blinded me with Science’) andwe had just done a music video together. He was a close friend of JJ Abrams who facilitated a few things on his recent album and Thomas made sure that JJ had received my communication. So not a surprise, but a relief!

It must have been fantastic bringing back all of the original actors as much as they could for the sequel trilogy?

They didn’t have to do that; they could have got sound-a-likes or used anyone inside the costumes but J.J. (Abrams) and Kathleen (Kennedy) wanted to keep that continuity. It’s a nice addition for the fans, too!

What’s next on the horizon for you?

We’ve got the new Muppets series ‘Muppets Now’ which we did late last year for Disney+. There’s not been much in terms of new production for obvious reasons, and we would have been shooting the third season of ‘Kidding’ with Jim Carrey during this. I’m using this time to write and develop new stuff; I want more people to come into the Secrets of Puppetry training course, too. I took a lot of what I learned and created online workshops so I hope we can get some new blood in there!

To finish, one of my curiosity questions was not Star Wars related. How does Kermit the Frog do a Ted Talk? I saw you had assisted Steve Whitmire puppeteering him for that…

Oh, you saw that? That was amazing, my goodness. It was all about preparing to do a speech properly, he sat on a stool so he didn’t get tired standing up all the time and he had a drink so he wouldn’t get thirsty so that’s how Kermit the Frog does a Ted Talk…professionally anyway, ha-ha!

As well as his successful career in film and TV, Mike runs an online puppetry course called ‘Secrets of Puppetry’ for those aspiring to get into the field or with any level of interest. It’s the first ever of its kind and starts from the very beginning with the basics all the way into learning the top skills. Presently, Mike has a 60% discount on the Academy so joining the classes costs just $78.80 (just over £60) for lifetime access! If you are interested, click here to read more.

You can also contact Mike for autographs in the absence of conventions by clicking here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Jabba the Hutt puppeteer Toby Philpott by clicking here. Toby had a life of travel and performance before a role in The Dark Crystal lead to him working on the great Jabba the Hutt.

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

TOBY PHILPOTT – HIS STAR WARS STORY

The illustrious Jabba bids you welcome and will gladly tell you his Star Wars story. That’s right, exalted ones, it’s time for a new tale as we delve back into puppetry with everyone’s favourite giant-slug-mobster, Jabba the Hutt!

If you appreciate Jabba the Hutt then you are the right kind of scum for our guest, Toby Philpott. Toby had the honour of puppeteering the main body of Jabba with the equally honourable Dave Barclay. Together Dave and Toby were quite literally Jabba’s right- and left-hand men but as Toby will tell us later, the Jabba Team in its entirety would be the size of a rugby team!

Jabba was a huge character in more ways than one and pivotal in bringing the main characters of the original trilogy back together. From Toby we find that learning to juggle results in jobs on Star Wars, what being inside Jabba was physically like and that you could (probably) get away with hitting Carrie Fisher in the face with a giant tongue…

Thanks for talking us through your Star Wars story, Toby. I’m really excited to hear more about you and your experiences. How are you keeping busy at the moment?

My life hasn’t changed a lot. I’ve been retired more than five years and we moved to the country a year ago which is great for the dogs. Toby’s dogs introduce themselves in the lovely garden setting. I got my first proper job at the age of 51 after being self-employed for 30 plus years and that’s what I retired from. I don’t work in showbiz anymore, but I do go to conventions. I’m missing going to a few different cities, meeting up with friends old and new and having those little adventures.

I’ve read a fantastic list of things you were involved in before The Dark Crystal and Return of the Jedi. Have you always been drawn to performing?

My parents were both teachers and performers, so it was in my family. My mum thought I was going to be an academic but I fell into performing once I dropped out of that. I wanted to be self-employed because to me adults did something that they loved; they didn’t wear a suit and work nine to five.

It all started because I went travelling with a French girlfriend. We were living in a squat in Paris selling jewellery that her friend had made. Then we hitchhiked around America for 18 months and that’s where I learned to juggle. I was living in the town of Bolinas, California and joined a group of what you would probably call hippies. We used to get into concerts for free doing a bit of clowning and juggling. I got a taste for the benefits of performing.

We went to Mexico after that where jewellery wasn’t of much interest, but they loved the performing we were doing and I slowly evolved a street show. When I got back to the UK it was winter in London. I started doing a few classes and a few shows in Covent Garden and Portobello Road, then I was doing kids’ parties and I became a court jester at medieval banquets. I was drawn to performing in that it gave me the freedom to travel and learn anything that might fit into a show.

Sounds like quite an adventure! How did all this end up with you puppeteering Jabba the Hutt?

I fell into the film business. I was training to be a mime when my teacher called me up and asked if I had looked at a trade magazine called “The Stage”. They wanted people to do big creatures for this movie which turned out to be The Dark Crystal. There were not many people ready-made to do big creatures and so they didn’t really know what they wanted. The advert asked for dancers, mimes, acrobats, clowns and people like that.

The audition started with 200 people and it wasn’t a standard one where you stand up and do your thing. Jim Henson and Frank Oz put us in a room 20 at a time with a few gloves, heads, and stuff like that and got us to improvise. If nothing else I thought we were getting a workshop in puppetry from Jim Henson and Frank Oz so I took it kind of lightly. They got us down to the ten they were going to use, and they said four of us would start immediately while they were in pre-production. We were playing aliens who didn’t look like human beings and working in very uncomfortable positions. Some needed three or four people which was unusual; they had moving eyes, ears and so on.

Working together in puppetry you need to synchronize your body movements. The main trick with a puppet is to lose yourself in the puppet. Jim was a magician; Kermit the Frog is basically a sock with two half ping pong balls, and yet, he is alive. People naturally talk to the puppet and not the human being. You don’t have to coach that, and that belief is part of what brings the puppet to life, but also the puppeteer putting in their energy through the puppet.

The way I got the job on Jedi, I didn’t apply for it and I didn’t know it was Star Wars. I got called in by a producer who asked if I would like to do a big creature on their movie and I found out many years later that Dave Barclay got me the job inside Jabba the Hutt.

When you got the Return of the Jedi opportunity was there excitement there? I know you’ve mentioned to me you were not a fan as such…

It’s not that I am not a fan, I just hadn’t seen the first two films at that point. I had heard of them, of course, so the first thing I had to do was find a cinema showing them as a double bill. I came out impressed that I was going to be in the third one and started telling my friends.

The most exciting part was that we were the main character in the scenes and I had never felt before that my movement was so crucial to the scene. Jabba has around 20 minutes of screen time and it revolves around him. We had quite a lot of close ups; Dave was doing the right hand and the mouth with the dialogue in English and I am moving the head around and my arm is inside the tongue as well as moving his left hand. He’s left-handed because the right hand is over the body so I got quite a lot of moves. I got to hit C-3PO, eat the frog, smoke the pipe, grab Bib Fortuna…and they were shot close up on a set of about 100 people on it – no pressure!

One of the reasons I say Jabba is so important is that he draws all the main characters back into one place and then he is killed off because his work is done. Talking to fans at conventions, people love Jabba. He’s bad but not necessarily evil; he’s kind of a pirate comedy villain and not really in the overall battle of good and evil. He’s fun!

That’s true, despite the fact he is essentially a giant slug, he fits the typical characteristics of an Italian mobster!

There’s a bad guy in ‘The Maltese Falcon’ who is a fat jolly soul played by Sydney Greenstreet (Kasper Gutman) and he’s a delightful, mischievous villain. I saw Jabba like that.

They started off humanoid with Jabba then went very sluggish and settled on the appearance he ended up with; there were quite a lot of versions. When Dave Barclay and I first saw him, he already looked great before we started moving him around. When we brought him to life, we tried to give him as much glee as possible because inside he’s so many layers of fibreglass, airbags and rubber. Dave and I were diving around in there to get him to move – quite the experience!

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

Normally on set you can talk to the other actors but obviously in our role we couldn’t do that. We missed a lot of experiences; I never saw Carrie Fisher in the bikini for example even though she filmed with us.

This is a story I never heard the end of…when Han Solo comes out of the carbonite and the Gamorrean Guards bring Leia over, Jabba sort of wiggles his tongue at her and the tongue really was disgusting. The first take I did it cautiously but I heard over the headphones to push out the tongue further, so I checked they had told Carrie I was going to do it. It seems they didn’t, because they wanted a natural reaction from her. Between takes the guys who made Jabba put this gunk all over the tongue, some mixture of Swarfega and KY Jelly, it was like drool. On the second take I pushed it right out and they said OK do it again but not so much. When I came out, I asked what was wrong with the second take and they said, “Oh, you stuck the tongue in her ear and licked her face”. I never got to ask Carrie Fisher about it; I didn’t know what I had done so someone could have been winding me up…

Is that frustrating? The fact that you will never know if you attacked Carrie Fisher with a tongue…

Yeah, it slows it down to say that it may not have happened. Pranks on films are very common! They said if you want to see what we did yesterday and watch it back you can learn stuff. In Star Wars I didn’t get to see the rushes so I will never know, that’s why it’s my favourite story. If anyone knows the truth about that part of film, write in!

We shall put out an appeal for it!

Well I’ve asked a lot of people at conventions! Carrie Fisher always had a big group of people around her, apart from that she may have reacted angrily to me anyway, ha-ha.

Does it take a lot of endurance to play a part like Jabba the Hutt? I imagine there’s a side to it that’s quite mentally draining…

Yes, it’s physically much harder than you think and with Jabba we were in our street clothes and we weren’t wearing him, we were basically sitting in a little tiny cave. It was normally the two of us flinging ourselves around. Keeping your energy level up through a ten-hour day is just tiring and being ready to go at a moment’s notice.

If you don’t believe me, stick your arm in the air and hold it there for 10 minutes. All the blood will rush down…and then try to move a big head around!

You’ve moved away from the film industry now and you summarised your experience with, “I was just a street juggler who got lucky.” Do you look back on your time in film fondly now?

I tried very hard to not take a steady job. In the last five years there’s been more interest in the other films, especially Labyrinth since Bowie died, and Dark Crystal because of the Netflix show.

Films had been a few lucky years of my life. In 1999 I heard that people were interested in meeting me, 20 years after I’d done the work, but if you got signatures for the whole Jabba crew it would be a rugby team! It was Jabba who got me out and about in the convention circuit so I accept the fact that Star Wars is what impresses people, and I’m proud of Jabba and the team I worked with on that.

With that we that we thank Toby for his time and let him get back to his very excited dogs! You can read more about Toby’s experiences in film at his website by clicking here as well as order autographed items in the absence of conventions.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Admiral Ackbar himself, Tim Rose by clicking here. Tim worked with The Muppets and Jim Henson before his career defining role as Ackbar while also portraying numerous other characters including the mischievous Salacious Crumb.

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

Tim Rose – His Star Wars Story

Star Wars as a saga has numerous characters who have left lasting impressions on us, the fans. However, there are some you could show to non-Star Wars fans and they would likely recognise them due to the cult fame they achieve. One such character was portrayed by our guest, Tim Rose.

Tim was responsible for bringing Admiral Ackbar to life in Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Tim was also the puppeteer of the awesome Sy Snootles and Salacious Crumb in Return of the Jedi and fellow Mon Calamari, Shollan, in Rogue One. Basically, Tim has left an indelible mark on Star Wars history.

It’s a trap! I waited two paragraphs to write that – it was worth the wait. Yes, Ackbar is also responsible for a very famous internet meme, but as with all interviews on this site this story is about Tim, his journey and how he looks back on it all now. So, on we go to cover The Muppets, Guantanamo Bay torture techniques and disliking your writer’s choices of cosplay…

Welcome Tim!

Right so the long number on my card is…

I won’t start with that; I normally save it for the end! How are you keeping yourself busy during lockdown?

I haven’t really noticed any difference. About 17 years ago I had to move out of London or I’d have ended up in jail for a road rage incident. I moved out to the countryside and bought a Victorian hackney coach driver’s house. It’s got paths through leading to a barn where the old owners would keep the coach and horses, and that’s where I set up my workshop. Lockdown or not my commute is past the raspberries and up to the workshop.

Starting at the very beginning, what was your motivation to get into the Film and TV industry?

I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I started university, I’d enjoyed my art classes and I had done a bit of drawing and writing but I didn’t really know how to apply any of that. At university I started to go to drama classes, and I liked it, but I didn’t enjoy the applause at the end. Anyway, we started doing renaissance fairs and while doing the fairs I decided to do a Punch and Judy show.

I discovered that with puppetry I could sculpt; I could write scripts; I could draw and perform. I could do all the things that I loved without giving anything up, so from that point I stuck with the puppets. The main guy on our TV sets at the time was Jim Henson and The Muppets Show. I used to sit in front of the screen and work out how he was doing it. After a year or so when I left university, I managed to get a job with Jim, which is why I’m in England now because this is where Jim did all of his work.

I suppose there is no avoiding that Star Wars has been a massive part of your life, but when you first got into it how did you feel at that point in your career?

I’d been working with The Muppets and I already knew George Lucas because he was always coming around to see what Jim was up to. What I actually loved the most was starting from a design concept and carrying it on all the way through to performance with the actual creature that I’d built myself. The only two places to do that were The Muppets or Industrial Light & Magic or Lucasfilm. When I got a job at Lucasfilm, I was very happy because I’d worked at the two best places to do what I wanted to do.

Going straight to the two companies that were ideal for you is quite something! Is it something that came naturally to you?

Although I have a university degree, I got my job because of what my father taught me when I was playing on his workshop floor. My dad was into models and radio-controlled airplanes and so I always knew about building things from scratch.

I always joke that if you were to put a label on me, which in school they try to do, I would have been labelled dyslexic. When it came to being a designer, my brain shot off in five directions at once and I actually came up with a lot of really original ideas because I was putting things together in a way no one had ever thought of before. Was being dyslexic a problem or was it an asset? Ultimately, I think it was quite a good asset!

When I worked on The Muppets they were starting to develop the robot side of the puppets to make them more technical. It always amuses me that everyone knows the word animatronics, but do you know where the word came from? I do not. Jim was American but did all of his work in Britain and at the time the film industry was going through a bit of a nosedive, yet they didn’t want anyone coming in taking their jobs from abroad. Jim was told that what he needed to do was give them a job title that doesn’t exist in England, so they called us ‘Animatronics Designers’ and we didn’t displace anyone because no one had that title in the UK…because we made the name up! It was a title that needed to be made though.

What would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars, the one you look back on most fondly yourself?

I was just the right age that when the very first Star Wars movie came out, me and my buddies were teenagers. We would sit in the back of the cinema and pretend to fly X-Wings. We watched it over and over again. Two movies later, I’m saying good morning to Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, walking past the Millennium Falcon to go into my own spaceship – every day of it was fabulous. I don’t have a favourite story. I enjoyed the entire process from beginning to end.

That’s still a good answer! I think if I were in your shoes it would be hard to choose one story…

What is fabulous about movies that you’ve worked on is that when you watch a scene, you don’t just see that scene in front of you. Your mind can see the camera guy, the sound guy, the lighting guy, the boom operator and you know it brings back the memory of the whole situation and the experience, not just that bit of film footage. It’s a really nice special thing about being on movies.

You’ve featured in the original trilogy and the new trilogy. For you, was there a different feel when you returned as Admiral Ackbar?

Entirely different! I wasn’t alone but I was heavily involved in creating the original Admiral Ackbar. There were two versions of him. There was the full body suit and a hand puppet head. Servos hadn’t gotten small enough, and because we hadn’t fully utilized how to use them a lot of the full body suits had cable-controlled heads, which is what Ackbar’s head was. With a person in there it doesn’t leave a lot of room for the mechanics, so I built a second version which was a hand puppet where I puppeteer the mouth and that left room in the rest of the head for the eyes to move. It allowed you to have a more animated character.

In the new movies I’ve got my carbon fibre helmet on, I’ve got 38 servos around my head, all chirping like budgies, and I don’t have full control of the performance anymore. I was much more personally involved in the original one.

You of course were the puppeteer for Sy Snootles and Salacious Crumb also. Did you prefer the puppeteering side of it? Or does a character’s performance come through no matter how you are performing it?

I was at a convention in Australia. We had finished filming The Force Awakens but it hadn’t come out yet. I couldn’t talk about it even though everyone wanted to, so I decided to talk about what it’s like being in a full body suit costume. I realised what we put up with was not dissimilar to the torture techniques used at Guantanamo Bay, ha-ha. When you start sweating in there it’s a bit like waterboarding because the scrim in front of your face gets blocked with sweat; you get full-on sensory deprivation and your whole body goes over 100 degrees…

You are making it sound very appealing!

What’s enjoyable is creating the character and seeing what you’ve created. From that aspect, Salacious Crumb was much more enjoyable as he was just a hand puppet. I could put him on and just walk around and entertain the crew with him, ad-lib and joke.

Puppets introduce me to parts of myself I didn’t know existed. I’ve always considered myself to be quite a nice guy but Salacious was a right little bastard and when I had him on, I became a right little bastard too, ha-ha. I guess you, Mr Dressed-In-The-Carbon-Outfit, know the story with Harrison Ford? I do indeed. That took place when the carbonite scene was going on and so the second I saw you in that photo I thought, “That’s it I’m not doing this.” Ha-ha! I still react quite strongly to seeing any references to the carbonite scene.

I’ll make sure I don’t trigger any bad memories! Ackbar was voiced by Erik Bauersfeld, who sadly is no longer with us. When you are acting as a character with a different voice, do you work together much, or are they separate processes?

With Jim Henson, the two most crucial things for the life of any character were good eye focus and spot on mouth syncing. If you heard that character talking you had to believe those words were coming out of his mouth.

I found out from Mark Dobson, who did Salacious, and Erik, who did Ackbar, that neither of them were shown my performance when they did their voiceovers. When Ackbar says “It’s a trap!” his mouth isn’t in sync with the words even though when I did it, it was spot on.

Most people don’t notice. I was trying to sound like a man in his fifties but I obviously wasn’t at the time. It needed that final bit, the mature voice to sell the character. What I love about the puppet characters is not one of them is done by a single character; they are all a group effort to create something that’s better than the sum of the parts.

Do you look back on playing the character fondly now?

From a convention point of view, one of the big things for guys like David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) is they’ve always had to contend with that they weren’t the only guy to wear the costume. As time has gone on, at least I can say I was the only person to play Admiral Ackbar.

That’s true, there can’t be many people who can claim they are the only character in those suits…

I said to fans at the time, they are going to want a younger guy who can do it not an old man who needs to go for a pee. That actually did happen in Rogue One…I was Shollan in that one. We had gone for six hours solid without a pause break, and my character held up his claw and said, “I’m sorry but the old man has to pee,” and at that point we got a break.

I have BB8 to thank for coming back as Ackbar. The person doing BB8 was Brian Herring and we first worked together on Spitting Image in the 80s. When they were doing The Force Awakens he was in charge of getting the performers for the characters and he kindly said, “Tim’s not dead yet, he should do Ackbar.” I was at a convention in Australia and he asked me to sign something so I could talk to him. It was an NDA from Disney and he asked if I wanted to be Ackbar again and I said, “Of course I do!”

The next thing I did was pump up the tyres on my bike because as I’ve already said…full body suits. At my age you could die in there, ha-ha!

I’ve seen you at a couple of conventions and you seem to still get a lot of joy from meeting the fans. Does it bother you to be known for Star Wars, or is it something that you still get enjoyment from?

It just shows what a good actor I am, ha-ha. That’s not true!

I hit my mid-life crisis…why didn’t I listen to my mother and become an architect instead of running away to the circus and all that. CG was coming in and work was getting less and less. It was really when I started doing the conventions and meeting all the people that we had quite an amazing long-term effect on that I fully appreciated that I hadn’t been wasting my time after all. I’ve gotten to go to so many parts of the world. I used to travel all over the world making the movies. Now I travel all over the world talking about them…

You can check out more of Tim’s stories on his official website as well as purchase official autographs by clicking this link.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Chris Parsons aka Bounty Hunter 4-LOM by clicking here. As well as portraying the Bounty Hunter, Chris also doubled for C-3PO!

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

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.

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.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? If more of the Empire is your thing then why not check out the Star Wars story of Darth Vader himself, Spencer Wilding. Read more by clicking here.

Mark Austin – His Star Wars Story

Writing Star Wars Stories we often get to hear some terrific tales, definitely not ones you’d simply store away in the cargo hold. Mark Austin’s story of working in very successful commercials lead to a dream job working on the visual effects of the Star Wars Special Editions.

Mark continues to be successful working in film. He’s worked on a few other films you may have heard of such as Avengers Assemble, Oblivion, Thor: The Dark World and a whole lot more. Did I mention this wonderful journey involved one very cool acting role? Mark portrayed everyone’s favourite Bounty Hunter, Boba Fett (You haven’t got the title yet Din Djarin!)

Shall we just get on with the story? As you wish…

Great to speak to you, Mark. The majority of your credits are Visual Effects on some huge films and Star Wars is one of your earliest jobs, so tell us how all of it began for you?

I started off in commercials for five years. I used to make the Tetley Tea Bag commercials for the round bags in the UK and Ribena was the other big one up to the point where I went to America in 1994.

The company I was working for declared bankruptcy and I thought that was the best job I could ever get in the world. I was unemployed for the first time ever. Then I got the offer to head to America. I had never been out of a job before but a friend of mine told me they were looking for animators at ILM. I was a bit apprehensive because I thought that meant computer animation, which wasn’t my strong point, but they wanted traditional animators. Long story short I got an 18-month gig working on Casper and it was on the job for Casper that all the Star Wars stuff started.

Before Casper came out all this stuff with Boba Fett happened. Everyone thinks that it was when I was working on A New Hope Special Edition doing the animation and the effects. I had to go and ask for the day off and I did the blue screen shoot during Casper production. It all came about because of some summits at Skywalker Ranch where I jumped in the Boba Fett suit a few times and I became known as the guy who fit the suit that was on hand, and everything just worked out.

In the morning was the first shot walking on – get to your mark, make sure no one’s going to trouble your boss Jabba the Hutt – and the afternoon was a bit more complicated as I had to look at where Han Solo’s eye line would have been. They put some tape where he would have been on the Millennium Falcon ramp for me to focus on. For the final sweep end of shot I had to look like this [Mark looks diagonally] but the T-Visor on Boba’s helmet is looking straight on. No one said anything to me about that but George Lucas came down and picked the shot where the helmet is facing the camera. I thought well if he likes it then I like it!

People always ask me “Why are you looking at the camera?” and the truth is you can’t see my eyes, but I’m not looking at the camera.

You’d been successful already by this point, made some great commercials, worked on Casper and now you are Boba Fett in the Special Edition. Did you feel like you’d made it at that point?

I was happy at the end of my career in commercials, a whole country knows my work and I thought I’d made it then. When I got to wear the actual suit for the summit I thought that was the highest it could get, then I wore it a second time and then for the blue screen shoot, and I’m constantly thinking it can’t get better than this. I went on to do visual effects on Avengers, X-Men: Days of Future Past happened, then Oblivion happened and it still goes up and up now that I work for Netflix. I could die right now and feel like I had more than my fair share of good fortune in my life.

I’ve read the Ronto and Jawa story on your website (enjoy finding it readers!). Is that a normal day in the life of someone in visual effects?

That whole snowball effect where an idea gets momentum is normal in visual effects. Most of the time it goes off course, you do the shot and it comes full circle. In that case it just went to the extreme and I don’t know how it ended up in the movie. I finished the job, left for Disney, but heard they were still changing stuff.

A normal day for someone in visual effects?

Personally, what would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars either in front of the camera or behind it?

The time I choked up, I did a shot for A New Hope and very quickly it became like I was just doing the background stuff. George Lucas had this scene he wanted adding in involving a Stormtrooper dismounting from a Dewback and the producer asked if we needed to shoot it with blue screen, but I said no, I can animate that.

I got the producer and I said you can be my stunt man, climb up this step ladder, hang off it and jump off and I’ll make it a Stormtrooper and a Dewback instead of you and a step ladder.

We showed that to Lucas and he asked “How did you get that footage? No way is that animated.” We said it was animated and he was really shocked. That was my crowning achievement.

I thought that your story may be something like that rather than playing Boba Fett. There are an awful lot more people who can say they wear Mandalorian armour now, but for yourself is that something you are quite happy to be known for?

Boba Fett was the one character I could relate to. When I watched the first Star Wars film I was obsessed with Stormtroopers, their uniform and all that. Then I saw The Empire Strikes Back and it was time for the Stormtroopers to move along and it was all about Boba Fett.

The whole reason I got picked to do the summits which lead to the movie part is that the guy who does the archives (Don Bies) knew I was the biggest Boba Fett nerd. His name for Star Wars nutters like me was “Squid Heads” and he said I was a Squid Head for Boba Fett.

With that came an obsession with Jeremy Bulloch, Dickey Beer, John Morton, Jason Wingreen and all the guys who played him. I never met any of them until 2015 where I did an interview with Aaron Proctor for the Boba Fett Fan Club and since then we’ve kept in contact. I was just talking to Daniel Logan [Boba Fett, Attack of the Clones] and Don Bies who ran the archives last week, too. Daniel Logan is terrible for calling at the worst time – he is calling me right now!

Boba Fett’s interesting as he’s got such limited screen time in the films, yet he maintains huge popularity. My brothers are huge fans. What do you make of the development of Boba Fett now and how he’s the catalyst for creating a show like The Mandalorian? How does he captivate so many people?

That’s the fascinating part; everyone’s stories on this are interesting. When Boba came along in 1979 before the film came out with the Palitoy mail-away figure offer, he was a big draw with all his gadgets and armour. The reason Boba doesn’t have much screen time was that this nobody character was stealing all the fandom. He was competing with the major heroes for popularity.

For me personally, I was a big spaghetti western fan. I loved The Man with No Name and the Trinity collection of films. I have always been a big fan of English knights in armour, Spartan helmets and all that stuff, so Boba Fett took all of that and put it together.

When I did the blue screen shoot nobody really knew that I did it. People I worked with did, obviously, but even some of my family didn’t know. Last year I had a friend of my mum’s who asked me what my obsession with Boba Fett is and I hadn’t told her. I didn’t want to be that guy going around telling everyone I played him; I rely on my other friends to tell them.

How did the fan films, No Disintegrations, come about?

Aaron Proctor from the Fan Club was one of the first people to approach me. He did the digging and found out who I was. He was saying about this animated series he had with Boba Fett recording a personal log. He asked if I would be interested in doing a live action version which I agreed to so long as it’s not too serious. Boba Fett is a one sentence guy, you know!

We were originally going to do four and then we ended up making 22. We are thinking of doing a few more for a second series, maybe cater to The Mandalorian audience a bit.

I’ve had a trawl through your Twitter and despite the huge films you’ve worked on and working for Netflix now, Star Wars features heavily. Why is that?

Star Wars came at a time in my life when my life was a bit upside down. A lot was going on at home so I escaped into that galaxy and made it a safe haven. I owe George Lucas big time for that. I never got a chance to tell him as you don’t have the opportunity to say things like that.

I still identify with Rogue One and The Mandalorian as they are set in the same time period. I struggle with the other new films a bit. Stormtroopers for example, had they not changed it for the new movies I would have identified with them a lot more.

I passed up a huge opportunity on the prequels as Animation Director. Disney were making a lot of counter offers and I knew from my friends they were getting “Artistic Development” training and I was talking to ILM and explained I wanted to grow as an artist. I often wondered what would have happened had I not left but I didn’t feel I was strong enough at that point in time.

You mentioned you are working for Netflix now, so what’s next for you?

Netflix had the foresight to see Disney Plus coming so there are probably over 40 movies in development right now. I’m working on an animated movie…that’s about all I can say ha-ha!

Read more about Mark’s journey in cinema on his website here and enjoy finding his hidden Ronto and Jawa story! Check out the Boba Fett YouTube shorts “No Disintegrations” here

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? Why not check out the Star Wars story of everyone’s favourite medal bearer, Nick Joseph. Read more by clicking here.