Tag Archives: Original Trilogy Stories

Nick Maley – His Star Wars Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not the scene from Toy Story…

Chris Parsons – His Star Wars Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris as E-3PO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Dominic Pace who played the Bounty Hunter Gekko in The Mandalorian 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.

Alan Austen – His Star Wars Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Snowtrooper scene could have been very different!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Thinking of what to read next? Check out the story of musician turned Gamorrean Guard, Stephen Costantino whose friendship with one, Corey Dee-Williams resulted in tons of great Star Wars stories. Read more by clicking here.