Tag Archives: The Empire Strikes Back

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.

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.