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.

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.

Dominic Pace – His Star Wars Story

Bounty Hunting…it’s a complicated profession and leaves you with endless career opportunities. For example, do you bring them in warm or do you bring them in cold? Here’s hoping if you ever get the choice, you make the right decision. Afterall, this is the way…

We have ourselves another Bounty Hunter interview here. Following our chat with Chris Parson’s 4-LOM we go a lot more recent to Dominic Pace, star of more TV shows than Darth Vader has killed younglings!

What’s his favourite part? You can likely guess as he is on a quest now to get The Mandalorian’s “Gekko” immortalised as an action figure and rightly so, as he like so many of the Bounty Hunters before him looks frankly, very cool. Anyway, this site is about his Star Wars story and well, there’s only one way to end this introduction…I have spoken.

Delighted to speak to you Dominic and you are the first actor we are speaking to from The Mandalorian which is very exciting. Hope you are doing well through this difficult time for the world?

It’s a situation where we can all complain but the first thing I think about is those who are really facing financial hardships, so we have to think ourselves lucky. I’ve been on over 100 TV shows so the residuals coming from that are really helpful.

In some respects I feel lucky. This year was supposed to be crazy for me I was even unlikely to catch one of my son’s baseball games, but this has meant that we slowed down and we’ve seen the positives, too, and been reminded about what the most important things are in life.

You’ve obviously had The Mandalorian keeping you busy recently. I have read a lot of your Star Wars interviews and it seems you are a bit of a super fan, is that right?

You can check out a 1998 video on YouTube where I was showing my Star Wars collection on Entertainment Tonight (link at the end folks!). I’m the real deal! I don’t have the “Last 17” figure set, which is very rare, but the vintage collection meant so much to me as a child, the music of John Williams, the original trilogy generally has a really deep spot in my heart, especially The Empire Strikes Back.

How big is it for you personally to end up on a show of this size as a Bounty Hunter?

It’s ironic as I’ve done a lot of shows as a principal actor, but this wasn’t about that. This for me was for the Star Wars fan experience. It’s a childhood dream come true, but to add to that it’s a one of a kind species, a one-of-a-kind bounty hunter, and it’s pretty action-figure worthy. That was my hope this year that Hasbro and Funko Pop would be inspired by this character and turn him into a figure.

I did a make-up test for six hours with Brian Sipe and I was told that I’d get the most extensive make up as I’d had a lot of patience, and that’s how Gekko was formed. It’s a nickname for the character and it was inspired because of a gecko-like mark in the centre of the head. That made it really special for me, being unique.

Gekko flanks Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) as they try to stop The Mandalorian

Tell us how you got the part of Gekko in The Mandalorian.

It came as a result of previous prosthetic experience. I had just come off doing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doing extensive prosthetics to be a Kree and other roles. It doesn’t take an enormous amount of talent but you can’t be on your phone, you cant be too chatty when you are in the make-up chair and I have always been genuine, that’s always been my calling card in my career.

There was no promise of any work after initial tests but I got a phone call where they wanted me to do a screen test where they would put me in some make-up and the project name was “Huckleberry”. I began signing some of the paperwork where it said Lucasfilm, and even at that point I wasn’t 100% convinced as they have their hand in a lot of projects. It wasn’t until I went into the wardrobe room – any Star Wars fan would have been able to relate to the pictures on the wall – and what really made my hands numb was seeing a rack of clothes with my name and “Bounty Hunter”. One had these fake dreadlocks and another had this Boba Fett-like narrow visor, and ultimately I heard that due to the make-up test they wanted to work with my head.

It was a really special moment because here you have a situation that any Star Wars fan would die to have. It’s an awkward situation, too, with Brian, because how do you thank someone in a professional situation that’s beyond anything you could have asked for, especially as a fan? We email back and forth every now and then and all I could tell Brian was, “Thank you so much.”

Personally, what would you say is your best story from working on The Mandalorian?

I have a few if that’s okay. The first day I am walking into the cantina in full costume and I lean against the bar and a few feet away is Jon Favreau talking to George Lucas, and this is a professional environment not a meet and greet at a comic con. This was my job, and to be stood next to these two legends meant so much.

The dream of many Star Wars fans will be to choose from 20 or 30 blasters. The fact that I was one of the first Bounty Hunters to get to this table and pick my own blaster was beyond words.

The third was involving Deborah Chow, who will be heading up the Obi-Wan series. She selected me to continue in the Cantina scene and I was fortunate because that could have been it after I was in a few shots. It’s everyone’s dream to be a part of the action, and – I do hope there is an extended cut of this – I got to be a part of the stand-off. When you are an actor doing a scene it takes complete concentration, the rest of the universe goes away and you aren’t looking at the camera man or the lights, and I’m staring down The Mandalorian with a blaster in my hand. It took me back to being a kid again. Those three stories in particular, I can’t choose one, but the entire ten-day experience was just beyond words.

Gekko art by Jay Manchand (@JayManchandArt on Twitter)

You have mentioned the action figures a bit and that side of The Mandalorian hasn’t been developed too much yet. Is your hope to be an action figure?

You are right and I heard from a few sources it will be pushed now, but who knows? It’s been pushed back a lot with what’s going on in the world. I can’t tell you how frustrating that part is, but I heard that they want to extend the line out. They are in place because of exactly what we you have mentioned to me, a lot of the fans like these unique side characters and they were my favourites, so that is what certainly makes it sentimental for me. That’s the ultimate dream, to have a Gekko figure kids can play with.

Obviously for you it’s very fresh, but I’ve been interviewing a lot of people for this site now and the interest created in these side characters that have less than a minute of screen time is huge. Even Boba Fett himself has a limited amount, and we become captivated by characters like that. What are your thoughts on that as a fan, and as an actor who has just played a similar part?

I think it’s a compliment to George Lucas. I think if other storytellers knew what pulled on heart strings like that then they would do it, too. I have had featured or principal parts in these big famous crime dramas like NCIS…why does that not stick to the wall? The fact Star Wars has these guys going on tour for 30-40 years being an ambassador to the brand is a testament to what George Lucas created. Somebody in England has already named their kid Gekko, which I shared on my page!

Originally Bounty Hunters had a very small part of the first trilogy, but with The Mandalorian they have essentially been given their own show. What’s your take on why Bounty Hunters specifically are so popular in Star Wars?

A lot to be said about the mystery and the look, sometimes less is more. The job in general, being a Bounty Hunter is pretty cool, but a lot of credit has to go to the designers. We love the lightsabres and blasters, but the look of characters like Zuckuss, 4-LOM and Dengar makes them very action-figure worthy and the stories of them take on a life of their own once kids start to play with them.

I think I can guess the answer to this question. You’ve said you appeared on over 100 TV shows, but having a look through your career to date where does working on The Mandalorian sit in all of that?

It really is number one! I’m 44 and when I grew up in the 80’s the reason I got involved in this business was ultimately to entertain. Sitting in that movie theatre and watching the work of Spielberg, Lucas and Zemeckis on the big screen and saying I wanted to be a part of that. The Mandalorian, as much as I am a side character, it takes the cake of my entire career as it represents the innocent escapism to entertain and bring that joy.

Can we expect the return of Gekko or are there any plans to add to the character?

Ethan Sacks and Paolo Villanelli, who work as illustrators for Marvel, have shown some interest in the look of the character. There has not been a 100% promise, however Ethan has reached out and said hang tight, and that’s about all I can say right now. There’s a new comic out called “Star Wars Bounty Hunters” which I recommend, whether Gekko gets seen or not, but there’s a chance we get more of his story there. I have to thank the fans for keeping him going and making custom Gekko figures. If you go on my Facebook page, “Lair of the Gekko”, you can follow what we are doing there.

Dominic is indeed the real deal. You can check out his Star Wars collection which was featured on Entertainment Tonight back in 1998 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.

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.

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

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.

Paul Warren – His Star Wars Story

“I like that Wookie,” to quote Maz Kanata, as she pines for good old Chewie. But here’s a question, would Maz have been so keen on our favourite walking carpet if he had followed his original design?

In The Force Awakens we are introduced to a creature named Varmik, a Hassk thug brought to life by our guest, Paul Warren. Varmik is an interesting character as was he was based on 1975 Chewbacca concept art by Ralph McQuarrie.  The legendary status of McQuarrie’s design and illustration work was a motivator for director JJ Abrams to bring Varmik to life in the movie.

Impressive character back story aside, we are here to learn about Paul’s Star Wars story. It’s the usual stuff, doubling as Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix, playing a skinny Captain America, Zombie in World War Z, young Magneto in X-Men: First-Class…

Okay, so it’s not the usual stuff…it’s a great story and one that’s bound to carry Paul on to even bigger things. Anything else? No? Let’s get into it…

Thanks for talking us through your Star Wars story, Paul. How are you keeping at the moment?

Hello! Well, all my work for the year has been cancelled due to corona virus, so it’s been incredibly difficult, as it has been for many people. Having your income and industry wiped out overnight is very surreal.

It’s very stressful for all at the moment! For someone with your experience, in your position how do you de-risk in your career and make sure there are other sources of income?

It’s a good question. As jobbing actors we would normally do other work between film jobs in tough times. Something like bar work or sometimes maybe a signing convention somewhere in the world. That is obviously not an option now. I’m still trying to figure it out, but yes, it’s very tough times for all.

We should get onto some lighter topics… You got into film initially by appearing in Children of Men, which is a seriously underrated film by the way, and doubling for Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter. How did that take you all the way into the Star Wars galaxy?

Children of Men turned out to be a very gruelling yet incredible experience. It was my first film and I had no idea that the very long and cold shooting days were unusually tougher than most films. It was a very technical film, which required everyone to be on their game. It was pretty intense on set, but Alfonso Cuaron is a master filmmaker, so being able to watch him direct everyday was a free film class in itself.

I was on the film for a few months, networking and getting to know people in the industry. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was creating opportunities for my future career. One job just seemed to lead to the next and before I knew it, I was given mostly creature work. The more I did the more I was getting known for it.

And looking at your journey into Star Wars, I noticed you’ve got a very interesting credit to your name. You were also “Skinny Steve Rogers” in Captain America: The First Avenger, is that right? That must have been quite an unusual role to get!

I was one of them, yes. It was very cool to be a small part of a very big visual effect.

The main double was Leander Deeny. I was skinny Steve in the pre-production VFX tests. I was also on set as a visual reference for the recruitment scene, along with Leander, who was the body double for the remainder of the film.

Due to The Force Awakens being the triumphant return of Star Wars, there was obviously a lot of excitement for those involved. Were you a fan of the films yourself growing up?

I was around four when the original film came out. I’ve been a fan of Star Wars pretty much my whole life, so when I got the call to go in and talk with the creature department on The Force Awakens, I almost lost my mind ha-ha!

I get a buzz from the stories hearing about how actors and performers discovered what roles they were going to get in the film, and I can only imagine what that feels like. How did you find out who your character was going to be?

I had no idea who I was playing until Neal Scanlan (Star Wars CFX supervisor) pulled out a Ralph McQuarrie book and was showing me the cantina alien painting from 1975. I’m a massive fan of McQuarrie’s work and I had that picture on my wall at home!  Neal explained that JJ Abrams really loved it and wanted to bring the character to life in the film. So that’s what we did on the day; we tried to bring the painting to life in that steady cam shot into Maz’s castle.

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

The day I was shooting my Varmik movement for the steady cam shot was the day Mark Hamill and Kenny Baker were on set to watch. That was very exciting and nerve-racking! At one-point Mark came over to chat. He was just as lovely as you would hope, and he loves all the alien stuff. He would visit often to geek out. We spoke about how the animatronic head worked, how I was providing the movement and a puppeteer was operating the facial expressions remotely. He was genuinely fascinated by how it all worked.

Mark came to the creature department on the The Last Jedi, too. There is a scene in the documentary ‘The Director and the Jedi’ on the Blu-ray where Peter, one of our creature performer pals, is apologising to Mark for not knowing it was him (Mark Hamill portrayed tiny casino drunk, Dobbu Scay, in The Last Jedi). What you don’t see is that shortly before that, Mark was talking with Peter and I just off the set. Peter hadn’t even realised it was Mark the whole time as he was inside his creature costume and could hardly see or hear a thing! He couldn’t believe it after when I told him it was Mark Hamill. 

How did you feel personally playing Varmik in that scene?

A little bit of everything, actually. Mainly I’m focused on trying to give the director what he wants, to deliver a performance that fits his vision. That’s what my job is essentially. That said, I was smiling a lot inside the creature head throughout most of the shoot.

Varmik must have been a cool character to be given for a fan of the films. He’s based on the original Chewbacca designs and, the crowning glory, he has his own action figure. Do you feel close to the character now?

Varmik was very cool to portray. I had a copy of the 1976 production image it’s based on signed by Ralph McQuarrie on my wall before I worked on Stars Wars. It’s almost as if it was meant to be…

It might sound silly to some people, but one of the things that I feel is a major accomplishment as a creature performer is playing a character that was made into a toy. There is an action figure and a Funko pop currently. I love all that stuff.

Does Star Wars top the other roles you’ve had to date?

It’s definitely going to be a tough one to beat.

When you got called back for The Last Jedi to be a Dowager alien, did returning have a different feel or the same levels of excitement?

I was honoured and flattered that I was asked back to portray another character. It was a slightly different challenge for me this time. I was inside the large creature in my normal clothes, puppeteering her head and movement from the inside.

Daisy Beattie remote puppeteered the creature’s pet pug ‘Gary’ from behind the set with Chris Clarke, who was remote operating the dowager’s face. It was hard work, but a lot of fun working as a team to bring her to life. Meeting Rian Johnson was also a highlight. He’s a lovely guy and a brilliant director.

How do you feel about your experience so far with the Star Wars galaxy and the appreciation you get from Star Wars fans?

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to quite a lot of comic cons. Overall everyone has been so nice. I love travelling around the world and chatting with people about the films. The ones that don’t like The Last Jedi have no problem telling you that, ha-ha! I think The Last Jedi is a masterpiece. I think it’s a beautiful and brilliant film and deserves more love…

Couldn’t agree more, and thanks, Paul, for your time talking to us. Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

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.

Spencer Wilding – His Star Wars Story

You were not summoned here to grovel, readers. This Star Wars story is one that should bring you a lot of excitement. Few people can say they have portrayed the greatest villain in cinema history, but Spencer Wilding is an actor who can say just that.

This being a Star Wars-related website, introducing Darth Vader would be clumsy as it is stupid. He is the greatest bad guy the franchise produced and only those who wish to choke on their aspirations would dare say otherwise.

Spencer has had a lot of cool roles including in Batman Begins, the title character in The Wolfman, a White Walker in Game of Thrones and the guy who stole Star Lord’s Walkman in Guardians of the Galaxy…that’s him too, but when all that leads us to Darth Vader, we begin to learn the power of the dark side…

Thanks for joining us, Spencer. You had a very special role in Rogue One and the first person I’m speaking to from the film…

Setting the bar pretty high there aren’t you.

No pressure! How did you feel when you got the news that you were going to be Darth Vader?

It didn’t happen in one day; it was a process. The process started 30-40 films ago for me because they are not just going to chuck any tall actor in that suit. They have to be very confident in you. Vader hadn’t been around for a long time so they had to get it right. It’s a very special thing. Mr Dave Prowse is the man and he played him when I was born in 1972. He played a Minotaur in Doctor Who as well as Frankenstein’s monster, so he had a lot of other stuff going on, too.

My first audition was a self-tape with my agent in Manchester, the second was a self-tape a week later and then I got another self-tape…so three before I even got to the studio. We didn’t know what production this was for or who the character was going to be, nothing. We had to sign non-disclosure agreements, but I sort-of had a feeling. Using the force obviously. When we actually found out who it was it became clear why I had to go [Spencer makes a Darth Vader breathing sound which is very difficult to put in writing, thanks Spencer] at the end of every line!

The final audition was at Pinewood Studios and that was the big tick. The role was shared with Dan Naprous who did the fight scene at the end. It was just an honour to be asked to play the part.

What kind of lines do they make you read for this kind of role?

It’s additional dialogue that we had to read but the character comes through. I have a good voice for it which helped the other actors. My voice isn’t too squeaky and that’s helped in similar roles I’ve done. Darth Vader is a hell of a presence and really takes over your body.

You’ve had to do the reverse of a lot of the original actors by the sounds of it. Through doing Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Guardians of the Galaxy and everything else you’ve done, you’ve had to earn this opportunity. Was the slog to get there worth it?

I’ve done a lot of iconic characters over the last decade; Darth Vader is right up there. I was the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster so there’s a lot of big players. Every character I’ve played I have an equal respect for all of them to be honest. It doesn’t matter if it’s the guy walking behind Liam Neeson or the lead role in Green Street 3, it’s very special to get a part in a film – it’s a gift for me.

Does it bother you being in these roles with costumes or prosthetics compared to say, the role in Green Street where you can be seen as yourself?

I think some actors think differently but I feel as an actor you give a character a spirit, a presence, a soul, and bring it to life really. It doesn’t matter if you are dressed as a monster or putting on a leather jacket beating the hell out of people.

What is your best story personally regarding Star Wars?

I was five when the original came out in 1977. My dad was supposed to be taking me to the Saturday matinee showing in Prestatyn. I was very excited, every kid wanted to see that for the spaceships and all that. I was one of those kids when my mates were watching football, I wanted to climb a tree and find some animals or go running through wastelands. I would look at the stars and want E.T. to come down, I have always believed we can’t be the only ones out there…

When my dad went to take me to the cinema, he wasn’t into it so he took me to see Pink Panther instead. I was sat there waiting for the spaceships, I was only five! I remember the conversation eating my popcorn asking where the spaceships were. My mum took me in the end…ha-ha.

To be part of the Star Wars franchise, something people dream about, to be Darth Vader…you know I’d have been happy cleaning a toilet on Star Wars but to play such an iconic character, for the production and for the Emperor to believe in me, it’s an honour. When I put on the gloves, the pants, the helmet and all of that, I respected the character so much more after doing that.

Becoming Darth Vader being your personal highlight, how did it feel for you the first time you put that suit on?

It was something else. The very last audition, Darth Vader was rumoured to be returning and Spencer Wilding turns up and he is six foot seven… people were wondering, what’s he turning up for?

When I did the last audition there was a little tent in there, they pulled the curtain back, there were his gloves, his boots, his pants, the helmet, the cloak…you end up meeting the character. It’s very much a “if the slipper fits” situation but once I put the boots on, they fit like a glove, especially after I chopped my toes off ha-ha. I got the helmet on and my eyes went black. A presence comes over you and the atmosphere changes and you think, “Okay, here’s here”.

It’s not me, it’s Darth Vader.

Very few people have got to wear that suit. Is it weird walking around the set, are people acting weird around you?

People react differently when Darth Vader is on set. The presence he has, when he walks on deck you get a feeling from people and they aren’t acting. He’s a very special character and I get him now. I understand why he is the most iconic cinema bad guy of all time; I didn’t get that in the beginning. I understood he was a bad ass character but when I put the outfit on I really understood.

You say Daniel did the fight scene. Which scenes were yours?

Daniel did the end fight which is a very cool scene. He smashed it as he’s a top swordsman. I did all the other scenes and all the promotional stuff but we both shared the character.

I’ve seen you at conventions and you seem to buzz off it. What’s your take on the fan side of it?

I love conventions. I didn’t realise I was a geeky person until I started attending them. My daughter loves it and does a lot of cosplay. What I really love about them is the passion to make costumes and to be a character. I probably do give away more pictures than I should though ha-ha.

I met you last year at a convention and I took my nephew, Jake, to meet you for a photo with Ray Park as a birthday present and there was a short queue and a big line for the next shoot and everyone was looking impatiently at us while you guys were giving us a bit of a martial arts show. We thought that was really funny, by the way! How good is it to also mingle with all the other stars, too?

It’s incredible! I met Stan Lee at Mega Con and loads of other legends and I get to go to the front of the queue ha-ha. I go in a day early to a lot of conventions to meet kids at schools and stuff like that, encourage them to get into conventions. You don’t hear any negatives only positives at conventions…it’s beautiful, man.

We are locked down right now, how are you keeping busy and have you got any upcoming projects?

I’ve got a show called Devil coming up at the end of the year, we already filmed that in Prague. You know what, I’m dipping in and out of roles and I’m in my hometown with my kids. I’m happy and relaxed but wishing everyone stays safe and uses the force for good.

Thanks to Spencer for the great chat and insight into becoming Darth Vader. Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

Nick Joseph – His Star Wars Story

Rise of Skywalker is here for us amid the lockdown and wraps up the “Skywalker Saga”. It’s fitting then that we have an interview from the film that started it all, A New Hope.

In Rise of Skywalker (Spoiler Alert) our favourite Wookie, Chewbacca, gets a medal to correct one of the biggest issues in the very first film in which he doesn’t get one for his part in the Rebel victory. Nick Joseph, our guest today, is not the reason for that although he did have the role of handling the medals…maybe one was dropped? Maybe someone casually stole one? Is it because Wookies already stand out in a crowd? This is not a website to answer such questions.

However, Their Star Wars Stories does wish to tell the tales of the people involved in the franchise and in that respect, Nick Joseph is indeed the Medal Bearer we are looking for…

Thanks for talking to us, Nick. I’ve been reading up about you and your story after Star Wars is quite interesting, but let’s start at the beginning first. How did you get involved in A New Hope?

My agent at the time contacted me and said would I be interested in a cheap movie called Star Wars, it’s just a two-day shoot, so I said yes, naturally. I went along to interview for the character of the Medal Bearer in Mayfair, London and it was a really quick process. I got the part two days later.

What happened was we did all of the shots in the first couple of days and they called me back for doing the close ups. It was just a two-day job as a start but I kept being called back for more shooting. Looking back it’s funny, at the time when I was hired I didn’t know who George Lucas or Gary Kurtz were and look how well they did.

Since that your character “The Medal Bearer” also got given the name of Major Arhul Hextrophon and was part of one of the most famous scenes in Star Wars. How was it being a part of that?

I feel that I am very fortunate to have got that small part looking back at it all now, and the answer to your next question will go into detail on a very funny behind the scenes story of that scene. The character has had a lot of his own stories now and some fans even made a small movie about him where he is only one of three people to have found Master Yoda due to his role as a historian.

I have a regret about my time on the film, I wished that I had the contract instead of the buyout as payment. They offered us a contract which was a percentage of the movie sales or £600 and I took £600, which was a lot of money back then. I have never ever done that since.

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

Something that may be of interest is that during the medal scene someone farted and not just a small one but so loud that we all cracked up. We had to restart shooting that scene five times because we all cracked every time the doors opened for Han, Luke and Chewie to walk down.

My best memories are working with Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, we had a few funny moments filming that scene. I was speaking to Mark, Mark started smiling, the next thing Carrie threw water over me saying she got her own back because I had mentioned she looked like a throwback from Victorian times. Carrie was a great girl, very funny, witty but you would never turn your back on her as you didn’t know what was coming next.

Oddly, you are not the first interview on this site to say that Carrie Fisher messed with you! Personally, you went on to have a few roles in Doctor Who. Were you drawn to Sci-Fi roles at the time?

I did have a few roles in Doctor Who, with Tom Baker in “The Leisure Hive”, Peter Davison in “Black Orchid” and “Terminus” and with Colin Baker in “The Mark of the Rani”. Tom is the only Doctor I haven’t done a convention with, actually.

I wouldn’t say I was drawn to Sci-Fi but I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I look back at the acting work I did very fondly, and Star Wars and Doctor Who were definitely my biggest roles, but for me Star Wars will always be most important. I just like to do comic cons and conventions now. I was supposed to be in Guatemala actually and had 26 planned throughout the course of this year.

Not exactly a bad couple of acting jobs to say that you had there, Nick, you should be very proud of those roles. I want to go back to what I mentioned at the start…due to the size of your role you lost touch with the Star Wars community. Apparently, you were tracked down by Star Wars and Empire producer Gary Kurtz. What is the story there?

Yes I didn’t know a great deal about the convention scene linked to Star Wars until Gary got in touch and asked if I would like to attend “Empire Day” at Elstree Studios, which is a reunion event for those who worked on it. I went along with very few expectations and oh boy there were so many fans there interested in me, I was so surprised! I must have signed 1,000 photos that day and that was the start of me really loving this convention scene. All I can say is thank you to the Star Wars fans for their enthusiasm and passion.

As the event finished, I saw Gary and I said to him, “How on earth did you find me?” and before he could answer I said, “Well thank you, I’ve loved doing it”.

You are a big hit on the convention scene. How do you feel about attending events like that?

I feel very honoured to be invited to Comic Cons, conventions and private signings. I have travelled the world from the USA to Australia and many countries in between. As you know all events have been cancelled at the moment, which is a huge shame, so I hope we are doing them again in 2021.

Why do you think fans like meeting you?

Fans know exactly what you’ve done better than you know what you’ve done yourself! I love it, you can have a good laugh and a joke with people. I get people contacting me asking where I may be next to purchase autographs and things like that. Fans are the people who keep inviting you; it’s like a big Star Wars family and it’s wonderful.

I saw you have reproduction New Hope medals when you attend conventions. They must be popular?

Just this month I’ve sent them to China and Russia. They are reproductions of the actual medals. A good story related to that; I have a friend called Matt who lives in Brisbane with his family, he went on holiday to Florida to see a friend of his who used to work for Lucasfilm. They were talking and Matt mentioned me and my role. His friend Tony said he knew of me and gave Matt the actual Medal of Yavin given to Han Solo in A New Hope to pass onto me, which is really lovely.

With the unfortunate circumstances that we are in, do you have any updates for fans?

I have nothing in the book now because due to the virus they are all cancelled or delayed. I can’t wait to meet fans again as I enjoy it so much, but anyone interested can get a hold of me on Facebook or my signing shop in the meantime. I’m always happy to hear from the Star Wars community.

A fan-made journey of Major Arhul Hextrophon and Yoda can be found here on YouTube.

Contact Nick directly on Facebook here and in the absence of conventions you can check out his online autograph store here where you can buy a replica “Medal of Yavin”

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

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.

This is not the scene from Toy Story…