I didn’t even read the script until after I got the part, but I loved it immediately. People find that hard to believe, because they see the film and all the special effects and they can’t imagine that you could get a feeling for it on the printed page. But it was all there: the humour, the romance. I was delighted. It smacked much more of the Brothers Grimm than it did of Isaac Asimov.
For the whole thing, my eyes were just so wide open. I loved seeing all the different departments at work – the art department, the model-makers. Even after the live action was finished, they’d call me and say, “hey, we’re going to blow up the Death Star today, if you want to come and watch!” When I got the chance I’d go along.
When Carrie and I did the swing across the chasm on the Death Star, I was disappointed that they had so many cameras going that we only had to do it once. We were both on harnesses, and after they unhooked Carrie, I said I’d like to have done a few more takes. Of course, that was the cue for the wire guy to haul me up and fly me around the sound stage. Then they called “Lunch” and left me hanging 30ft in the air.
Harrison, Carrie and I were closest on the first film. By the time we did the second and third ones, there were various wives and boyfriends and managers and separate cars, whereas on Star Wars we were all footloose and fancy-free. We still got on during the shooting of the other movies, we just didn’t see each other as much. I haven’t seen Harrison or Carrie for a while. I still send Sir Alec a Christmas card and he always writes back, and if I’m in London I’ll go and see any play he’s in.
Some Star Wars fans know way more about it than I do. They ask me questions about the hardware and I forget what certain things were called. When George told me he was going to do a technical upgrade on the movie, he said, “Do you remember the Dewbacks?” I remembered the word but I couldn’t remember what it was – its actually the lizard thing the Stormtroopers ride, and he was all excited because now, instead of just being rubber thing whose head moves up and down, it was going to walk around and drink water out of a trough.
It was very strange to see little plastic figures of ourselves everywhere. It still is. I still have the Stormtrooper helmet that I wore when I rescued Princess Leia, and I have various bits of the costume as the series when on. And I think I’ve got a lightsaber somewhere around the house. If my son were here he’d know. He works part-time at a science-fiction toy shop, so he knows what I’ve got. By the way, those pants I wore were just bleached Levi’s with he tag still in them.
Star Wars was fun. I was just a 19-year old kid. I went into the first one thinking, “I’d like to have an affair, I’ve never really had one.” I was the only chick, so I had a really good choice, but I’m keeping that one to myself. (Carrie actually had an affair with Harrison Ford).
There’s one shot of my bumbling along after we had been victorious with the Death Star, and my breasts are all very excited. They were tending to distract attention from the action. There were certain times when you’d see them behind the camera staring and it had to be my breasts… it was never the boys’ genitalia bouncing up and down. So they had to be taped to mu chest. There are no bras in space. Ask George Lucas.
The worst thing was the Star Wars shampoo where they twist off your head and pour liquid out of your neck – “Lather up with Leia and feel like a Princess yourself”. I didn’t like some fo the action figures much either. One of them makes me look like Eddie Munster.
The only feeling I have about the re-release of Star Wars is a sense of dread of having 20-year old acting exposed all over again – having already been paid to humiliate myself and then having to see it again re-released.
No, I think I haven’t seen it in 20 years, and I heaven seen the new one, although George wants to show it to me some time before it opens. From what I hear, the reaction to the trailer in theatres is fantastic.
Like all the best directors, Lucas had very little to say during the actual filming. He simply sensed when you were uncomfortable and just walked across and dropped a brief word in your ear.
It was almost like being on stage. Good actors don’t like being told how to act, and they become worried if they are made to feel merely part of someone else’s work. In this total concentration, In his reliance on both his eye and his ear, he reminded me of the young David Lean. I always had the feeling that, like Lean, deep down he was totally involved in the action.
Of course there was none of the Lean star-quality, the hush when the director is on set, but there was the sensation that life can only be a piece of celluloid.
It was torture. My suit was made of thick plastic and heavy glass fibre. Working in that heat under those arc lights nearly finished me off. Every time I moved, that suit pinched me somewhere, and I rattled as I walked, which sent the sound technicians crazy.
I could only walk stiffly and kept bumping into the other actors because I could only see straight ahead. When I had the arms fixed on I couldn’t even scratch or feed myself. Even worse, it was impossible to go to the toilet. I just had to put my mind on higher things.
George Lucas came to London to do this film at Elstree. They’d made this robot, R2-D2, and they’d made it small because Carrie Fisher was only small and Mark Hamill was only small – Well, relatively small.
My agent sent me down, they looked at me and said, “He’ll do,” and I was in. They just wanted to see if I was the right size. At the time I couldn’t just take off because I was part of a double act called The Mini-Tones and we were doing Hughie Green’s Opportunity Knocks on TV and I didn’t really want to be stuck in a robot. So I said, “I’ll help you out if I can,” and turned it down, but they kept coming round my house, trying to persuade me to do it.
When we got to shooting I couldn’t understand what it was all about, to be honest. All these weird and wonderful names – Obi-Wan Kenobi and all that. I thought it was a load of rubbish at first. But then I thought, “Well, if Alec Guinness is in it he must know what’s going on.”
It was very exciting. We went to Tunisia and Arizona and California. Harrison was a nice, quiet softly spoken kind of chap. George was a nice guy. Carrie Fisher was a bit spaced out most of the time. Very nice, though. People were dabbling around with drugs and things in those days. And smoking pot. Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing would never do anything like that.
I didn’t really see much of Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) off the set because it took him so long to get in and out of his costume. Mark Hamill used to come to a couple of clubs and watch us when we were working around Stevenage. He used to enjoy having a drink and watching the show. They had a big end-of-show party and we did the cabaret, me and Jack my partner. At the end we did a cowboy and Indian mime routine. I think George Lucas liked it.
The previous film I’d done was Sinbad and The Eye of The Tiger. I’d played the Minotaur, a man’s body with a bull’s head, which was about 8ft tall, all made out of fibreglass. After that, wearing costumes was relatively easy.
It was really my height that got me the Star Wars job, and the fact that I’m fairly agile for a big guy. I’m 7ft 3in tall, and Chewbacca was 8ft. The rest was made up by a couple of inches on the shoes, and the headgear, which was probably three or four inches above my head.
We talked about what the character could and couldn’t do, it was about a 20-minute interview and that was it. The only thing that was laid down was that Chewie couldn’t talk. He could react to people, he could understand, but he couldn’t talk.
Most of his voice was redubbed after shooting, although I had to make noises at the time to get reactions from the other actors. It all went back to California and was redubbed. If you think about it, he’s half-monkey, half-bear, so his higher notes are pleasure notes and the lower notes are anger.
I remember the trash-masher scene. It was basically a pit with loads of polystyrene, oil, muck and water, and it stunk. The costume was mohair, and if you got it wet, it made it worse to wear. I found myself a 4in plank at the back of the set, stood on that, did my bit and everybody seemed perfectly satisfied. Mark and the rest were getting covered in water, and I just stood at the back laughing.
I don’t know is Chewie is in the next three films or not. When you think that he’s something like two or three hundred years old, depending on how far back they go, he could be around. I guess he’s be similar to the old Chewie. But smaller.
I met George Lucas in Fox’s offices in Soho Square. I thought he looked a bit of a student. Anyway, he said, “I’m doing this film called Star Wars and I’d like to offer you one of two parts.” Which was all right , two parts straight away without even having to read or act or anything.
I asked him how he knew me and he said, “I saw you in A Clockwork Orange; if you’re good enough for Stanley Kubrick, you’re good enough for me.” When I asked him what the two parts were he said, “One’s called Chewbacca, which is like a hairy gorilla who goes through the film on the side of the goodies.”
I thought, sod that; three months in a gorilla suit. He said the other ws the big villain of the film. So I said, “Right, I’ll have that, thank you very much.” To which he replied, “You’ve made a wise choice. No-one will ever forget Darth Vader.” Without a doubt, Darth Vader became a cult figure of the film. Now he’s regarded as the ultimate screen villain of all time. And that was me!
At the time, there was no indication that it was going to be a major film. The only thing you could say was there was loads of money being spent. Elstree was a ten or twelve studio lot, and it was all taken up with Star Wars. They built a full-size Millennium Falcon and everything.
The filming was fraught with problems. I kept asking George about Darth Vader’s voice. Obviously, everything I was saying was coming through a mask and was therefore no good for reproduction purposes. George kept saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll re-record all your lines at the end of the film.”
Anyway, Star Wars came out in America in May 1977 in a huge blaze of publicity. We hadn’t seen any rushes or anything. Out of the blue I got a cable from Russ Meyer, the film director, and he’d written, “Congratulations, you’re in the biggest film of all time. And, by they way, did you know they’ve overdubbed your voice?”
I was very disappointed. Of course, when the film was finished they’d raced back to America and decided that they couldn’t play Darth Vader with an English accent. Perhaps it was my Bristol accent. They probably didn’t want Darth Vader walking into a scene and going, “All right, moi dears.”
One day Peter Cushing had the wrong boots sent to the set and the only thing that would fit him were these red pom-pom slippers. It was like playing a scene with a bare-breasted woman – you try and look her in her eyes but you can still see her chest.
So he was storming around in this facist costume being horrible and nasty, while we had enormous difficulty keeping a straight face.
It was a shame that Dave Prowse was dubbed over, but you can’t really be na intergalactic space tyrant with a soft Bristol accent. Whenever he spoke, the helmet muffled his voice, and in fact the only thing you could hear clearly was, “Fook it, Oi’ve droyed,” when he forgot his lines.
You could see Lucas chewing his nails, but he never told Dave not to bother because he’d have just lost interest. Four years after shooting finished, I took my son to see it, by which time I’d forgotten that I’d done it. When my first scene appeared, he stood up and shouted, “That’s my daddy!” He was so cross I hadn’t told him I was in Star Wars that I had to say I’d been keeping it as a special surprise.
I just got lucky. The legend is that George Lucas was thinking about using Orson Welles, but decided that his voice was too recognisable. So he chose the voice of a kid born in Mississippi. They wanted a symbolically dark voice, but I thought I was a strange choice because I’m a stutterer. In fact, my stutter was so bad that I was totally mute between the ages of six and 14. Luckily, Marlon Brando made stuttering the way Americans talk, so I get away with a lot now.
For all three films I was really just special effects, so I never visited any of the sets or even met David Prowse. In The Empire Strikes Back, the director Irvin Kershner recorded Darth Vader’s voice for the rough-cut. I tell you, he had this really scratchy high-pitched voice, but his Vader was much scarier that David’s, or Mine.
Darth Vader was a composite of five people. There was David, me, someone who did the battle scenes, someone who did all the wheezing, and the actor whose face was revealed at the end. For me, the whole thing was like Greek acting, where you’ve got a mask on and behind that you can just freak out. Children still ask me to do lines, but I usually don’t know what they’re talking about. I can’t remember any of them.
I met George Lucas out in Idaho recently. I asked him whether I’ll get to work on the new trilogy. He said that the young Anakin Skywalker sounds nothing like me, but when Darth Vader becomes bionic at the end of the third episode, then I get to work. I was very happy to hear that.
I arrived in Tunisia for the Tattooine desert scenes, and while I was waiting for the location manager I thought I’d go and have a look around the seaport. All down the quayside there were these endless young boys of 12 or 14 asking anybody of any age or sex to pay them for, well, whatever you wanted. Apparently with the encouragement of their families. It was extraordinary.
George Lucas and Gary Kurtz found that the wandering tribes dig large holes deep in the sand for one-night stopovers. They had a basic dormitory with an unspeakable lavatory we had to use. We shot our scenes in one of these, which I think gave it an otherworldly quality. I got on well with Mark Hamill, but I think he decided to give up the business and live on Malibu beach with his girlfriend. I don’t know what happened to him, but I think he eventually got bored.
When I first saw the script I thought “God, only brain-damaged 12-year olds are gonna like this shit.” Then I went along to the cast and crew screening – I saw that opening shot, and went, “Fuuuuuck.”
Being cast as Porkins – I thought, because of my generous figure, there might be some hidden meaning there. Then I saw some stills of the bar scene with all this extraordinary make-up and thought, “Jesus, is somebody going to come over and stick a snout on my face?”
The sequences I shot were done on the hottest day in English history. The sole reason we’re wearing yellow visors is so you can’t see the sweat pouring down our faces.
We only had one X-Wing, which was repainted between shots. If you’d seen the four hairy guys in T-shirts that were pushing it around and making it shake in front of a blue screen, you’d have thought, “What’s this, some amateur movie?” Then all the pilots complained that none of the buttons in the cockpit worked, so they attached a six-quid calculator to the camera housing. When we were flying, all we were doing was two plus two equals four.
I’d just done a couple of episodes of Space 1999, and Star Wars looked like just another nondescript science-fiction movie. I went to LA to an audition, where everyone read the Han Solo part. Brian De Palma was poaching from the casting session, so I got offered Carrie, which I ended up not doing.
Star Wars came back about a month later and said I could be an Admiral, which was a week’s work. I was only an Admiral until I went to the costume fitting, where I became a General, because that was the only uniform that would fit. On set, there were all these extras continually being made-up and wheeled in front of George Lucas to be approved for the bar scene.
I go to quite a lot of these conventions now. They fly you first-class to some bizarre place in North Carolina, put you in a Holiday Inn and give you a thousand dollars. You just have to talk to these guys in anoraks for a couple of days. It’s great.
We were just young, energetic folk working on a whole new kind of film project. It was my first film and I thought that all films were like that. It was made during a simpler time: not so much technology, and much less money.
My friends just couldn’t believe I had this job building spaceships. We saw George Lucas occasionally. He came down to do some work on the models, and he was just like one of the guys: he wore tennis shoes like us, and he was really easy to talk to. It was a big surprise when we saw the film – I couldn’t believe that I had actually worked on the picture. It was one of those days that you always remember. I was really proud, and really pleased for George Lucas.
In order to get Star Wars completed for it’s 1977 release, Lucas scoured the basements of Los Angeles for anybody to farm out bits and pieces of effects too. He’d seen Dark Star and that had a number of display-type screens on consoles in the spaceship, so he thought I could do the same thing on Star Wars.
At the time, computer displays for targeting were not common; they were only used by the military, and in Dark Star I had completely faked it.
When I met Lucas, my impression of him was that he was very tired. He flew me up to his mountain-top Xanadu and ran some scenes from the picture for me. I was very impressed; it was going to be a great movie. He told me what he needed, and give me a dozen shots to do.
At the time, cinematic computer labs were only just beginning to be available. All the stuff we couldn’t do with analogue computers we had to do with traditional animation.
At ILM I was trying to figure out how to do the screens, because we had to have the Imperial fighters targeting the good guys and vice versa. So we borrowed one model of each fighter and used Polaroids to photograph them from every conceivable angle, and animated the, ghosting around on the targeting devices.
Lucas flew down once a week in his helicopter, and everyone would hand in their little pieces of film and he would give his comments. Just as I had finished the last bit of work, he said, “Your footage is the most colourful in the film,” and he did not sound pleased. I said, “DO you mean garish?” And he didn’t say anything, but he desaturated all my colours in the finished film.
I don’t think George Lucas likes me. In the years right after, he was not responsive when I tried to contact him, so I gave up. I read an interview with him where he said that he didn’t want big egos working around him – there’s only room for one big ego in a George Lucas picture, and I put two and two together. So he isn’t rushing to my birthday party.
I still think Star Wars is a terrific movie, but since then I have taken very little interest in targeting devices.
The films were always intended to be timeless stories. They were based on mythological ideas that had been around for thousands of years and the subject matter, and the issues they’re dealing with, I think, are timeless.
That’s part of the reason they still seem to be as popular now as they were 15, 20 years ago. I was amazed at how it was accepted all over the world. Wherever I go, it’s penetrated the local culture, and I’ve been to some pretty obscure places.
To me, it was very revealing of how popular culture gets everywhere you can possibly imagine on this planet.
In the first three films I was trying to make a modern mythology, where you take the values and the social mores that exist today and put them in a form that you can express to younger people.
The film was really aimed at 12-13-year olds, though it seems that everyone from all ages has enjoyed it. The next three movies I’m writing right now take place before the original trilogy and really they are to do with the rise of Darth Vader.
It’s his story. Obi Wan Kenobi and everyone is in it, but it’s these characters many years before, and how they came to be the way they are today.
The initial challenge was convincing anybody to go ahead with the project. The script was actually very difficult to read because it was full of strange names and odd things. In terms of the drama, it was all very clear in my mind.
In terms of how that would look on the screen, that was very experimental as it went through the post-production process. There are some shots we struggled with for months and eventually abandoned. It all sounds like steam train time now, because with modern digital technology what took us nine months could probably be done in nine weeks now.
I don’t think many people realise that Star Wars was made for about $10 million, which was low-budget even in 1976.
I know a lot of the crew weren’t sure that it was a going to be any good at all. Luckily, the principal creative people worked very hard so it didn’t look cheap.
We decided that all the costumes had to be old or used by somebody in real life. The only thing that actually had to be built were the Stormtrooper uniforms because they were vacuum-formed plastic. Everything else was off the shelf – all the Imperial Officers were wearing World War One uniforms with the emblems and buttons taken off and little hi-tech doo-dads stuck on.
The success of the first film brought a new set of problems. We had to work very hard to keep people away. Empire might have been a better film technically, but it wasn’t as much fun as the first film.