Rolling Stone July 24, 1980
Slaves To The Empire
The 'Star Wars' Kids Talk Back: By Timothy White
*The Force has two sides. It is not a malevolent or a benevolent thing. It has a
bad side to it, involving hate and fear, and it has a good side, involving love,
charity, fairness and hope.* --George Lucas
"There's no place for personal triumph in a film like this," says Harrison Ford
dryly, referring to his return to the screen as mercenary adventurer Han Solo in 'Star
Wars'' monumental sequel, 'The Empire Strikes Back'. Although Ford shares star billing,
he is painfully aware that he and the other featured performers are mere pawns in a
projected nine-part series of sci-fi films, cartoonlike components with little more
dimension than the hapless androids C-3PO and R2D2.
'Star Wars', the creation of writer-director-producer George Lucas, is the
largest-grossing film of all time-- over $400 million at last count-- and 'Empire',
directed by Irvin Kershner, looks to be its nearest box-office rival. Yet the cast of
this spectacular saga seems almost lost in an interplanetary shuffle.
"The star is the movie," says Mark Hamill, a.k.a. Luke Skywalker, and his
cohorts sadly concur. Indeed, Harrison Ford has learned so little about his own
character that he cannot explain why Solo is being pursued by bounty hunters throughout
"There's no, er, I don't know *why* that is." He shrugs, red-faced. "I can
imagine, but basically, I just work here, you know what I mean? In fact, I didn't get
the script to the second picture until three weeks before we started shooting. [Some of
the actors in 'Empire' were given only partial scripts to ensure the secrecy of plot
twists.] I haven't gotten the script for the third one, 'The Revenge of the Jedi'.
"One of George's real strengths," adds Ford, "is not giving you all the
information you need, yet at the same time not denying you anything essential. You have
a feeling that you want to know more at all times."
"I have heard frequently," he continues, "that there is a certain kind of
disappointment with the ending of the second film. I've heard people say, 'There's no
end to this film' or 'I can't wait to find out what happens.' But they *will*, and
that's exactly the effect intended by the ending."
To feed the seemingly insatiable appetite for news about 'Star Wars', Twentieth
Century-Fox and Lucasfilm (George's production company) have mounted a promotional
onslaught whose scope resembles a rock & roll world tour. Over the last few weeks, the
films' stars have been hustled from Los Angeles to New York to Washington to London to
Japan and then on to Australia to sit for literally hundreds of newspaper, radio and
television interviews. The effort is further supported by a multi-million-dollar ad
campaign and a glut of aggressive merchandising schemes that include everything from a
soundtrack album to a proposed Yoda doll, the gnomelike Jedi master.
The films' principles were not often together on the sets--especially during the
shooting of 'Empire'--and the same goes for their promo tours. While they get along
well with one another, there's little sense of a shared experience. And as for the
actual creation of the film fantasy, vivid anecdotes are rare; Carrie Fisher, who plays
Princess Leia, admits that the actors had to "pretend a lot."
"On the set, I would have to say, 'Don't blow up my planet, please!' and all I'm
doing is looking at a board with and X on it, held by an assistant director who couldn't
wait for the tea break.
"There are certain things you can bring to a movie that have substitutions in
your life," she adds. "Well, you can't do that in this type of film. I had never seen
hyperspace till I saw the finished films, so I could never imagine how they would do it.
You just make what Kierkegaard called the 'great leap of faith.'"
"I felt curiously detached watching 'Empire'," says Hamill. "I sound like my
therapist, but you do start taking these things to heart, thinking, 'Yes, you are a
terrible actor, and it was *only* the special effects that made it all memorable.'"
It is perhaps a sign of the times that the biggest entertainment phenomenon in
history is also a wondrous cliffhanger that is as mesmerizing as it is manipulative. At
this rate, we will have to wait until the year 2000 to see the final episode of Lucas'
cinematic fairy tale, while the actors, who were paid sizable salaries ( and, in the
case of Star Wars, a reported bonus cut of Lucas' own profits), may never derive any
great satisfaction from the most celebrated roles of their careers.
The man getting the most personal gratification from this project must be Lucas
himself, who, after miraculously surviving a car crash at the age of eighteen, decided,
"I should do something positive with my life because I was spared for a reason. Maybe I
was here for 'Star Wars'."*
*For the benefit of anyone in this galaxy who is unaware of the 'Star Wars' plot, the
epic concerns Princess Leia Organa of Alderraan, the lovely leader of the Alliance to
Restore the Republic, and her struggle to mount a successful rebellion against the evil
Galactic Empire. Formerly a noble federation guarded by the righteous order of Jedi
Knights, the massive republic eventually decayed from within, thanks to the power-mad
efforts of a wicked self-appointed emperor and his strong right arm, fallen Jedi Darth
Vader. The first film found Leia soliciting allies for her courageous quest, including
aging Jedi Master (Ben) Obi-Wan Kenobi; adventurer Han Solo and his Wookiee comrade,
Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew); droids C-3Po and R2D2 (Kenny Baker); and Skywalker. 'The
Empire' is essentially a nonstop battle, the action built upon all the lore thus far
implanted in the imaginations of millions of fans. *
None of the actors are apologetic about their part in this unfolding drama, but
one gets the feeling that they would relish a greater comprehension of, and control
over, the science-fiction serial that has assumed such power over their lives and
careers. (Ford, Hamill, Fisher, Billy Dee Williams and most of the other costars are
signed for 'The Revenge of the Jedi'.)
"The Force is what *you* perceive it to be," Lucas notes, "and it is always
"I was nineteen, chosen at random, and told to lose weight, which at the time
was a problem," says pretty, petite Carrie Fisher, 23, curled up din an overstuffed
chair in her New York apartment. "This time around, for 'Empire', I was told to *gain*
weight. The only film I'd done before 'Star Wars' was 'Shampoo'. But they decided to
go with me anyway, a strong girl with a low voice and self-righteous nature."
*Sardonic* would be a better word. Fisher's flippant outlook on life may be the
result of a childhood spent enduring mother Debbie Reynolds' two celebrated divorces
("She's a Texas chain-saw survivor; she's real great") and the gossip magazine prattle
that plagued father Eddie Fisher ("He's a little shell shocked from thirteen years of
doing speed, but he's real friendly"). Her quick-witted style, heavily influenced by
the blasť-just-before-the gallows banter of 'Saturday Night Live' alumnus Michael
O'Donoghue (who's a close chum), contains traces of Joan Rivers, Bette Midler and a
dollop of Dorothy Parker.
"I liked whenever Harrison and I yelled at each other," she giggles, recalling
her favorite scenes from both films. "And whenever Darth Vader came in, a lot of the
scenes were funny, because he was physically depicted by David Prowse, this muscle man
from Cornwall or Devon. [Vader's eerie, wheezing voice was dubbed in by James Earl
Jones.] And 'cause he had this Devon farmer's accent, we used to call him Darth
"In the first film," Fisher adds, "I had to wear that white dress and I couldn't
wear a bra. Everything was bouncing around, so I had to ware gaffer's tape for three
months to keep my breasts down. A new crew member used to come up every day and get to
rip it off-- only kidding!
"Lucas always had to remind me to 'Stand up! Be a princess!' And I would act
like a Jewish princess and lean forward, slouching, chewing gum."
Fisher laments the fact that several exotic scenes never made it into either
film. "In the original script, I was captured and when Mark and Harrison found me, I
was hanging upside down with yellow eyes, like in 'The Exorcist'. They shoulda just
gotten Linda Blair for it. Some form of radar torture was done to me and I was in a
beam, bruised and beaten up, suspended in midair. The reason it was cut from the film
was because I was unconscious and the Wookiee would have had to carry me for, like, the
next fifteen minutes. But I loved the idea of having yellow eyes and being beaten and
The talk shifts to Leia's romance with Han Solo in 'Empire', and Carrie slyly
speculates that "if she had her wits about her, she would have fallen for the big,
strong Wookiee. She's not that experienced, but because she's a princess, she would
have some kind of problem with whoever she dated. Like, 'She can't marry out of her
solar system' or something."
Her notion of an X-rated sequel to 'Empire' makes her howl with laughter.
"Nude scenes with the robots!" she envisions. "They could do *anything*. And
Darth Vader having an affair, making the princess do awful, kinky thins. Then
afterward, you could shoot a scene where you see her sleeping contentedly and have him
lying there, smoking a cigarette."
Gazing around her apartment crammed with antique toys, dolls and the whimsical
knickknacks one might expect to find in a little girl's bedroom, I realize there are few
'Star Wars' souvenirs.
"They sent me everything at first, as if I had some child lurking about, but I
gave most of it away. On Halloween, I had no candy so I gave two children in the
building something, and then the whole building descended on me, and I gave a lot of
"You know," she says in a mock stage whisper, "they send me 'Star Wars' sheets.
I just gave the last ones away to some of the 'Saturday Night Live' writers. They
called me back and said, 'You don't have them for *double* beds, do you?'
"The merchandising, it's very funny. Harrison used to get so upset; 'Mark gets
to be a *puzzle*, why don't I?!' Those kinds of arguments. And we'll go, 'Wait a
minute! Why don't I get to be on the pencil box for chrissake! I mean, if I'm gonna be
in this and I'm gonna end up being two sizes of dolls, and a belt, and a cookie, and a
hat, then why don't I get to be on an eraser, too?'
"I," Fisher boasts, "was on a Princess Leia eraser."
"Do the kids who buy these erasers come up to you in supermarkets," I wonder,
"and ask you about the "Millenium Falcon' or 'Jawas' or. . .?"
"No! they come to my home. I swear to you! I sometimes find them *in* my
home, and there are a lot of little girls. One girl named Yolanda sat here and waited
for me. That's when I started locking my door. One night--this is great--some *real*
strange guy with crossed eyes came up here and said he had bought my address for twenty
dollars. Peter Aykroyd [Dan's brother] was here and chased him down the block.
"Weird," she says with a shudder. "you know, I remember falling asleep one day
on the set and dreaming about half-robots, half-people. You're hanging around the set
for three or four months and you're going to lunch with midgets and giants every day;
eventually it permeates the brain. So I had these violent nightmares, dreams where you
keep trying to imposed *your* reality and you can't. It gets you crazy."
Fisher has since awakened to another equally unsettling fact;: her involvement
in these films has not made her more in demand in Hollywood.
"Not at all." She nods with an even smile. "It hasn't translated into jobs,
into other work. It's not an actor's performance. You have fun doing it to a degree,
but I'm famous in this weird way because I'm this children's cartoon character.
"*Balls*, people recognize me more from 'Saturday Night Live!' I mean, people
know who I am, but nothing can be bigger than this movie no matter what happens. When
we all kick off, we will be the princess and Luke and Han."
"How does that make you feel?" I ask.
Her smile vanishes and the color drains from her face.
"George tells me that the wisest thing I could tell anyone is that I'm retired,"
says Mark Hamill, 28, only half joking as he nibbles nachos in a sunlit Malibu eatery
called Alice's Restaurant. "Then I would have the best of both worlds. There's no
pressure to put out a product, and if you do get a part, you can say, 'The role was so
good it lured me out of retirement.'
"Who knows," he says in exasperation, "I think he's probably right."
Hamill views his contribution to Lucas' work-in-progress as "the classic
thankless role. I'm the straight man, the earnest storyteller.
"You know," he offers with a hard swallow, "thirty years ago, the studios would
have built our careers. We're all freelancers now. I'm finally looking like a
grown-up, after all these years. I always got the 'Hey, dad, can I borrow the keys to
the car tonight?' parts. That's why I'm waiting. I really have a feeling 'Empire' is
going to help me.
"I've got one of the best collections of 'Star Wars' memorabilia," he suddenly
volunteers, "but it's all put away because I'm a serious collector."
"How valuable to sci-fi buffs is the Luke Skywalker doll?" I ask.
"I've been marked down in price," he moans. "But it doesn't look anything like
me, anyway. My wife and I went into a Toys 'R Us store a while back, and they had all
these kids' costumes. They'd made a bunch of 'Star Wars' ones; four of 'em, and I was
"They had sold out Darth Vader, Chewbacca and C-3PO," he murmurs, "and I was the
only one available. There were just boxes and boxes of me."
The son of an itinerant navy captain, Hamill grew up in Virginia and Japan, and
became absorbed in acting while in high school. Although he has had extensive TV
experience, including a short-lived series with Gary Busey called 'The Texas Wheelers',
he confesses that "one of the best things I think I ever did was Snoopy in 'You're a
Good Man Charlie Brown'. I was embarrassed to mention it before, because it was in high
school in Japan."
Hamill's anxiety about landing choice roles was tragically accelerated when his
BMW ran off the freeway in 1977. 'Star Wars' had not yet been released, and his face
was sufficiently ravaged that he wondered whether he would be able to retain any part of
his angular good looks, let alone fulfill the remainder of his three-picture deal with
Lucas. That mental anguish was only intensified when the film proved to be an
"It's the crux of my dilemma right now. For an actor to have massive facial
surgery is 'traumatic'. I thought it jeopardized everything," he admits, wincing when I
note that a small lip scar is still visible. "I thought it could possibly be pretty
much over for me, unless. . ."
Since 'Star Wars', Hamill's only other film stints have been the role of "an
emotional hard-luck case" in the obscure 'Corvette Summer' and the slightly meatier part
of a fragile young infantryman in Sam Fuller's 'The Big Red One', a World War II story
filmed in 1978 and only now being released.
"After I came back from filming 'Empire Strikes Back', my first job offer was to
walk on nails and swallow fire on some celebrity circus in Las Vegas-- whatever *that*
was. It's so bizarre. Here I am a grown-up and this is how I earn my living. What's
my son gonna think of me? All of a sudden there are so many elements that aren't in
your control. You wind up almost being another one of the public watching this
I'd work for scale for somebody willing to take a chance with me, because it's
real frustrating to be n something this big and popular and not really feel you're
stretching yourself. I met Milos Forman yesterday on an interview [for the film version
of the best-selling novel 'Ragtime'], and I would kill to work with that man!
"I was dying to get a reading on 'Midnight Express', 'cause I thought for them
to use that squeaky-clean image of Luke and then have that [drug imprisonment] happen to
him would be great dramatically.
"You keep saying to yourself, 'Don't worry, you won't get trapped. 'I can stick
it out," he decided, "as long as I'm careful with my money."
He changes the subject, speaking with enthusiasm about his wife, Marilou, their
infant son and the house they've just purchased in Malibu. I wonder whether his wife
knew of his interstellar alter ego before they began dating.
"I didn't think so," he says, "but since then I've discovered that she knew.
But then again, I don't think she was impressed by it. Seriously, from being a dental
hygienist in Westwood, she knows more people in the business than I do. That's how I
got invited to a recent Eagles concert-- she knows them from doing their teeth!
"A lot has happened to me since the first movie," Hamill confides wearily. "And
you feel that to go cross-country on these promotional tours is sort of a waste.
They're hard, real hard. One of the reasons I feel so empty and lacking when I talk to
interviewers is because you ask me these questions and I don' know, I'm searching for
the answers myself."
"Do you want to see the scars?" asks Anthony Daniels, the suave, soft spoken
British actor who animates the gleaming gold hardware known as C-3PO, 'Star Wars' fussy
butler of a robot. Seated next to Hamill on a long couch in a suite at Manhattan's
Sherry-Netherland Hotel, the delicately handsome Daniels unbuttons his tan silk shirt to
reveal a gruesome network of old wounds.
"The whole first film was a miasman of pain," says Daniels. "It was the metal
pieces of the suit shoving me about, meeting with another piece of metal to pinch me
horribly. I was like sticking your fingers in an electric socket, again and again.
"Fortunately, it was much easier for 'Empire', because the costume was
redesigned. It's slightly more flexible. I even tap-dance recently, did a metallic
soft-shoe on 'The Muppet Show'. What makes it bearable is that, between us, we make up
a somewhat beautiful piece of sculpture." Daniels frequently discusses C-3PO in terms of
"In the end, I turned him from an American version of a robot programmed to be a
servant into a swishy British twit, but he's quite nice."
"I think a psychiatrist would enjoy being in there with me," Daniels observes,
"Because you can really watch people, and watch people's reactions to me. It's
fascinating. Sometimes I would be standing next to the costume and people would come up
and say, 'That guy must be incredibly *stupid* to do this part.'"
He then relates the mortifying experience of nearly being expelled by security
guards from the backstage area of the 1977 Academy Awards ceremony because he was, of
course, out of costume.
"I'd forgotten my ID badge." He shrugs, rolling his eyes. "I literally had to
beg them to find the guy who was looking after me. There's not a lot of dignity
involved in being in these 'Star Wars' films; I have no dignity left whatsoever. I
mean, if I've got an itchy crotch, somebody has to scratch it for me. I actually can't
do that-- my hands don't go that far."
"He's one of the most famous characters in cinema!" Hamill exclaims, jumping up
and stalking about the room like an exasperated press agent. "Yet no one would
recognize him on the street!
"Just to show you how famous *I* am," Hamill offers, "a lady came up to me after
a reception and said, 'Are you the skinny guy in the gold robot suit? I know he's here
someplace and you're the skinniest person here.' I said, 'Okay, I'll sign an
autograph,' and wrote: 'Best wishes always, the skinny guy in the robot suit.'
I took the 'Star Wars' trivia test and failed," Hamill says to Daniels impishly.
"They asked who your former owner was and I couldn't remember."
"Somebody in Tower Records on Sunset [Boulevard, in Los Angeles] recognized my
voice one day," says Daniels, striving to cheer himself up. "All I said was, 'I want to
buy a record. Can I have this please?' And he said, '*You're Anthony Daniels!*' I was
"The first day we got here, we had a press conference at nine in the morning,"
says an exhausted Harrison Ford, rubbing his eyes as he lifts his stocking feet onto a
coffee table in New York's Plaza Hotel. "And then from about 9:20 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. we
met a gross of journalists around a dozen tables, twelve at a time, and moved from one
table to another, and so we did about 150 interviews in four hours. An hour off for
lunch, and then we came back and did fifteen five- to ten-minute television interviews
in four hours and then went back to our rooms and passed out. The next day we did
twenty-seven television interviews, and on into Sunday. This morning I've done the
Today show and, uh, about four or five interviews with print media."
In his eyes, I see murky bog pits on the planet Dagobah.
"The last time we were on tour together," Mark Hamill had told me earlier,
"Harrison was the publicity sheriff. He would give us report cards: 'Humility--B. I
like what you said about not being in the business for money--A for that.'"
Right now, Ford is too fatigued to grade anyone, himself included.
"I had no experience with science fiction beforehand," he says weakly. "And I
didn't go to those Buck Rogers matinees, either. In fact, I have never been much of a
The son of an advertising executive and the grandson of a vaudeville trouper,
Ford did a little summer stock in Wisconsin before flunking out of college three days
"That's when I first considered being an actor for money, and I knew I had to go
either to LA or to New York, and damned quick, 'cause it was starting to snow in
Wisconsin. So I flipped a coin. It came up New York, so I flipped it again so I could
go to LA I wasn't gonna starve *and* freeze."
Ford was fortunate enough to quickly land a seven-year contract with Columbia.
"I did a year and a half and got kicked out on my ass for being too difficult,"
he says, laughing. "I was very unhappy with the process they were engaged in, which was
to re-create stars the way it had been done in the Fifties. They sent me to get my hair
pompadoured like Elvis Presley, all that shit, for $150 a week."
Ford had a wife and child to support, so he went into freelance carpentry,
rebuilding his own home for starters, then constructing a $100,000 recording studio for
Sergio Mendes. He took film work whenever he deemed it "decent" and wound up in
'American Graffiti', Francis Coppola's 'The Conversation', the TV movie 'The Court
Martial of Lt. Calley', 'Star Wars', 'Heroes', and 'Force 10 from Navarone', the last of
which kept him in Yugoslavia while the sci-fi spectacular was exploding across the
Ford says, quite convincingly, that 'Empire' "is the first time I've ever seen
anything I've done that I'm happy with." He then states that he does *not* enjoy
watching himself on the screen.
I suggest that one of the most engaging moments in 'Empire' is the tense few
seconds before Darth Vader sends Han into a potentially fatal carbon freezing chamber to
"I love you!" the forlorn Leia divulges desperately to her hero.
"I know," Solo replies with a crowd pleasing arrogance.
With a little coaxing, Ford admits that "to a certain degree," Solo's cocky
cachet is his own. "In the script," he explains with a smirk, "it read, 'I love you
too!' But that was too much on the nose. If you didn't have something else there at
that point you would not get your full payoff in that scene. You know, there's a sense
of dread and mystery there, and there's no satisfying conclusion in 'I love you too!' I
wanted the moment to have another complexion. Kershner agreed, and that's the way we
"People who are expecting a repetition of the emotional experience of the first
film are not going to find exactly that. The audience that saw the first film is more
sophisticated now, three years later, in the same way the techniques are more
"This film is much more emotional, and some of the emotions are extremely
difficult to deal with. The accomplishment of saying something true about those
emotions is great.
"What's also great for me," he adds with a wink, "is to watch the kids watch
that love scene [in the 'Millennium Falcon', when Han and Leia kiss] and they don't go,
'The Revenge of the Jedi' will begin shooting in the summer of 1981 (in
addition, the BBC plans a radio serial), and most of the regulars will be back, the
chief holdout currently being Anthony Daniels.
"Well," he demurs, "do I feel that I want to do it today? *No*. Definitely not.
But let's leave it for a bit and possibly. . . it will be all right."
Actually, the most enthusiastic of all the cast members seems to be newcomer
Billy Dee Williams, who signed on for 'Empire' as Lando Calrissian, a con artist and
former sidekick of Solo's. Williams loves the character, whom he views as a "Burt
Reynolds kind of charmer" who complements Han's hotheadedness.
"It's more then pure entertainment," he says of the whole enterprise over tea
one rainy afternoon. "I see it from at least three levels: a philosophical level, a
real level and a cartoon level-- and they're all great.
"People will say, 'Why did you do 'Star Wars' after doing all those other
things? This doesn't seem to be important for you.' That's really what they're saying.
But it is important, because it's part of my growth.
"The introduction of Lando is a good one," he says firmly. "I talked to George
when 'Star Wars' came out and I was very candid. I said, 'Look, there's Darth Vader,
the dark, *black* fear, and there's Alec Guinness playing the *white* knight, Ben
Obi-Wan Kenobi. Here we go again, perpetuating that same old stuff.'
"And now, by having Lando [who slowly becomes an ally of Leia's cause and vows
to rescue Solo], we're gonna have to put aside the old point of view. Now, we're
talking about *symbols*-- *darkness* as averse to *clarity*. Black, white, red, we're
all included in the human dilemma, and Darth is scarier this time, because now we learn
he's *human*-- he's not a mechanical monster."
All of this notwithstanding, a certain, more specific meeting of the minds with
director Kershner helped cement Williams' decision to join the project.
"Kershner and I sat down at my house in California and we talked about Eastern
philosophy," Williams says. "He's into Zen, and I've been into Zen since I was about
twenty-six; now I'm forty. Kershner said, 'I wanna introduce some Zen here, because I
don't want the kids to walk away just feeling that everything is shoot-'em-up, but that
there's also a little something to think about here in terms of yourself and your
"And that's what Yoda, who's a Zen master, is saying' before you enter the
temple, you have to live out all you desires-- the body is the temple and it houses your
better self, and your better self is your mind. And that is what this wonderful little
character is talking about.
"Power is a very peculiar thing. It's like the ego. The ego's only there to
keep you above water. Once we realize something good about ourselves, we have a
tendency to abuse the gift. That's what this film series is about: truths *and*
consequences. As my wife says, 'Bachi atari.' That's Japanese for 'What goes around
"I tell my son Corey that the greatest teacher is the teacher who says, 'Don't
follow me, follow yourself. Because within you there is that kingdom, that life, that
"Boy," says Billy Dee, his face suddenly flushed with a diversity of emotions.
"I guess I sure can't describe my concept of these films better than that."
BIG thanks to Sophie for typing out the Rolling Stone article for me. I know a lot of
people (including myself) have been dying to get to read it, and she's the one that made it
possible. Thank you Soph! :-)
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