They were extras in a science-fiction film, and although they were on screen for only seconds, usually with their faces totally obscured, the lives of these actors were changed forever. In 1977 Star Wars was a box-office smash hit and, along with the first two sequels, shifted our culture forever. As a result, anyone with a connection to the film is guaranteed immortality and many still earn a living attending fan conventions all over the world. In The Force Awakens, roles as extras were so coveted that actors like Simon Pegg and Daniel Craig popped up as uncredited cameos, and now as Rogue One begins a new chapter in the saga, here are the original unsung stars of Star Wars explaining the impact the film has had on their lives.
In Star Wars I played… The Bounty Hunter ‘Boba Fett’
For me it was just another job – in fact I was working in a theatre in the West End in the evenings. After filming finished I went back to theatre work, television and the stage. Star Wars was not really mentioned again until the re-release in 1997. I was invited to a convention in Pasadena and everything took off from there. Star Wars has given me the opportunity to travel to some amazing places and meet fans all over the world.
I was happy to have five days’ work and two days’ overtime for my makeup
In Star Wars I played… an alien in the Cantina
Mind you, I was teased about my look. I have had three names, Weird Girl, then Leesub Sirin, changed again in 2009 when my action figure was released as Leesub Sirln, a wee spelling mistake I think. I never thought much about what the outcome would be. I was happy to have five days’ work and two days’ overtime for my makeup, which was three hours a day. All I worried about was my next job. When I retired in 2005 after running a casino for 20 years, I rejoined my agent. She said I had been receiving fan mail regarding Star Wars. I was most surprised, never realising what had been going on while I had been busy working. I was offered a memorabilia show and now I have many offers home and abroad. I did 33 last year. At 69, what a way to spend my golden years.
In Star Wars I played… two characters, the Sandtrooper Jedi-mind tricked by Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine and ‘Fixer’, a friend of Luke Skywaker, who runs Tosche Station
I thought Star Wars was very original. While in a far away galaxy, the story was familiar to the human, political and military landscape of our times. What if it had been called ‘Star Peace’? The pleasure in meeting people far and wide, seeing how much individual creative activity it has inspired, from costuming, to fashion, to prop and model building to design, art, technology, the list goes on and on…
In Star Wars I played… an X-Wing pilot
Star Wars fans named me Red 12 Gil ‘Drifter’ Varay, for which I feel very privileged, especially as you only see the back of my head in the film! I definitely sensed the magic of what it could be, both through the camaraderie on set, especially from Mark Hamill, and the amazing costumes, which helped to create the wonderful space fantasy. I saw it for the first time in a London cinema and experienced all the cheers and sheer joy from the audience as the credits were coming up at the end of the film.
On my tombstone the words inscribed will read: “Here lies Greedo – did he shoot first?”
In Star Wars I played… the role of Greedo in A New Hope
For all of us Star Wars wasn’t a big deal at the time as we were all regularly struggling to find work anywhere that was interesting or engaging and ultimately would pay the rent. It crept up on all of us, gradually but inexorably. I have played Macbeth, Banquo, Laertes and Claudio in a 40-year career, been on The South Bank Show and Crossroads, worked for The Royal Court and Derek Nimmo – but on my tombstone the words inscribed will read: “Here lies Greedo – did he shoot first?” And that’s fine by me!
In Star Wars I played… one of the Stormtroopers
The costumes were quite uncomfortable and very brittle. Any sudden-twist movements or running often resulted in the bits dropping off or coming loose. Most didn’t know what to make of Star Wars. At times we wondered if it was some sort of comedy. There was a belief that the film didn’t have that much of a budget. The main characters were unknown, apart from Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, but on the Thursday before the Easter break the cast were told that at the end of the day’s filming there would be an Easter present for everyone. As we entered, there were tables full of beer and Easter eggs. I thought to myself, well they must have some money after all!
On the second or third day of filming, I began to suffer from an upset stomach. For about 45 minutes, mid-morning, I had to visit the toilets three times. I was just about to trudge off for another session on the loo when a director’s assistant placed me in-shot. As the camera turned over, I shuffled along and banged my head. I was waiting for someone to shout “Cut!” but no one did, so I assumed my mishap wasn’t in shot. But when the film came out, I saw the Stormtrooper banging his head.
Elstree 1976, a documentary about the people behind the masks in Star Wars, is out now on DVD. Rogue One: A Star Wars story is in cinemas now