Those of us old enough to have seen the original Star Wars film during it’s initial run have a fond memory to cherish. When the Flash Gordon-inspired, yellow text crawled its way up the screen, it began with, “It is a period of civil war,” and then continued on. There was no subtitle to the film since, we assume, no one really knew if it would be a hit or not. If you’ve seen the film since the 1980s, though, then you’ve most likely seen the subtitle Episode IV: A New Hope added above the crawl. (For a GREAT article on May 25, 1977 and all that goes with it, please see May 25, 1977: A Day Long Remembered by Michael Coate.) Read More
Michael Sheard is a veteran actor who has appeared in hundreds of films including Force 10 From Navarone (with Harrison Ford), Escape to Athena, two Indiana Jones films and of course The Empire Strikes Back. He’s also known in the UK as the bow tied teacher Mr. Bronson from the TV show Grange Hill. He’s had countless roles on all kinds of TV shows ranging from Dr. Who to The Avengers. He has four books under his belt and promises more to come. Above all, however, Michael is a gentleman and a fun person to talk to. He took a little time out to answer some questions about his life and career. (Original posting: January 1, 2004)
Kenny Baker is the actor/entertainer who crawled into the R2-D2 unit for every Star Wars film thus far. Being three feet and eight inches tall never stopped Kenny from making it big in the entertainment industry. He was in several fantastic films including Time Bandits, Flash Gordon, Amadeus, The Elephant Man, and of course the Star Wars films. If all goes well, he should end up being one of the proud few who can claim that they were in every Star Wars film. He currently lives in England and is enjoying life relaxing between touring all over the world and appearing at various Sci-fi conventions, something he really enjoys. Kenny was kind enough to take some time out to answer a few of my questions. (Original posting: July 25, 2000)
Tony was the robot engineer who created the many R2-D2 units for The Empire Strikes Back. He also worked on other films like Moonraker, Superman II, and Dragonslayer. Tony contacted me many moons ago and told me that if I ever wanted an interview to just ask. So needless to say, I asked and therefore, I received. (Original posting: December 1, 1997) Read More
Peter Diamond (1929-2004) was the stunt coordinator for the original Star Wars trilogy, but he was much more than a well-established master at the art of stunt performing. He was also an actor, fencer, and filmmaker. Being a man of many talents, it’s no surprise to learn that he performed many of the minor roles in the Star Wars films like the Tusken Raider who attacked Luke, the cantina patron who squeals to the Stormtroopers, or one of many dedicated Stormtroopers serving the Empire. Peter took a few minutes to talk to me about his long career in the entertainment industry and, of course, his many roles in the Star Wars saga. (Original Posting: December 11, 2000)
Ever since its release as a vinyl double-album set, The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack has offered bits of music that never made it into the final film. The video clips in this section feature scenes with restored music so you can see what John Williams had in mind for these shots. Read More
Writing scripts longhand and on paper is a bit of a lost art form these days. The personal computer age seems to have changed everything, much like the mobile industry seems to be changing life yet again right before out eyes. So it’s always fun to look back on the old days from time to time.
Slashfilm recently got their hands on a few pages of Lawrence Kasdan’s original, handwritten draft of The Empire Strikes Back. It was all part of this year’s “May the 4th be with you” (AKA Star Wars Day) celebrations that now (unofficially) take place every year on May fourth.
The pages are fun to read and while many have seen the old drafts before, these handwritten pages give us a few more glimpses into the development of the film. In one of them, Yoda seems to imply that when you’re a full-on Jedi, you can “see” things differently. You can actually see the Force around everything which is an interesting concept. Another mentions a deleted scene where Luke is training on Dagobah and fighting off some training ball droids that shoot stun bolts at him, similar to the one that Obi-Wan used while on the Millennium Falcon in the original film. There are a few other bits including Han’s line “…just remember that, because I’ll be back,” which was later changed by Harrison Ford to “I know.”
It’s a small bit of film history you might enjoy.
Download: Star Wars Sequel by Leigh Brackett
The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980 and even as a 10-year-old, I remember reading about an early version of the script written by a Sci-Fi author and screenwriter named Leigh Brackett. She turned in a first draft and passed away from Cancer in 1978. This draft was based on a story outline from George Lucas.
From there, as the story goes, Lucas tried his hand at a draft or two but then turned those drafts over to Lawrence Kasdan who ultimately penned the script, although Brackett was still credited. It’s unclear as to the reason why, but it’s assumed that this was a professional courtesy since not many people really knew if any of her work ended up in the final version. Many interviews with Lucas and others who had seen the draft implied that it beared very little resemblance.
For years, this elusive draft seemed like a “holy grail” of sorts to Star Wars aficionados. In 2010, however, I was shown a scanned version of what appeared to be this draft by Brackett. It came complete with handwritten notes, crossed out words, and matched up with just about every description of the actual thing you could think of. If it was a forgery, it was an elaborate one.
At Starwarz.com, I also host a site called Starkiller. This small group of people specialize in Star Wars scripts. Being that I’m a member, we posted the script online and it’s the most popular download on the site.
At first read, you do get the distinct impression that it’s very different, but it’s mostly the dialogue. Many of the concepts and scenes are still intact.
SOME noticeable differences include:
- Han is never frozen and there are no bounty hunters like Boba Fett
- Lando has a different last name (Kadar) and a lady friend
- Planet names are different or changed around
- Yoda is called “Minch”
- Han is sent on a “mission” to speak to his powerful Step-father (which is supposed to be part of the next film)
and the biggest one of all…
- Darth Vader and Luke’s Father are TWO DIFFERENT characters
Luke’s father, simply referred to as SKYWALKER in the script, shows up in ghost form along with Ben while Luke is being trained. What’s more is he also tells Luke about his sister – who is not Leia. Her name is Nellith. Luke takes the oath of the Jedi along with his Father, Ben and Minch (Yoda).
It’s clear that Lucas wasn’t sure on the direction he was going with the whole Anakin/Vader story yet. It makes you think about Lucas’ explanation of how the whole saga was always supposed to be about Anakin Skywalker. When Empire was being made, it seems he had no idea about this. Nor did he know that Leia would be Luke’s sister, which explains his non-reluctance to having them romantically linked in the film. Was he shooting from the hip then, and is he now rewriting history?
Other than that, you’ll see that the general framework and outline from Lucas is pretty much there. Not much of Brackett’s dialogue remained but some of her spirit did.
For fans, this is a great find and a great read so I’m happy to be able to share it here as well as over at the Starkiller site.
Enjoy reading it and please leave some comments.
Download: Star Wars Sequel by Leigh Brackett
The story of Leia and Han is a wonderful sub-plot and one of the greatest, most tenuous on-screen romances of all time. The Princess and The Pauper. Beauty and the Beast. Prom Queen and the Bad Boy. Call it what you want, it worked. Here are some of their lesser-seen moments as well as some other mentions of Han’s other love: The Millennium Falcon.
Looking back, not much good can be said about Cloud City. It may be beautiful, but it’s a city of betrayal, darkness, and loss. Luke almost lost more than a hand there. Leia and Chewie almost lost more than Han there. R2-D2 almost lost more than his counterpart there. Not a fun place to visit.
It may be a slimy mud hole to some, but to Yoda it was home. This swampy, hidden planet was where Yoda fled and where he later trained the son of a fallen Jedi. Some argue that Luke’s Jedi training was much too fast in the film. Initially, there were more trials for Luke to endure. Let’s take a look at some of the deleted moments from the planet Dagobah.
In the finished film, we’re treated to just one Wampa ice creature who attacks Luke and takes him home for dinner. Originally there were supposed to be many more Wampas causing trouble for our friends at Echo Base. Much of the sub-plot was ultimately dropped.
I was all of 10 years old when The Empire Strikes Back was released and due to the profound effect that Star Wars had on me three years prior, I was looking forward to it very much. I loved everything about the film but I always had fond memories of the array of Imperial Officers that peppered both films, even the ones who went nameless for years afterwards. I remembered admiral Ozzel as that pompous bad guy who felt his authority was undermined by an underling. I loved how he tried to talk sense to Darth Vader but Vader would overrode him at every turn. Vader was correct, of course, although Ozzel couldn’t see it. Then there was that fabulous death scene. Poor Ozzel never saw it coming. He was mid-sentence when Vader reached out through the Force and cut off his oxygen supply while at the same time promoting captain Piett to the rank of admiral. Ozzel’s choking death was perfectly done in one take. The way he slumped to the ground was morbidly grand. That actor was Michael Sheard. Living in the USA, we weren’t privy to certain shows like Grange Hill, so Michael might not have been as well known here until The Empire Strikes Back was released, but his list of credits is astounding. The man never stopped acting. In fact, the last time I spoke to him in May of 2005 at Star Wars Celebration III, he spoke to me of going upstairs to his room to read the script for his next job.
Little did I know that 20+ years down the road, I’d be maintaining Michael’s official website. I first met him many years ago on the convention circuit and offered him some help in making a website and getting an online presence. He, of course, was very receptive and wanted to proceed, knowing that I had worked on Dave Prowse’s website. I threw together a design and he approved it. The next day the website was online. From that day on, he thanked me in every e-mail. He was the most appreciative person I’d ever worked with. He knew that I was there for him and could help him out with his site, e-mail, or whatever else he needed on the web. We’d meet at the occasional convention but mostly stayed in touch electronically since he lived “across the pond” as he’d put it. Over the years (we registered his site in 2000) I felt a real relationship developed and there was a great mutual respect. He never felt I was some random Star Wars fan, but instead, a friend. He was always open and honest, endlessly telling me how much everyone loved the site. The truth is, I was glad to provide it. I hosted his site, maintained it for him, and did whatever else he needed and never charged him a dime—nor would I.
That’s the nature of Michael Sheard. This was a man who was so gracious and so wonderful that you would give him your 110% willingly and not feel a need to ask for anything in return. I thought of him as a wonderful friend; someone to respect and look up to. He was someone who decided early on what he wanted to do in life and did it well, enjoying his great success. That’s something to be admired.
Michael left me with a lot of fond memories. He never stopped talking about his family, especially his “Dearly Beloved” Ros, his “bum actor” friends, and all the fans whom he affectionately called his “chums.” I’ll never forget how excited he was to learn that there was going to be an Admiral Ozzel action figure made. I could feel his excitement from across the ocean. He absolutely loved the toy and was always happy to sign them for fans who came to see him. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his trademark “uniform” that he’d wear to almost every convention he attended. He wore this suit jacket with an extensive array of buttons and pins all over the lapels and to top it off, a bow tie. In fact, one time that I bumped into him (I don’t remember which convention it was) he didn’t have the tie on and it took me by surprise. He was out of uniform! He was indeed a colorful character whose colors bled into everyone else’s lives that he touched. I can still hear his booming voice calling out to me in that UK (not quite Scottish, not quite British) accent, “Hello, my dear boy!” when I’d finally see him at a convention somewhere. He was such a joy to talk to; always upbeat, always charming, always funny and witty.
The last time we met up in person, at Star Wars Celebration III in May 2005, we had a great time. Although he was ill, he showed no signs but a few shed pounds. I was actually quite surprised to learn through the media that he had cancer. He mentioned often enough that he was ill and in and out of hospitals but I didn’t ask him why out of respect. I don’t think he meant to avoid the subject, it just never came up in conversation other than me wishing him well. When I saw him, he seemed like the same person so I thought nothing more of it. It’s best to be positive as possible in those circumstances anyhow. I’m sure he wouldn’t want everyone making a fuss over him. The cancer that took him from us didn’t destroy his way of life and he was a positive force to the end. I have great memories of those few hours we spent together at Celebration III. I caught up with him the last full day of the show because his table always had a huge line. When I finally got to him he said, “My dear lad, it’s been three days! Where have you been?” in that commanding voice.
We talked, took a few photos, and met up later that night at the big party in the hotel. Michael was having a drink when I found him at the party but had a quizzical look on his face. He ordered a drink of some sorts—a whiskey drink, I believe—and what he got wasn’t very recognizable. I found him, he said hello, and then asked me to have a sip of his drink to verify that it was what it was! I actually couldn’t tell either and he dumped it. From the party, we made our way out into the lobby area. It seemed like every three steps we stopped to talk to fans who wanted to say hello to Michael or get an autograph or take a photo or do a short video interview, and you would think from his reaction that it was the first time he was recognized. He greeted every one of the fans with enthusiasm and granted their every wish, never complaining that he was tired or ill or hungry, though I know he was quite hungry at the time. We were on our way to find some food. Michael would never turn down a fan request—that was the man he was. Everyone who talked to him was absolutely thrilled and it was great to stand there and respectfully take it all in.
We finally sat, and along the way I gathered a few of my friends to join us at the table. Michael grabbed a slice of pizza, talking to every fan along the way. He finally brought it back and ate some of it until he could eat no more. Then he insisted that I have the rest. I didn’t think of it at the time, but looking back, it was probably the medicine and the sickness that was bothering him, though I couldn’t tell. He only ate a few bites and I finished the rest. He entertained the entire table that night, telling stories and jokes and talking to the fans who came over. He loved being among the crowd and didn’t want to be considered a “star” who hid from people or avoided the cliché questions fans like to ask. He got a little tired and told me he needed to turn in for the night, but not before reading a script he had brought with him. We said our goodbyes fondly and he went off to his room to sleep. I didn’t know it at the time, but thatt would be the last time I’d see him in person.
The news came on August 31, 2005. Michael had passed on. I talked to his son who gave me a few small instructions for what to post on the site and I gave his family my sincere condolences. Since then, the outpouring of emotion and messages from all over the world has been astounding. Michael surely touched a lot of lives over the years and I’m proud to have been associated with him in my small way. I’ll surely miss those e-mails (or E’s, as he’d call them) all signed in his traditional way: “Yours Aye, Michael.”
He once told me in an interview, “Actors are like soldiers, they never die, they only fade away.”
Michael was a great man and a true friend. I will miss him dearly.
I want to send out my true, heartfelt condolences to Michael’s family and friends at this time. To his “kids” as he always referred to them, though they’re hardly the little tikes he will always fondly remember, I send you my positive thoughts, prayers and best wishes. I’d like to send an especially warm and tender hug and kiss from myself to Michael’s “Dearly Beloved” wife, Ros Sheard, whom I’ve never had to pleasure to meet, but feel like I’ve known for years. I can only imagine what it must be like to lose half of yourself, your life, your love. You are in my thoughts and prayers.