Yeah, it really is. I've done a lot of work on different television shows that I wouldn't allow to be beamed into my house but they were just jobs I did as an actor. But luckily for me I love to work in this — I hate the word genre — but genre.
But wasn't he getting tired of devoting so much of his career to the Star Wars movies. After all, it had started for him back in 1976. Wasn't he just a little weary of the whole thing now?
No, not at all - really! First of all I think in Empire the story is just beginning to emerge. They laid the groundwork in the first one but now we can develop the story and the characters. Star Wars was very emotional but it was a much more visually orientated experience. I mean, for instance, the exalted feeling you get when we blow up the Death Star is a very mechanical manipulation of the emotions but in Empire we have to rely on the character revelations as the emotional climax.
There was a kid at the media screening here of Empire who was just in tears at the end of it and he was saying to me. It's not true, it's not true . . . you lost! And I was saying to him that I didn't lose. It was a moral victory! It was a moral victory that Luke didn't join with Darth Vader.
What about other sf and fantasy films? Was he still able to maintain his fannish enthusiasm for the genre after all the years of working on the Star Wars series?
Oh sure! I see them all. I haven't seen Saturn 3 yet but that's the only one. My favourites, since Star Wars, are Close Encounters and Alien. Oh boy, I loved Alien! I wish I could have been in Alien.
It could have been like Janet Leigh in Psycho. If they'd billed me in a starring role in Alien and then have me get killed first it would have really surprised audiences. That would have been great! I would love to do something like that. In fact now I would love to be in the remake of The Thing and get killed right away...
But, I never thought of Star Wars as science fiction. I thought of it as a fairy tale. One of my favourite earlier versions of the Star Wars screenplay had a clever device to off-set the technology of the whole thing so that audiences wouldn't think that it was going to be another 2001 when they see the cruiser going overhead.
It started with a helicopter shot of an enchanted forest and they push the camera through the window of a tree and you see a mother Wookiee trying to breast feed this squealing baby Wookiee. He keeps gesturing towards the bookshelf and there's all this Wookiee dialogue going on. She goes and points to one particular book and the baby gets all excited.
[Mark did a creditable imitation of what an excited baby Wookiee might sound like at this point]
She takes the book off the shelf and we see it's titled Star Wars. She opens the book and that's when the ship comes overhead and the film we know starts... Then, at the end, after we get our medals, we bow and it cuts back to the baby Wookiee asleep — hopefully not like the audience. And the mother closes the book and puts the baby to bed. And that would have got across that it was intended to be a fairy story.
Well you have to go back to 1976 when we were going into production and the FOX executives were sending us memos like. Why doesn't the Wookie have any pants on?
It's true [he continued after the Starburst laughter had subsided] and we were saying. Hey, come on guys, if you're going to ask that sort of question why are you making the movie?
What's another of my favourites? Oh yes, the scene in the movie where a Jawa comes up to me outside the Cantina and starts mucking around with my land-speeder and I sort of brush him away in disgust. And that should telegraph to everyone the humans' relationship with Jawas. The audience has already seen them scavenging for metal and selling robots so everyone knows what they are, but the executives wanted me to add a line like. Oh, look, it’s a Jawa, a member of a small band of scavenging desert rodents who search the land for metal... They wanted everything explained.
But there was so much in the screenplay that didn't make it into the movie. Like the monster that pulls me under the water in the garbage tank, that was a Dianoga. And I said to George, 'This is weird. If the walls go in and crush us how come the monster doesn't get squashed too?' And he had it all worked out, it wasn't as if he was making it up on the spot. He told me that in man-made battle stations they import these creatures that will eat all the organic material in the garbage and leave the metal, and when the button is pushed and the walls start moving in to compress the metal, they recognise the sound and swim down into their little cubby holes. He had it all so planned out, not that the audience will ever know...
George gets very depressed when he makes movies. He's always convinced that once and for all he'll be exposed as having no talent. And he gets so disappointed with the finished product. Because when you make a movie in your mind everything is perfect but when you finally have to realize it on film it's never the same. So he gets bugged out when he's making a film.
I remember when we were shooting that scene in the trash compactor. I was standing in my stormtrooper costume next to the big drop in the water and there was a scuba diver under the surface with his hands around my legs ready to pull me under. When it came to the point for me to go under I'd just tap him with my foot and he'd pull me down while I held my breath. So I was standing there waiting and waiting for everything to be right and I noticed George standing nearby looking really depressed and shaking his head.
So I just happened to catch his eye, I hadn't planned this — it was just out of desperation that this idea came into my head what with the monster being called a Dianoga and everything. I picked up one of the little bits of schluck, green pieces of styrofoam floating on the water, and to the tune of 'Chatanooga Choo-choo' I started to sing. Pardon me George, could this be Dianoga poo-poo?
And to show you how depressed he was he didn't even smile. I got a smile out of you — I didn't get a laugh but I got a smile - but George just sighed, put his foot up on my stormtrooper chest and suddenly I was under the water.
Was he looking forward to working on the next one?
Absolutely. First of all I want to know what happens next, and secondly I think it's all getting more interesting. Now the story is emerging and people's perceptions about the characters will have to change.
Like Ben Kenobi being the symbol of purity and righteousness. Well, in Empire, if he wasn't lying to Luke he at least wasn't being 100% truthful, and I think all that is interesting. Whether audiences will agree I don't know yet. I think it's a gamble because people may be expecting the same kind of phenomenon that he had with the first one.
The kids went back to Star Wars again and again because it always delivered that same feeling of exultation - it was very triumphant and very optimistic — but Empire is real downbeat and it raises so many questions and worries. But I think it's great we're taking this gamble...
Extracted from Starburst: A Marvel Monthly (August 1980; Vol 2, No. 24). We've made some small formatting changes for legibility.