Slaves to the Empire: The 'Star Wars' Kids Talk Back

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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 film fan."

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 before graduation.

"That's when I first considered being an actor for money, and I knew I had to go either to L.A. 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 L.A. 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 nation.

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 subdue him.

"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 shot it.

"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 sophisticated. And the demands upon them are slightly more than they were in the first film.

"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, 'Yucky.'"

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 than 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 surroundings.'

"And that's what Yoda, who's a Zen master, is saying: before you enter the temple, you have to live out all your 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 comes 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 force.'

"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 any better than that."

This story is from the June 12th, 1980 issue of Rolling Stone.

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