The audience for Emerald City Comicon’s largest panel on Saturday eagerly awaited a celebrity whose popularity spans generations. The event, however, began a bit inauspiciously, with moderator Grant Imahara (“Mythbusters”) taking the stage to say, “When you think about science fiction, there is one name that stands out …”
“Han Solo!” screamed a fan. Imahara chuckled, and then offered a reminder of all that this actor has given us. The lights dimmed, and an image of deep space appeared on the giant screens. The opening notes of John Williams’ iconic theme song filled the room as text began to scroll over the blackness of space, reading, “C-3PO: A Droid’s Tale.”
The scroll relayed the story of all six “Star Wars” films as seen through the droid’s eyes. It began by explaining how he was created by a 9-year-old destined to rule the galaxy, and then ended with events from “Return of the Jedi.” Following the scroll, C-3PO highlights were shown from each of the movies. As it concluded, the lights came up and actor Anthony Daniels bounded onto the stage to thunderous applause.
Although this could very well have been the thousandth panel he’s attended, the actor was energetic you’d have thought it was his first. He began by asking those present to raise their hands if they’ve ever seen any of the “Star Wars” films. Naturally, all hands shot up.
“Thank you, all of you,” Daniels said. “You have been paying my salary for the last 40 years.”
He then sat down with Imahara, who began by asking the question that was on everyone’s mind: “What can you tell us about Episode 7?”
Daniels leaned in and replied, “How much money do you have?”
He acknowledged he couldn’t say much about “The Force Awakens.” However, before answering any other questions, he wanted to meet the audience member who yelled Han Solo’s name. The fan was brought on stage, and Daniels asked him why he felt Solo is so special. The fan explained that Han was a renegade and a rebel, and “he shot first!” The audience cheered at this reference to the “Greedo controversy.”
The actor smiled, shook his head, and playfully dismissed the fan. The Imahara told Daniels, “We’ll have him shot, don’t worry.”
“And we will shoot first!” the actor added to applause. The conversation then moved on to Daniels’ experiences the films. Imahara said, “Let’s talk about the oil bath – was it something you can ‘thank the maker’ for?”
For those who missed the reference, the actor quickly explained it refers to a scene in “A New Hope,” after Luke’s uncle purchases C-3PO from the Jawas. It was filmed on a soundstage at Elstree Studios in North London.
“So I was wearing the full suit, and they put me on a platform that went down into this green vegetable oil,” Daniels recalled. “I think it was March, and it was cold. And I was there wearing this tin can, and as I went down … it was kind of odd, because I could feel the liquid coming up my ankles in the space between the suit and my skin. And as the scene progressed, the oil came up higher and higher, and if you watch very carefully, there’s a moment that I’m talking to Luke Skywalker where I kind of pause and go, ‘Ah.’”
He gave an odd smile, and continued, “There is a very rude trading card which I never sign – because I think it is slightly discourteous – that shows 3PO in a state of, um, as we would call it at Disney – excitement.
“What had happened was that card was actually created by a malfunctioning operative in the card company, so this person thought he would make a joke. And he took a picture of Threepio and … what had happened was the sticky tape that was holding the whole costume together totally became unsticky from the oil and sort of dropped down. So there was a strange piece of plastic sticking out which he merely … amplified.”
Daniels said the scene was tricky, and at one point during filming he had Mark Hamill in hysterics. He explained, “I’m out of the bath and Luke’s aunt was calling him, so he gives me a towel … and I’m so distracted by the oil – and I have no peripheral vision in the suit – that I start absentmindedly drying myself. I swear I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t feel it, but I’m sitting there gently polishing myself.”
The actor chuckled at this memory, which led Imahara to ask whether the C-3PO costume was difficult to wear. Daniels confessed, “For the first time, I had a minor tantrum halfway through one of the films. In the early days, the only way I could get certain parts of the costume [such as the hands] to bend was to have them heated up under a big hot lamp, because they were plastic. They’d heat it up, I’d put it on, and then I’d try to crunch it in a position that made sense.
“Well, one day – and they did this by accident, I’ve been assured – they left my plastic hand under the lamp longer than necessary. And when they put it on, it was like ‘The Curse of the Red-Hot Hand.’” He cringed at the memory.
On the topic of the latest film, Imahara asked, “What’s it like working with J.J. [Abrams] as a director compared to, say, other directors?”
Ever the diplomat, Daniels replied, “We don’t make comparisons. No, no …” He did, however, offer the following thoughts about Abrams: “J.J. was 11 years old when he saw the first ‘Star Wars,’ and I think it was somehow always in his mind that he would one day be involved with it … J.J. is a joy. He is utterly collaborative – he’s interested in what you have to say.”
There was one other aspect to the new films that Daniels felt was noteworthy, and asked aloud, “Do you know what we have in Episode 7?”
Several audience members made guesses at characters or items from the mythology, but the actor merely shook his head and grinned. “We have scenery,” he replied. “No more of the green screen. No more of the expansion of blue … and blue used to be my favorite color.”
The audience laughed and he continued, “The use of green screen? When necessary – yes. If you’re only coming out of the doorway of a great temple or something, you don’t have to build a whole temple. But having a reality to the set brings a reality to the performance. As an actor, you have something to react to.”
That comment led to a discussion about acting – something that’s not easy to do when you wear a mask with lips and eyes that don’t move. But as Daniels explained, “When I was at drama school, we did a lot of mime work with totally blank faces, and it taught you to work with what you have.”
The actor also offered an interesting fact about C-3PO’s mask. “One of the things you may not realize about the head of the costume is that it’s asymmetric – one side is not an identical copy of the other side,” he explained. “So it’s like a human face, with different sides. And this lends a kind of humanity to him.
“One of my proudest moments, actually, is when Alec Guinness – Obi-Wan Kenobi – has just been killed, and we’re all in the Millennium Falcon. And Threepio is there sitting on the seat, and he looks so depressed.”
Asked by a little boy about the secret to walking like C-3PO, Daniels explained that while most robots lumber around, moving slowly and stiffly, Threepio actually moves swiftly, “like a geisha.”
After demonstrating how to scurry like a protocol droid, a surprise guest made an appearance onstage: R2-D2. The two bantered like old buddies, with Daniels responding to Artoo’s deets and beeps. He also said how much he missed performing with his counterpart in some of the prequels, because R2-D2 often wasn’t on the set; he was added in later. He joked that he was tempted to use a vacuum cleaner as a stand-in during some of the filming.
The next fan to the microphone asked Daniels, “How much has Disney invested in actually turning you into a robot so that you never die?”
That made the actor laugh and reminded him of a discussion he had with someone who had asked him about the strangest question he’d ever received. Daniels replied that he had heard them all. The person then asked, “So what will happen to C-3PO in the end?”
That stunned the actor, because it was something he hadn’t considered. He said, “I don’t know. I don’t like the thought of him not being somewhere in the galaxy. Long after I’m gone, I really hope he goes on doing what he does. I want him to continue.”
The fan who had asked the Disney question jokingly replied, “You should be OK. Threepio’s midichlorian count is off the charts.”
“It always worries me when people bring up midichloreans,” Daniels said with a smile.
For the final question of the panel, a young man asked, “What phrase of C-3PO’s seems to bubble up into your head the most?”
The actor considered this and grinned. “You probably won’t be surprised. It’s two words: ‘We’re doomed.’”