A long time ago, in a seaside town far, far away (Great Yarmouth to be precise) a six-year-old boy was taken to the cinema by his Dad to see a film he was promised he would love.
He wasn’t sure; this was no Disney cartoon but, with the lure of Fruit Pastilles in a box (a box!), he gave in and was taken to a place with an ice kingdom, a Princess, a smuggler and possibly the greatest villain that celluloid has ever produced. An obsession was born.
Fast forward 34 years and that same boy is on his way to Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester to celebrate a lifelong love with other like-minded geeks. A Star Wars convention like no other, The Love of the Force is done by fans for fans.
Prior to going, I’d read some negative press and a number of comments suggesting that some of the exhibits were lacking in the authenticity department. On arrival, I discovered a decidedly dodgy Ewok Village, a full size Scout Walker, an amazing Cantina bar and a dazzling X-wing fighter. Even at this convention there was a dark side as well as a light.
The main draw was a healthy serving of actors from the Star Wars canon. The undoubtable guest star was Dave Prowse, none other than Darth Vader himself (and the Green Cross Code Man for anyone as ancient as me). I caught up with the Dark Lord and asked him about his favourite memory of playing Vader. He laughed and said: “When the first residual cheque came in.”
Other actors in Star Wars have complained about the restrictive costumes. I wondered if wearing the black armour for which Vader is so famous was uncomfortable?
“No, it was made to measure,” he explained. “We filmed in the hot summer of 1976 and I got out of costume as much as I could. I would get most of it off and sunbathe in the leather trousers in the studio back lot.”
Brian Muir sat alongside Prowse. Muir was responsible for designing the look of Vader, among other characters. Most recently, he has worked on the eagerly anticpated film, The Force Awakens. Frustratingly, he remained tight lipped on any details – but you can’t blame a guy for trying. Muir remembers the pressure being on when the first film was being made.
“I was the only one. I worked for 76 days with no day off. It took a month to create Vader’s mask. When they resculpted him for Revenge of the Sith, it took six people two months to do that.”
To the other side of Prowse sat Garrick Hagon who played Biggs Darklighter in Star Wars. In the film, he met a grizzly end smashing into the Death Star after Vader shot him down. He reassured me that he held no grudge. “Working with Mark (Hamill] was fun and exciting, he was young and optimistic, a real leader of the company. Meeting Alec Guinness again was a thrill, I worked with him as a child.”
Ted Western was a props man on the film and can be seen in the famous Cantina scene. He has his own thoughts about Star Wars. “I remember listening to them [pointing to a picture of Guinness and Chewbacca] moaning about having to get up in the morning.”
For the inner child, getting to meet Anthony Forrest, the stormtrooper who uttered the infamous phrase “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” was magical. This saying adorns t-shirts and posters all over the world. I wondered how many times it’s been shouted out to him. He rolls his eyes and laughs: “About a million times. Lawyers have used it in courts and even the Press Secretary in the White House. Imagine that.”
And then I met Peter Roy. A charming man, he began in Star Wars as a rebel engineer and ended up on Return of the Jedi as a major: a definite promotion. “It was just a job, we never realised that 40 years later children who hadn’t even been born then would want our photo. We were just one big family working together.”
That’s the beauty of Star Wars. It is unashamedly corny but we love it nonetheless. As I walked through to the marketplace, an area holding just a fraction of the masses of merchandise devoted to all things Jedi, I could see men of my age reduced to children haggling over the Millennium Falcon, AT-AT and the Ewok Village.
Manchester had done itself proud. I’ll never forget seeing Princess Leia and Han Solo digging into an Almost Famous hot dog in Trafford Park.