Interviews at Skywalker Ranch
During an exciting trip to Skywalker Ranch in conjunction with the DVD release of Star Wars Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith, I was one of the journalists who had the opportunity to interview Jim Ward, Sr. Vice President of Lucasfilm and President of LucasArts, producer Rick McCallum, animation director Rob Coleman, Frank Oz -- the voice of Yoda, Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious), and Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker). Here are the questions and answers from those interviews.
Technical info with Jim Ward and Rick McCallum
Q: Why is this the first Star Wars movie not to be released on VHS, and what about HD-DVD?
Ward: Market issues, primarily. Certain types of titles for kids still have marketplace for VHS. But in general, it has dramatically shifted to DVD. That's where the action is. We definitely expect to be in HD.
Q. Any info on the live action Clone Wars TV series?
McCallum: It’s something we're planning for at the beginning of 2007. We're starting to interview writers and trying to figure out our direction. It’s going to be much darker, much grittier, and it's much more character-based.
Q: Are there any more "Star Wars" games in the works?
Ward: Yes. We are working on Empire War, which will come out in the winter or spring of 2006, and we are absolutely working hard right now on the next generation platforms. After doing an audit on our business, we have put out too many mediocre Star Wars games. We are going to put out these huge-entertainment games that are cross-genre and provide true Star Wars experiences.
Fun with Hayden Christensen
Q. When you have your own kids, in what order will you start Star Wars for them to watch?
Christensen: At Episode 1 as the storyteller has intended it. I’ll have to preface it with the fact that it’s just a movie and wait to see their reaction. I’m looking forward to it.
Q. Where did those angry and dark moments in Episode III come from?
Christensen: As an actor I usually try to keep my motivation in the context of what my character is going through. So I don’t think of my dog that died when I was eight years old and how that made me feel. I try to stay within the psychology of Anakin. It was really just letting his frustration seep in and how that would affect me.
Q. How did you mentally prepare for the role?
Christensen: The physical preparation was probably the most challenging. George asked me beforehand to bulk up and to physically show the maturity that had taken place between the two films. I did that over a three-month period before we started filming. That was a very grueling schedule. Executing it on set was good fun. And working with Ian wasn’t really so much challenging as it was rewarding and easy, because it’s very easy when you’re acting with actors who give a lot and are as good as he is.
Q. How difficult was it to hold back what you knew was going to happen in Episode III while you were filming Episode II?
Christensen: It was challenging, because you’re cast as this character that is the connective tissue to someone who represents all that is evil. Your natural instinct is to try to take him there, and George was constantly asking me to pull back, make him someone who is struggling and allows his frustrations to present themselves in ways that aren’t necessarily perceived as evil, and not to really show any sort of a character arc in Episode II because it was more about who he was at that time in his life. Episode III was about changing him and making him evolve to Darth.
Q. How was it to get to that point and how did you approach it?
Christensen: With great joy and glee. It came easily because I thought about it so much. It was just an eventuality for me, you know…orgasmic (he laughs). I was waiting and waiting and finally I got to take him to the dark side.
Q. How did you convince George Lucas to let you get into the Darth Vader suit?
Christensen: I said, ‘Listen, I’ve read the script. Now I know he’s going to make an appearance at the end.’ I think they were already in the process of meeting with basketball players and really tall people to do that job. I said, ‘I don’t know if you guys can even make this happen but it would be really great for me if I could actually put the suit on.’ And George and Rick and the kind of people that they are allowed me that privilege.
Q. Was it heavy?
Christensen: Very heavy, very hot, very claustrophobic and your vision is very limited. They tried to make some air conditioning apparatus that didn’t work. And they had to compensate for the height difference so they put these big lifts in the shoes so it was like walking around with, 20-pound weights on your shoulders in high-heeled shoes. Not that I practiced that way!
Q. What actor that you worked with taught you the most?
Christensen: Ian, not because he’s here (today), but because it was an eye-opening experience getting to sit in that opera scene with him and listen to him tell that story and everything that he’s able to convey within that subtly. He’s such a kind man and is willing to share his wisdom and help you when you ask for it.
Q. We hear you’re a big gamer. How was it to have yourself in a video game?
Christensen: I count myself as a bit of a gamer. To have my own action figure and get to play myself in a video game, how cool was that? At first I was very excited about it, now I see my face everywhere when the film is out -- it’s a different story.
Q. What can you say about the love story between Padme and Anakin?
Christensen: It’s what drives him to commit these horrible acts. He’s doing it for he thinks is the good of his love. Obviously she doesn’t see it that way so the relationship goes south. That’s what makes it all hit home for me and most audiences that that transformation is driven by love, which is something that I like.
Q. Is Anakin a mask?
Christensen: As Frank would put it, no. That was just who Anakin was. He’s sort of this un-emotive kid who has a hard time with his emotions. You know, there’s a lot obviously boiling under the surface, stuff that shouldn’t be there, so he’s very hesitant to show it. That’s just how I saw it.
Real evil with Ian McDiarmid
Q. Did you have any idea when you appeared in Return of the Jedi, that all these years later you’d come back?
McDiarmid: No, it was extraordinary how I came to play the man in the first place. I had a very brief meeting with George. And I got back, there’s a phone call from my agent who said, ‘You got the part.’ I had to say, ‘What part?’ They said, ‘Well, it’s the Emperor of the Universe.’ Well, the only way is down after this. I embraced it wholeheartedly and I’ve been embracing it wholeheartedly ever since. But did I imagine I’d be here talking to you 25 odd-years later? No, certainly not. But it’s been a great journey.
Q. Were you champing at the bit to get to the real evil part of this guy?
McDiarmid: Yes. Of course I didn’t know how evil he was going to be until I got the script. And I also didn’t know that he would have fighting skills, which I had to acquire fairly quickly. I imagined that his power was in his fingers and in his head. Little did I know that he was the fastest lightsaberist in the Universe! And there were a number of people who helped me get there. The one I always mention is Michael Byrne, the great master swordsmen and brilliant stunt double.
Q. How difficult was it for you to go from the sublime evil in the first half of the film to the carbon copy of your performance from 20 years ago?
McDiarmid: I’ve said this a few times but it was a note that George gave…not really as a note. We were just talking and he said this quite casually. He said, ‘You should think of your eyes -- Ian’s eyes, Palpatine’s eyes -- as his -- Sidious’ contact lenses.’ In other words, my face was his mask, which is an extremely interesting thing to say to an actor. And I knew that in Episode III as you all did, really, that this face would have to burst through my own mask. So in a sense I couldn’t wait. I also knew that they’d mix it brilliantly -- Rob and others -- from one face into another. And it would be my sort of Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde moment, my Dorian Gray moment when outer good is subverted by inner evil. So I was really looking forward to it and the moment when Palpatine’s voice turned from one to the other. From lightest gray to dark black. It was a moment I was really looking forward to and one that I embraced.
Frank Oz on Yoda
Q. What was the transition like going from Yoda as a puppet to his CGI version?
Oz: The main thing is that I really didn't have to do the work. When I did the others, it was a lot of sweat. But now, I do just half a day and these guys work for over a year-it's bizarre, because I get the credit. It's also great because he could not do the things that he's doing on the screen now, in the last two Episodes, if he were a puppet. It's wonderful to see that growth.
Q. What is lost by the use of CGI?
Oz: The physicality of the character. But, at the same time, the gain is so much because there is no way on God's earth I could have done anything near to that terrific fight. There's a minimal loss compared to what you have gained. One thing that you may not be aware of is that when the animators made Yoda into CGI for the first time, their job was to not live up to their capabilities or their potential. If they did all the things that they could have done, the transition would have been too jarring. What they did very artfully was to mimic me to such a degree that it helped to bound their talent. In the next one, they had to bump it up a little higher. There was a real transition there. They had to really be aware to match it and yet give it a little bit more life.
Q. What did you learn from Yoda's wisdom?
Oz: As an adult, I learn every day. It was more of a process of learning who Yoda was, rather than learning from him. When I first did The Empire Strikes Back, I got a three or four page biography of what he used to eat, where he used to live, and what he wore. I didn't learn from him, but I did learn about him. Whenever I was doing something, I had to know what was going on in the movie. If I just came on and did my scene not knowing, then he was not that knowing. He had to have some innate wisdom.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is scheduled for DVD release by Twentieth Century Fox Home Video on November 1, 2005.
Read Diana Saenger’s reviews of classic films at http://classicfilm.about.com.
Photo of Hayden Christensen by Diana Saenger.