It has been 30 years since I first stood on a lonely planet, Tatooine, and I said the opening lines of the first Star Wars movie ever. “Did you hear that? They shut down the main reactor! We’ll be destroyed for sure!” Well, nobody got destroyed and we went on to go five more movies, and I got the honor of saying the last line in the last movie. Do you remember what that one is? “Oh no!”
And now I am the only actor to be in all six movies. Which is very strange because many of you may know that I did not want to meet George Lucas to be in one movie. And now, 32 years later, here I am in Tokyo at the Japan Celebration of Star Wars. But all this is 32 years after I first met George Lucas and I didn’t want to meet him because I was a serious actor. I played Shakespeare. I played on a stage with an audience, not just a camera. I knew about Hollywood, but I never thought I would be part of it. But there, I was now going to meet George Lucas, an American director. I knew he would be wearing funny colored checked trousers, he would have a big pot belly, and he would have a big fat cigar, and he would be very very loud.
I walked into George’s office, and there was George. No checked trousers. Checkered shirt, sure. Always checkered shirt. No big fat tummy (this was 30 years ago), and no cigar. And he was very quiet. So, we sat there having a great quietness together. Fortunately for me there was a painting by Ralph McQuarrie on the wall. And I looked out into the face of Threeio, who was standing there looking out at me. Somehow, there was a communion between our eyes. He seemed to be saying, ‘come, come be in the picture.’ And I was now thinking, yeah, okay.
Thirty-two years later, here I am. It was a kind of magic that happened, and I still can’t explain it. And it was Ralph McQuarrie who made the painting and I’m very grateful to him. So then I read the script and I found the only person I liked who was different, who wasn’t a hero, or a villain. There was one person. He was called C-3PO. So I said to George, may I play the part? And he said. “Sure.”
The next day I go to Elstree Studios. Now I had never been to a studio before but I had seen films about films and I knew it was very glamorous. I knew there would be beautiful dressing rooms. They told me to go through that door there. Inside were two builders with bags of plaster and buckets of water and they said, “well, take ‘ur clothes off then.”
I did. It was winter. And I stood there and they mixed the water and the plaster and they as though they were building a house and decorating it, they threw the wet plaster at my naked body. It was disgusting, and this took all day, and eventually, they prized me out of the middle. Then they poured more plaster on the inside, and they took off the mold and there was a perfect copy of my body.
It was disgusting.
I was very happy that the sculptor, Liz Moore, then took over. And she made in modeling clay, like a real artist, the shape of Threepio that you now recognize, including that beautiful face. So I was very happy. It took six months to make the costume. It was very difficult to do, but suddenly we had to go and make the film. So we went out to Tunisia, and I knew it would be glamorous. I knew I was on a film set. This was Hollywood. I knew there would be a big trailer with a bathroom, a dining room, air conditioning.
There in the desert was a tent. A boy scout tent. Inside was my costume in 17 pieces. And there were six people. I want you to think of your school days in the mathematics classes. If it takes six people to put 17 pieces of one costume on one person how long will it take and how unhappy is the one person? But finally, after two hours (the answer to the first question), the costume is now complete.
On that first day, people would come up to me and say, you look amazing! What a terrific performance. And thought at least it was worth putting on this costume. On day two they were complimentary. On day three, I had become a machine. Everybody ignored me. So be careful if you’re ever offered a job as a piece of machinery.
People ask me how Star Wars has changed over all these years, with the prequels. Threepio was created by a little boy. And when I met George Lucas to talk about Episode I, he said you are created by Anakin Skywalker. I was very happy because Alec Guinness was very kind to me on the first movie and I was very happy that he made me. A few days later, I realized Alec played another character. Anakin is the bad guy. Darth Vader is my daddy. Don’t tell C-3PO. He doesn’t know. C-3PO is neurotic enough.
Of course, having just been created by Anakin, Threepio next meets R2-D2. Threepio is very polite and introduces himself. And what does R2-D2 say? “Hey, you’re naked!” How terrible is this for Threepio? So later in Episode II, we meet C-3PO on the planet Threepio in the garage and he is naked. He is all wires. And I was behind the puppet, like in bunraku. And in walks Amidala, because she can’t sleep. And she says, “can’t you sleep either, Threepio?” and Threepio explains that as a machine he doesn’t sleep. He just recharges from time to time.
And then Padme asks, are you happy Threepio? Are you happy here?
“Well, I’m not unhappy. It’s just being like this is rather difficult.”
Being like what?
“Well, being naked if you pardon the expression.” And he went on to explain that Anakin Skywalker did not have time to put on coverings before he went away. And you suddenly realized how difficult Threepio’s life had been. He’s programmed for protocol and etiquette. And he spent the last decade naked! This is terrifying. “Oh,” says Padme. “There’s a box of coverings.” And the end of the scene was her putting on the chestpiece. The story went away, and came back, and there was Natalie Portman putting the face on C-3PO and he was complete. And he was so happy. And everyone in the homestead was happy.
And then George said, “oh, we don’t have time for this.” So we cut all that away, and I went back and did all my scenes as the covered Threepio. So i feel very sad because it gave you some insight into Threepio’s mindset.
It has been 32 years of my life. More than half my life and I know many of you weren’t even born then. I’ve always kind of wondered what it is about Star Wars that works. In the last two years I’ve been to some very big events to do with Celebration. There were maybe 30,000 people in Los Angeles, thousands of people in London and here again, thousands of people. What I’ve found, what I have discovered, is this huge sense of affection. Of liking. Of belonging. And I think if you love it so much, because I’m a little bit of it, maybe you love me a little. And I am very grateful for that.
I suppose playing a machine is difficult. Being taken for granted as a machine is difficult. But one of the great joys of being in the prequels was meeting Samuel L. Jackson. I was thinking, “I’m making a movie with Samuel L. Jackson!” and he’s saying, “I can’t believe I’m in a movie with C-3PO. ”
One of the greatest compliments George Lucas has ever paid me was whenever I would arrive on set, in costume, for the first time, he would say, “Star Wars has arrived.” I also remember when Jimmy Smits had to deliver the line in Episode III, “have the protocol droid’s mind wiped.” He said he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it to a droid he loved. I told him, it’s just a movie. You’re seeing Threepio from the perspective of an audience who has grown up with him and grown to love him. But he’s just a machine. It’s okay to switch him off.
Or, so I said. I look at the machines in my life in a different way, now. I’ve been taking them for granted. When you think of all the things that machines do for us, shouldn’t we be a little grateful?
So tonight, when you get home, I want you to walk into the kitchen. I want you to smile at the cooker, and maybe hug the microwave. Be nice to your appliances. It will make you feel good, and they will be much happier. We machines, we talk to each other.