Book Review: Anthony Daniels gets behind the scenes, and gets even in “I Am C3PO: The Inside Story” of his life with “Star Wars”

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Do you know the horror film “Blue Harvest?” Ever heard of it? No?

That’s because it doesn’t exist. It was the cover-name for a short duration film shoot in the desert Southwest way back in the early ’80s. It came with ID badges, production tchotchkes, the works — an elaborate ruse. Because God forbid the locals figure out a “Star Wars” sequel was doing location filming in their midst.

Anthony Daniels has been there, from the beginning, a lone actor wrapped in claustrophobic, myopic, suffocating metal/plastic and gold tape “suit,” a prissy fussbudget “English butler” lost in space, enveloped in “The Star Wars.”

He suffered for his art — injuries, daily cuts, nicks and scratches, about one serious panic attack (you try being locked into something you can’t escape from on your own, inhibiting your breathing, shoved onto sets where you have no sight lines and even a set of stairs offer great peril) every other film.

He endured this, and a thousand other injuries and insults, grievous to petty, many of which he recounts in “I Am C3PO,” a light and generally charming memoir that also — let’s be blunt, Tony — settles a few scores.

They tried to pretend there was nobody “inside the suit,” at first. Keep the illusion that Fox had come up with great android tech for this 1977 sci-fi serial (C-movie) alive.

Lucas tried to re-cast the voice actor performing C3PO, seemed put out by everything and all the work-arounds encasing an actor in a walking sarcophagus entailed. Refused to run lines when the actor playing the part needed to be reacting to someone or something (R2D2) that wasn’t there, or wasn’t responsive.

George also tried to recast Frank Oz’s voice as Yoda, without telling Frank, and dubbed Ray Park as Darth Maul without ever telling him (Daniels broke the news to Park lest he be humiliated at the premiere). Lucas was so impatient with “actors” that he developed “We’ll add him in post” production digital ethos during the much-maligned prequels.

George doesn’t relate that well to people. “On the spectrum?” Maybe.

 

Daniels confines himself in “C3PO” to his “Star Wars” work, so there’s little of what one could call his personal life here. But being hauled out to awards shows, awards banquets and the like, meant a thousand slights — and not just for him — from the start. He, his fellow masked actors and Oscar winning effects colleagues faced that, in stories he tells, early on.

He had a falling out with Kenny Baker, the little person who sometimes inhabited the R2 trash can. Baker wanted to do paid public appearance tours as a duo, and Daniels found it beneath him. Harrison Ford’s relationship with him came close to Han Solo’s brusque treatment of C3PO (Just in character?).

Mark Hamill? An onset chum for decades, both of them charmed and endlessly amused by Carrie Fisher.

Director Richard Marquand (“Return of the Jedi”) was the rudest and most dismissive filmmaker he dealt with in the series, Irving Kirshner (“Empire Strikes Back”) the most supportive, constructive and fun.

He repeats as assertion he made the last time I spoke with him, when he was touring with a “Star Wars” orchestral experience, “Star Wars: In Concert.” He presented the music of John Williams as clips from the films played in the background, and it was “the best job I ever had.” If you saw it, it was thrilling and fun.

Daniels was there at the birth of the “Stars Wars: Celebration” fan conventions, a planner and organizer and the MC for the first one, a near debacle in Denver which gave birth to perhaps the second biggest fan con of all.

There’s a telling J.J. Abrams forward to the book in which one can see he was probably too close to the films, as a young fan, to wholly do them justice, stretch them out and push back against corporate/marketing-driven decisions about the last trilogy.

But mostly this is just Daniels, explaining how it was done, boo-boos covered up (or not), the harrowing nature of working on sets where OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) supervision did not apply, and doing it all in that clipped, prissy and utterly delightful voice of a digital expert in “human-cyborg relations.”

His opinions of the films themselves are either blunt or oblique. He knew which ones were off the rails by the constant script rewrites, wrong-headedness, over-reliance on CGI, etc. Knew it before the camera rolled.

We’re reminded, without him having to say so himself, that Daniels truly was the glue that held “Star Wars” together in this breezy, fun read.

Honorary Oscar? Someday. Perhaps.

“I Am C3PO: The Inside Story.” DK Books/Penguin Random House. 271 pages. $24.99

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