For generations of children and adults stuck in perpetual adolescence.
The phrase “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” holds the same sentimental significance as “once upon a time.” George Lucas’ space opera Star Wars has transformed from a pop phenomena into a full-on cultural institution. Not even the pitiful prequels or easy online access to The Star Wars Holiday Special has remotely curbed the passionate fanbase for the series. It’s hard to walk outside without glimpsing at least one piece of Star Wars merchandise, but the true home to the mass cult of Star Wars is at sci-fi and comic book conventions. These massive monuments to unashamed geekery fill convention halls with Star Wars die hards clutching bags full of merchandise while wearing their own frequently homemade costumes.
These events occur worldwide on almost a weekly basis and this weekend (March 18-20), the annual Wizard Wold Toronto Comic Con comes to town offering fans a chance to worship at the alter of George Lucas in a safe environment filled with their obsessive brethren. This year the convention will be hosting a variety of Star Wars veterans like Sith stalwarts Ray Park (Darth Maul) and David Prouse (Darth Vader). Gearing up for the event, Comics And Gaming Monthly got a chance to speak with two of the headlining guests, Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett). Both actors share the special distinction of portraying easily two of the coolest mofos in the Star Wars universe, while also featuring most prominently in what is routinely considered the finest outing in the epic franchise, The Empire Strikes Back.
Both actors joined the series on the second film (which just celebrated it’s 30th anniversary for those who want to feel old), once Star Wars had already become a worldwide phenomenon. For Billy Dee Williams, The Empire Strikes Back may have been the biggest film of his career, but it was also the next logical step. “At that time I was pretty hot in the movies and things were going very well for me,” explained the actor over the phone from Miami while attending another convention. “For me, it was an opportunity to move on to the next big thing and work with George Lucas. So there was no doubt in my mind that it was a big deal.” When asked why he thought his interpretation of the character proved to be so memorable, Williams jokingly admitted, “I guess because of the way I tend to approach characters. I always think bigger than life and give my characters a sense of theatricality, which I think worked for the role. Also, I’m a handsome guy and charming. All of those things.”
Jeremy Bulloch on the other hand was a longtime theater actor with a handful of screen credits to his name who found himself auditioning for Boba Fett quite unexpectedly. “I called my agent when I learned there were auditions and he asked me, ‘what is Star Wars?’ because he hadn’t even seen the first film,” recalled Bulloch from his home in England. “So I got in towards the end of the process, not really knowing the significance of who the character was. I never thought they would select me because I had to dash off every night to the theater as I was already committed to a play. But I’ve always said, if I hadn’t have fitted the costume, I wouldn’t have gotten the part. I put it on, walked around for Gary Kurtz and George Lucas, and that was it. I kept saying, ‘when do you want me to read?’ Because obviously when you go out for an audition you do a reading. But Boba Fett didn’t have many lines, so that was it and I was lucky enough to get it.”
Thanks to appearing in The Empire Strikes Back, Williams and Bulloch were lucky enough to work with director Irvin Kershner, a man who until recently was something of an unsung hero in the franchise, bringing a sense of warmth and complexity to the characters that the sometimes clinical and calculating George Lucas could ignore. Kershner sadly passed away in late November and both actors had nothing but warm feelings and memories to share about the filmmaker. “He was a mountain of a man and a great storyteller who was pretty well rounded when it came to his understanding to the world of film. It was a great honor to have an association with him,” recalled Williams who recently attended the director’s memorial in Los Angeles. Jeremy Bulloch shared similar sentiments, while also commenting on why he thought Kershner’s approach made his entry the best of the series. “He knew he was making a sequel and understood how to give the audience everything they wanted from the second movie while still finding a way to make it feel new and different without stepping outside of the established universe,” explained the actor. “He really understood film and knew how to stay ahead of the audience.”
Through their three decade strong association with Star Wars, both actors have experienced a great deal of strange and wonderful interactions with fans. For Williams the most surreal moment came long ago on his children’s schoolyard, “When I used to pick my daughter up from school, the kids would all yell at me for betraying Han Solo. So there I was in the middle of a schoolyard attempting to justify Lando Calrissian’s life. Fortunately that went away a little bit after third movie, because he ends up becoming a hero.” Bulloch on the other hand found his oddest interactions coming at conventions, specifically with a few particularly peculiar autograph requests. “I’ve had several people ask me to sign the Mandalorian skull on their arm, so that they could go off and have it tattooed. I always warn them and say, “don’t.” It’s rather like someone having “I love Mary” tattooed on their arm and then five years later breaking up with Mary and being stuck with the tattoo. They might not love Boba Fett forever like I do.”
Of course, no matter how many awkward interactions they’ve had, Williams and Bulloch always appreciate their fans and love getting to interact with them at events like the Toronto Comic-Con. “I enjoy myself and it means I did my job well. I made an impact and you can’t hope for more than that,” said Williams, while Bulloch added, “These events are great and it’s always nice to have a lot people come up to you and say, ‘you’re my favourite character.’ I never would have guessed that after all those years as an actor I would have to cover my face to become famous.” In their own unique ways, both of Billy Dee Williams and Jeremy Bulloch have become pop culture icons thanks to their involvement in the Star Wars universe. As time goes on the immense impact of the films only seems to expand with new fans being born every day. So, if you’re one of the legions of Lucas fanboys and girls in Toronto, be sure to find your way to the convention this weekend for an unabashed outpouring of Star Wars love. At least this time it won’t be happening in a place so far, far away.