Star Wars Actor John Morton Strikes Back on Web Speculation

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- Exclusive Interview with Teddy Durgin -

Anyone who has read my column over the years knows that I am a HUGE "Star Wars" fan. One of the cool byproducts of my fandom has been the friendship I've struck up with actor John Morton, who played Luke's ill-fated snowspeeder co-pilot Dak in "The Empire Strikes Back." Morton was an American actor living in England at the time "Empire" was filmed in 1979. He hung around long enough to appear in small roles in a few other major motion pictures filmed at the time, most notably "Superman II" (he played one of the doomed astronauts - the one inside the space capsule - who General Zod, Ursa, and Non attack on the moon).

Morton has long since left show business and gone on to other pursuits, settling down here in Maryland. Earlier this month, Morton was a featured guest at three "Star Wars"/sci-fi conventions in England and Wales. With the big reveal of the "Episode VII" cast coinciding with the May the Fourth Be With You Day and the first full-length trailer airing for Disney XD's new "Star Wars: Rebels" animated TV show, it's no surprise he fielded a lot of questions during his Q&A at the Burnley, England, show not about old "Star Wars," but about all things NEW "Star Wars."

Unfortunately, some of his speculative answers to fans' questions were picked up by various "Star Wars" and entertainment websites and given the weight of an official announcement from Disney or Lucasfilm. Morton was nice enough to go on the record with Yours Truly to clarify his remarks and share some great stories from the filming of "The Empire Strikes Back" where he played both Dak AND (for a couple of days at least) the infamous Boba Fett.

What follows is our chat:

TEDDY DURGIN: So, you were a featured guest and panelist earlier this month in England and Wales. You got into an onstage Q&A discussion on all things "Star Wars." And, of course, the discussion turned to "Episode VII."

JOHN MORTON: Yes, a LOT of attention was on "Episode VII." There had just been the big reveals of the casting and production ramping up there in England, in fact. We were suddenly part of the rollout of "The Word." At the same time, there was an odd realization that I had particularly at the Q&A in Wales. We said, "Show of hands... how many people are aware of 'Rebels?' And most didn't know. So, the fact of 'Star Wars Rebels' being real and coming in September to the Disney TV network, they were unaware of.

TD: OK, let's get you on record right here. Are you a part of "Star Wars Rebels" at all at this point?

JM: I am not a part of "Rebels" at all.

TD: So, you have not been hired to supply the voice of Boba Fett as has been reported online?

JM: I am definitely not the voice of Boba Fett. I don't know where that came from.

TD: But you were on a panel, and you WERE Dak in "The Empire Strikes Back," and "Star Wars Rebels" is set in a time where Dak is still alive. So, you theoretically at some point could be involved, yes?

JM: Yes. I think the timeline for "Rebels" is running about five years before the Battle of Yavin in "Star Wars" to Hoth and Echo Base in "Empire," which is something like four years after. It would be the time of Dak's backstory.

TD: So, naturally, you're hopeful that there could possibly be an episode where we see Dak becoming a "Rebel." And I think the fans are hopeful that all of those smaller characters, the X-wing fighter pilots, that we met in the Original Trilogy films like Biggs and Porkins and Wedge could possibly be worked into the series somehow.

JM: That was definitely the expectation of many of the fans who were aware of "Rebels" as it was being gestated. It was certainly my interest in pursuing everything I could and trying to find out what this series would be all about. Well, of course, it isn't. They're developing a storyline that is coincident with the storyline of "A New Hope," the original movie. And none of these characters appeared in "A New Hope." What "A New Hope" gave us is characters and their stories that brought about the end of the Empire. But there were obviously things going on elsewhere in the galaxy on the Core Worlds and the Outer Rim. This just happens to be a story they are developing that is about a completely different aspect of the Rebellion.

TD: Now let's clarify some of the things that you said and speculated on during your Q&A with regards to "Rebels" that a number of "Star Wars" fan sites and other sources have picked up on and run as though you have insider knowledge. You said, "The characters they are creating in 'Rebels' will be seen in 'Episode VII.'"

JM: Yes, but it may not be THE characters they are featuring right now, the main ones like Ezra Bridger and Sabine. I have no idea if they are going to be killed off or if they'll survive the series. But if you look back at the various pronouncements of the people involved, they are talking about other characters coming in that may be animated representations of characters we'll see again. When I was talking to the folks at Burnley, that's really what I was talking about. The question was: "Which characters?!" Well, it's ones that have not necessarily been discussed.

TD: And let's be clear here. You don't really have any official knowledge of what is going to be in "Episode VII."

JM: No, absolutely not.

TD: Could you then clarify your previous statement that "'Rebels' will set up and point the direction of 'Episode VII?'"

JM: The point I was trying to make there was there is a continuity. We are now being told that there is going to be a canonical through-line from the Prequels to "The Clone Wars" to "Rebels" to the Original Trilogy to "Episode VII" and the Sequel Trilogy. So I think obviously "Rebels" is going to be a key bridge to "Episode VII," because it's going to be an active bridge. It's also, in terms of the Disney rollout timeline, it's going to tee up "Episode VII" and give us all something to focus on and prepare us for "Episode VII" in the intervening period between now and December 2015. And in terms of the casting and character issues, I still strongly feel based on what has been said by the filmmakers themselves is that characters from "Rebels" will be in "Episode VII." I don't want to pretend to know which ones they will be. But I think I can say, with some certainty, that it will be ones we haven't see discussed yet. An example could be Wedge Antilles [the Rebel pilot played by Denis Lawson who survived all three Original Trilogy films].

TD: Or it could be a droid character or an alien character that they don't have to age.

JM: It's entirely possible. It's just my informed opinion, reading the tea leaves. It's not an official opinion.

TD: And what they did with "The Clone Wars" was they sprinkled in Chewbacca and Governor Tarkin in an episode here and there. But they weren't IN the series. A couple of sites have speculated that this new villain character called The Inquisitor in "Star Wars Rebels" might end up being Max Von Sydow's character in "Episode VII." They're trying to match up the age and the physical look of the two. It's the fun time of "Star Wars" in which we all get to speculate and dream. But it's also the dangerous time where expectations get set up that don't necessarily get met.

JM: Was it George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde who said, "In terms of critics, it's better to be hated than ignored." This is all free publicity for Lucasfilm. We're all dancing around rumors and teasers. Column inches are being spent talking about 'Star Wars.' That's good for Disney. That's good for Lucasfilm. What is bad for Disney or Lucasfilm is if some insider, which I am NOT, spills the beans on something that goes against the big marketing rollout plan.

TD: Now, when you were an insider and filming "The Empire Strikes Back," there wasn't the Internet. But speculation and interest was still rampant. How was it put to you back then not to spoil anything? As Dak, you couldn't have seen a whole script, right?

JM: You saw, what is a term in the trades, "sides." I had my "sides" which were just the script pages of the scenes I was in. But Mark Hamill had the whole script. In the four weeks that I worked on the film, I had lunch with Mark almost every day. There were times where Mark and I were not working when he was disappearing and going off and filming other scenes. And I remember very vividly him coming back and saying, "Oh, I just did a scene with this new character." And we would ask, "Oh, who is it? Tell us about the character." And he said, "No, I really can't." By the time we were having this conversation, I thought I had come to know him pretty well. We formed a friendship for that period of time, both of us being Navy Juniors [their fathers were both in the Navy]. So, he eventually said, "Look, the only thing I can say about this is that it's a scene that's over there in that stage." "Is it another planet?" "It's another planet." "What's it like?" "I can only tell you it's like a big swamp. And there is this Kermit-like frog." And that was an example of the layer of security back then. Hamill was only able to go that far even with someone he knew. If he had said, "His name is Yoda, and he is a Jedi, and he lives on Dagobah," he would have been in big, big trouble.

TD: And because you were able to hang around due to productions delay and such for four weeks at the studio, you were able to play Boba Fett for a couple of days?!

JM: One reads about the awful pressures on George Lucas. There were conflicts he and they were dealing with 20th Century Fox and even amongst themselves. We didn't see any of that. What we saw was an incredibly upbeat high morale on the set. It was fantastic to work on. It really was. An example of that was when [Boba Fett actor] Jeremy Bulloch was booked to do two days on another film, the company was nice enough to say, "We'll make this happen for you." And then they said, "Well, Morton's about the same size. He's a good guy. We've worked with him before. Hey, John. Do you want to play Boba Fett for a couple of days so Jeremy can go off and do this other film?" And I was like, "Sure!" As far as I was concerned at the time, Boba Fett was just another stormtrooper. I wasn't going to be seen. I didn't know what I was doing.

TD: And so, in the finished film, which scenes was it you in the Boba Fett armor?

JM: I had two days. One day, they rolled film and it was a print, and it was the scene where Darth Vader comes out of the room where he's torturing Han Solo and says, "He's no good to me dead!" Then, there was another day where I was suited up and I was standing around in the carbon freezing chamber with Billy Dee [Williams], and they were having troubles making it work. We were there for a long time, and I don't think they shot film. But I got to know Billy Dee. We had a great chat. I don't remember seeing Carrie [Fisher] or Peter [Mayhew] or Harrison [Ford].

TD: It sounds like the scene where Vader decides to test the carbon freezing chamber on Han so he can eventually freeze Luke for his journey to the Emperor.

JM: It could have been. But, hey, I was Boba Fett for two days.

TD: And you'll always be Dak.

JM: Yup!


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