A long time ago, in a summer far, far away, the name “Star Wars” referred simply to a 123-minute film that was directed by a fellow named George Lucas and released by Twentieth Century Fox, where executives weren’t quite sure what to make of the thing.
Now, “Star Wars” is an entire industry, a community and a quasi-religion. More than that, like birthdays, Beatles projects and “Swan Lake” productions, “Star Wars” is now a seasonal visitor.
“There’s nothing quite like it; it simply never goes away. It comes back again and again and again in new ways,” said actor Anthony Daniels, who portrayed the shiny android C-3PO in all seven theatrically released “Star Wars” films. “The fans have a passion for it, but I have to say that, for me, I never really understood the spell it cast on people. I didn’t get it — it was a mystery to me — but now I do. And it’s because of this show.”
The 65-year-old Daniels was referring to “Star Wars in Concert,” which visits the Hollywood Bowl on Friday and Saturday for the only North American stops on its world tour. The production is centered on the celebrated music of John Williams, which adds a majesty and galactic melodrama to the Lucas universe that “is singular and completely essential,” as Daniels puts it.
In this show, the memorable music is performed by a symphony orchestra and choir and accompanied by slick montages on a giant high-definition LED screen. There’s also a choreographed presentation with strafing laser-lights that, from a distance, will make the venue look like a cosmic way-station for arriving aliens.
In the middle of it all is Daniels, who, like any good protocol droid, is a polished narrator even amid the sounds of blasters and battle. The native of Salisbury, England, is the face of the production and really the lone live voice as he weaves a tale of princesses and dark lords, space smugglers and rebels, alien beasties and noble knights.
The production made its premiere in England in 2009 and arrived in Southern California that same year. The shows are strong sellers and, like Fourth of July concerts, give the faithful a chance to show their loyalty by cheering on night-sky spectacle.
For Daniels, a maven of classical music and an actor with a theater background, the challenges and charm of the tours have made him, at long last, a convert to the Skywalker mythology.
“It’s opened it all up to me in a way that I never expected, and to be on stage and to connect in a live performance with these fans — many of them in costume, many of them young, many of them older — has been a truly special gift for me,” Daniels said during a recent visit to the Hollywood Bowl to survey the storied venue before show night. “And I look good in a tux — I’m not wearing that metal suit this time around.”
Daniels wore the cramped and heavy suit in the original 1977 film, but as the films went on and special effects improved, he was able to give voice to the persnickety machine-man with the help of puppets or pixels. He has been C-3P0 in body and/or voice for six live-action movies, the 2008 animated feature film, the epic BBC radio series, the television cartoon series, in commercials and other permutations of the Jedi universe.
This summer, Daniels is also back in the role every day at Disneyland and Disney World — he got back in character for the just-reopened Star Tours attraction at the theme parks, so millions will once again smirk as they hear the exasperated complaints of a character that sometimes seems like a metallic version of Jack Benny.
The theme park rides were celebrated with a splashy premiere in Florida last month and, coming in September, the two live-action “Star Wars” trilogies will make their premiere on Blu-ray, assuring that in pop culture, Darth Vader never really goes away, he just looks for new worlds to conquer.
“There is something in the fantasy, in the struggle of good and evil,” said Daniels, who was among the skeptics of “Star Wars” even as he filmed the 1977 movie. “I didn’t even want to be in it. This character of C-3P0, sometimes I’m not sure where he came from — he was very different in the first script, he came from me as much as the page — but I’m very glad he arrived and ended up in my pocket.”
– Geoff Boucher
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