I confess to always finding C-3PO rather ridiculous and prissy, a galactic joke in a saga of heroes. Somehow, I had never realised how much I also regarded him as a real character – and what that took to create. Daniels’ startlingly honest and moving new book, I Am C-3PO, is quite an eye-opener. Yes, George Lucas created the iconic droid, but Daniels gave him a personality and a voice – both of which, incidentally, the Star Wars creator had planned to erase in post-production.
Daniels, simply put, gave “Threepio” life.
He dreamed of being an actor from childhood and landed a job with the BBC Radio Repertory Company straight out of drama school. Two years later, in 1975, his agent had to force him to take a meeting for a low-budget sci-fi film. They needed an actor with mime experience.
Daniels walked into a room with George Lucas at 20th Century Fox on London’s Soho Square and saw illustrator Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art for Threepio. “Our eyes met. I sensed his vulnerability. Maybe he sensed mine. I knew him,” he says.
For more than 44 years, Daniels has struggled with his place in the Star Wars universe. His experiences on set have often made him intensely unhappy – yet that inexplicable bond and sense of responsibility to a lonely golden robot have proved impossible to break.
Stories are legion about the chaotic shoot on the first Star Wars film, A New Hope. The actors ridiculed the script, Lucas gave little direction, the budget ran out. Nobody believed anything would come of it.
Everybody bonded through adversity, camaraderie in the chaos. Except one man. A lonely man trapped inside a glittering golden shell.
Anthony Daniels never wanted to play a robot
Star Wars: Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, George Lucas and Mark Hamill in 1997
Daniels describes it vividly. Imagine all those hours that it takes to screw you into a hard fibreglass suit. It chafes and pinches, the weight presses heavier and heavier.
You can’t sit, bend or scratch. You need to act and react but can barely see out of the two pinholes – not other people, not where you are putting your feet. You can barely hear or be heard and the suit constricts your throat too. It’s hard to breathe through a tiny gap which the crew occasionally tape up as a “prank”.
Everyone breaks for lunch and you are left encased because it takes too long to get you in and out. You go with them but you can’t eat either.
You stand there silent, immobile, alone as everyone chatters away. You stare out at the desert.
Everyone breaks for dinner and socialises. You are finally released but are too tired and in too much pain to do anything. You just want to lie down before it all starts again the next day.
No wonder Daniels “gently wept” that first night in his hotel. It has defined his time in the saga, right there at its centre but always apart, ever since.
Happy memories shared between C-3PO and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)
Mark Hamill, as hero Luke Skywalker, he fondly recalls, was a saving grace. “His joy and spirit were a revelation,” he says. “He was so supportive and treated me and C-3PO with respect. We bonded from the very first day.”
Famously, 40 years later, Hamill complained to Rian Johnson, the director of The Last Jedi, that Luke would never walk past his oldest friend, C-3PO, without acknowledging him in the film’s final farewell scene. It was changed and Daniels is visibly moved remembering it. “It gives me goosebumps, his loyalty and friendship onscreen and of,” he says.
Harrison Ford was very different. “He is a complicated man. Very dry, very wry. Like me, he doesn’t suffer fools. I put in extra lines between C-3PO and Han Solo just to get a reaction.”
As for Carrie Fisher, as Princess Leia, Daniels instantly smiles. “There was a loveliness that ran through her, even when you knew on set it was difficult for her.
“I still remember that enthusiastic, wacky girl, even after all her troubles and health problems. She seemed to find the lines harder than anyone on The Last Jedi. It was like she was falling and everyone wanted to catch her.”
Star Wars 9: C-3PO in the thick of the action
Fisher died on December 27, 2015, just days after the film’s release. Director JJ Abrams will retool old footage to include Leia on screen in the final movie and Daniels has seen a sneak peek. “I think fans will be very moved. She will live up there again – and forever.”
Daniels had his own troubles from the start. After A New Hope finished filming, he found Lucas auditioning actors, including Richard Dreyfus, to dub over his voice.
“I was shocked and so hurt. He always had in mind a sleazy Bronx car dealer, not a ‘fussy British butler’, but never told me,” he says.
None of them worked out. “Perhaps I gave George what he didn’t know he needed,” Daniels smiles. “But I would never have returned to the role just to do the physical mechanics.”
The first film was a box office sensation in 1977 and fans went crazy for “the gold man”. So much so, Daniels’ name was taken off the poster and he did not attend the premiere to promote the illusion of a “real” robot.
“That was very difficult for me,” he says. “Devastating. People loved the film and the character but I was shoved out of sight. Remembering it has opened old wounds. It really hurt me.”
Daniels is ‘very satisfied’ with Star Wars epic
Over the years, Daniels only discovered “real joy” away from filmmaking in the fans. “I didn’t understand my place or value until I saw it through their eyes and their love for Threepio.”
So, who is C-3PO? “We’ve never truly been allowed to find out but I like knowing him,” he says. “He is a good person. I think the world is a better place for him being here.”
The saga ends next month with The Rise Of Skywalker. After two recent films where Threepio had little to do (“I’m always grateful to be there but I felt like a table decoration”) the trailers have teased a major moment for the droid.
Daniels can reveal little but is hopeful. “Everything I have seen so far is rather good. I had tons to do, I adored working on this film. I really felt part of it all and C-3PO has a major arc. I am very satisfied with everything I know.”
At 73, has Daniels finally found peace? Was it worth it? A stare, a long pause. The emotion is visible but no answer comes.
I feel like I am back there on those dunes with him, staring out alone, still trying to make sense of it all…
● I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story by Anthony Daniels (DK, £18.99). Also available on audio