I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story
By Anthony Daniels
DK. 272 pp. $25
Anthony Daniels understands, on a factual level, that his journey portraying C-3PO in the Star Wars saga has come to an end with the ninth episode, “The Rise of Skywalker.” Emotionally, however, he’s still coming to grips with the reality that he’ll never again slip into his weathered, gold-plated suit and inhabit the endearingly anxious protocol droid on the big screen.
“It’s going to take a few years for me to think, ‘Oh, there isn’t another “Star Wars” around the corner,’” Daniels says. “In January, I should be working on something much less huge, voicing Threepio in various things, so it hasn’t come to a full stop. But I think it will take a while for me to get perspective.”
Daniels, 73, is the only actor to have appeared in all nine films of the Skywalker saga, which launched with 1977’s “Star War: A New Hope.” Although the franchise’s ever-expanding canon could call upon the Englishman to continue voicing C-3PO in streaming series, Disney park attractions and other media, “The Rise of Skywalker” has been billed as the end of the central Star Wars story.
So Daniels figured it was as good a time as any to pen a memoir, titled “I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story.” The book, which hit shelves last month, is a detailed meditation on Daniels’ relationship with Star Wars, from his first conversation with George Lucas, at a London office in November 1975, to his final day on the “Rise of Skywalker” set, late last year.
Earlier this month, Daniels discussed “I Am C-3PO,” “The Rise of Skywalker” and his reflections on four decades of Star Wars.
Q: “I Am C-3PO” is written with a noticeably brisk pace and conversational tone. How did you land on that approach?
A: The whole thing is kind of one long stream, and I’m glad you noticed it. I did choose to write in a rather slim way. I could have put far more flowery sentences or adjectives or adverbs in if I wanted, but I didn’t want to clutter it. Nobody offered me a ghostwriter, and even if they had, I wouldn’t have wanted it. So it’s very much the way I talk.
Q: Although you emphasize in the memoir that you now have a deep appreciation for Star Wars, you also discuss the more difficult early days. In particular, you recall how marginalized you felt in the wake of “Star Wars: A New Hope’s” success, when your contributions were downplayed. How did it feel to revisit these aspects of your experience?
A: I looked back at some with absolute pleasure and others with some trepidation and a certain amount of reliving the pain and discomfort that I felt at the time. They were very real events, very real feelings, and emotions that strong tend not to go away. It was only at the end, when I finally read through my finished thoughts and put them in order, that I realized the book is a journey — and I hadn’t intended it to be.
Q: The book also confirms long-standing speculation that “Return of the Jedi” director Richard Marquand struggled to command the set, leading Lucas to direct much of the film “by proxy.” Why did you want to share your perspective on that situation?
A: Because there has been so much speculation over the years. I am giving my point of view, and hopefully not in an over-elaborated way. Marquand was an unfortunate experience because, really, he should have had the courage to leave the set. It was an uncomfortable situation. He was a man who was clearly out of his depth with responsibility for other people. I didn’t put this in the book, but I remember hearing Harrison Ford was reportedly amazed, and in fact rather angry, to hear that Marquand claimed to have helped him with his performance of Han Solo, and that’s just ridiculous.
Q: You also recall your initial disappointment when you realized C-3PO would only have a small part in 2015’s “The Force Awakens.” You go on to write, though, that you embraced the character’s role as a “beloved decoration” in that movie and 2017’s “The Last Jedi.” How long did it take you to come around?
A: Within moments. It was just an observation of how amazing it was to be there at all and how amazing it was to actually survive long enough to be in all nine episodes. You gradually notice people passing away around you in the news, and I did used to wonder, “Will I survive long enough to complete this task of being Threepio?” And I’m quite pleased that I have, for all sorts of reasons. To be there with [directors] J.J. Abrams and with Rian Johnson was a joy on the set every day. I would’ve liked to have done more, but there were other people in the story, so it was OK. Threepio is not an easy character to write for, and I understand that.
Q: Abrams, the director of “The Force Awakens” and “The Rise of Skywalker,” and Johnson, the director of “The Last Jedi,” have brought distinctive perspectives to this trilogy. How do you think this final movie reconciles their voices?
A: I enjoyed “The Last Jedi,” but it did leave some loose ends for people. J.J. somehow has pulled the story, I won’t say back on track, but in a direction that doesn’t feel forced. It’s a remarkable piece of writing. Chris Terrio is the main writer, but J.J. has such a huge intellect and energy, and both of them have such a deep knowledge of Star Wars that they’ve brought something really quite fresh to say.
Q: As Abrams writes in the forward to “I Am C-3PO,” you may be “the least recognizable superstar on the planet.” What has it meant to be such an influential part of the Star Wars phenomenon?
A: I’m hearing more and more people telling me how Threepio helped them in their childhood to feel that they had a friend. It’s amazing to think that this work had a greater efficacy than just being entertainment. It has helped people who didn’t find life that easy, who realized that Threepio was kind of like them, too, because he was always bullied or put down. He has been a source of comfort. To me, that has been a bit of a gift, which I didn’t expect.
Floyd is a freelance journalist who writes about arts and entertainment for The Washington Post. He previously was the entertainment editor at Washington Post Express.