As much as Star Wars fans pride ourselves on seeing the first show at midnight or hunting down rare collectibles, we all, or at least 99.998% of us reading this, missed the first appearance of one of the saga’s most popular characters.
We missed the first appearance of Boba Fett.
We know that his first movie appearance was in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. And that he predated that with a 1978 animated appearance on The Star Wars Holiday Special as Vader’s sneaky “right-hand man” (with a really cool trident). But before that, on September 24, 1978, Boba Fett made his first public debut.
He marched in the San Anselmo Country Fair parade.
Parades are usually high school bands and Corn Princesses and floats, not flamethrowers and jetpacks and helmets. So what and why was Boba Fett in a parade in a small city twenty miles north of San Francisco? For one, San Anselmo was home to the famous house at 52 Park Way, which was the galactic core of Lucasfilm at the time. So once the annual fall parade came around, it seemed to make perfect sense. Why not?
If you’ve looked at J.W. Rinzler’s magnificent The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, you saw great photos from the prototype test of the armor and actual video from the parade itself (in the Enhanced Edition). But what was that parade like?
I love Boba Fett for the same reasons everyone does. And I’m not afraid to admit (okay, maybe a little) that I spent a significant time in the early 1980s imagining that I, in fact, was Boba Fett through some radical transmogrification of imaginative magical realism. So I was really interested in hearing what it was like to actually be the first person in the world to wear the famous grey armor. I tracked down Duwayne Dunham, who was an assistant film editor on Empire and Jedi – and the guy who wore the Boba Fett armor during its prototype run and in the parade itself. He went on to direct the very successful Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey and Little Giants, and worked as an editor on many critically-acclaimed TV and film projects such as Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. He also recently directed two episodes of The Clone Wars. We talked over the phone; he in California and me in a really hot car in Cleveland.
StarWars.com: So how did that day start?
Duwayne Dunham: Well, I certainly wasn’t looking forward to it. The only reason I ever put that uniform on is because I was the right size. When the guys brought it over from England, George [Lucas] said “put it on.” Then it got aged up to George’s liking…I don’t even know how it came about, but someone thought with the movie coming up that the parade would be a good idea.
StarWars.com: What do you remember about the parade?
Duwayne Dunham: What I remember about that day is it was incredibly hot. I’m not just talking about the suit, I’m saying that day in San Anselmo was really hot. It could have been 100 degrees. I think we were at the head of the parade. And Vader, he stands out. I don’t know what people thought of me. Nobody knew about Boba Fett at that point. The two of us were about to die at that point. Sweat was just pouring [Laughs]. I remember telling [producer] Gary Kurtz: “Gary, I gotta get out of this suit or I’m going to pass out!” We were drenched.
StarWars.com: Did people come up to you? Did they ask who you were?
Duwayne Dunham: I don’t recall anyone asking specific questions. Especially kids. I don’t think they’re going to walk up to Vader and ask him anything. We signed autographs. I remember trying to shout through that mask [at Gary Kurtz], “Is it one T or two Ts?” And him saying “I think it’s two!”
StarWars.com: So how did people react to this character who had never been seen before?
Duwayne Dunham: I would imagine that [for] most people seeing the two, they just figured it was a new character aligned with Vader. We were at the front end of the parade; we were leading the whole thing. We just walked side by side down the street. It was a little funny. My focus was on making the movie. San Anselmo is a small community. There weren’t that many people there and I don’t think any press outside of the San Anselmo newspaper covered it in any way.
StarWars.com: Did you think or know then that Boba Fett would become so popular?
Duwayne Dunham: Everybody had high, high hopes because Boba was such a cool-looking costume. Outside of Vader, it was the best. The character evolved…the all-white [version] was just another stormtrooper, a supertrooper. But as the character evolved, when he got painted…it was so cool. But everyone had high hopes. I was around George all the time and would hear all the conversations [so] I was looking for another character kind of on the level of Han Solo. But for some reason it just didn’t pan out as George had imagined, and then came Jedi, it was “throw him in the Sarlaac pit!” We kinda mounted a protest saying “You can’t do that to Boba Fett! He’s deserving of more!” But they threw him in…and as you know, fans have never let him die.
StarWars.com: Obviously you knew what was going on from the production side, what did it feel to play one of the characters?
Duwayne Dunham: Probably awkward for me. My identity was from the making of the movie, not parading around in a costume. I didn’t think of myself as anything other than someone who fit the size of that suit. I thought it was kinda cool because it was San Anselmo and, you know, a lot of people we knew were there…our editing room was right there. It’s humorous to me. What is really amazing is the profound effect that Star Wars has had on culture. It just keeps going and going and going. Nobody ever thought that there were going to be nine movies, but to us, Empire was just the next one. Trust me. Nobody knew. Not before Empire.
For me, I was spoiled. My first movie was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest [Laughs]. Then there I am working with George and thought “Well, this is the way movies are done.” Well, it turns out they’re all not like that at all [Laughs]. It was an amazing time. I have Artoo and Threepio on my desk right now and right next to them is Boba Fett.
StarWars.com: What are you doing now?
Duwayne Dunham: I’m writing and trying to get a couple of projects set up. I have one project with David Lynch we’re working on. I am involved in some animation projects [with] Mili Pictures in Santa Monica [with] Bill Gordon producing.
StarWars.com: What do you enjoy more — writing or directing?
Duwayne Dunham: Writing is the hardest thing. Hard, hard, hard work. Directing is chaotic. I love it. I would have to say I get the most pleasure from a movie in the editing room. I’m lucky enough that I can try my hand at all three. I subscribe to George’s method of making a movie in the editing room, which is quite different from Steven’s [Spielberg].
StarWars.com: Okay, one last question that I hesitated to ask, a total film geek question. I hinted at it in an earlier e-mail and regretted it.
Duwayne Dunham: Actually, that was not a funny question at all…it gave me a lot of pause!
StarWars.com: Okay, so I’ll ask it again: what is your favorite edit in the Star Wars films?
Duwayne Dunham: It’s not any one particular edit, but it is an editorial moment. When we make movies, we’re trying to make each edit invisible. And some have greater impact than others. I think the best edit for me, there are two and they are a mirror of one another.
The moment is when Luke looks out at that dual red sun and that’s his great turning point, and we all know what he’s going to do or we certainly know what we want him to do and George is smart enough to allow us, the audience, to be part of that moment, and Johnny Williams wrote a beautiful piece of music for that particular piece. And all Luke is doing is standing there looking out at that double sun.
And then in Jedi, there is a funeral pyre [for Vader] and it’s Luke now looking on the fire and it’s exactly the same music! We just stole it from the first Star Wars and just played it there. You couldn’t anticipate it and the funeral pyre itself was almost an afterthought, but it just made sense in the end. It’s rare that you can get away with using the same piece of music in an emotional scene like that, unless it’s a theme. But that’s my answer. It’s that moment in those two movies which are mirrors of one another.
After the interview, I turned on the AC in my car full blast and opened the door. I know. Full Mandalorian plate in 100 degrees? I barely made it a half hour in shorts and an Inhumans T-shirt.
The San Anselmo parade is a traditional harvest festival. That makes a lot of sense, actually. As that group of people at Park Way — that amazing group of artists — was working on Empire, of course they would want to show some of it off, just like a prize hog or a giant mutant tomato. And this was all before leaked photos and tweets. Marching in the parade wasn’t a marketing gimmick. It was just an excuse to play with the toys.
But parades are also shows of strength, so seeing Vader and Fett marching at the head of this one in 1978 also looks like a bit like a conquering army. Granted, it was a small start, out there in little San Anselmo, but it was the beginning of an overwhelming campaign that would dominate pop culture. Boba Fett marches at Disney World now.
So why did they choose Vader and their new favorite, Boba Fett? All of the main actors were out and the droids would have been way too slow. But the real practical advantage of the two big bads is that they were masked. They were specific characters — they weren’t stormtroopers — but they could also really be anyone. Boba was an interior blank slate when we met him in Empire. His armor was a toy chest of imaginative possibilities – Jetpack? Wrist rocket? What does that symbol mean? The only rule we were given was “No disintegrations.” So he was a little good, at least. We could work with that.
There in the sun, away from any cameras or cellphones, this was important. Like a local city official or a tricked-out classic car, it was important to march out the hardware. Boba Fett may have had a big hat and a lanyard sort of like a drum major, but the people who were there knew they were getting a preview of something special. Star Wars is now a global community, but it was a local one first. And it has always given back to its people.
Brad Ricca is the author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – The Creators of Superman, now in paperback. He also writes the column “Unassuming Barber Shop” at The Beat. Visit www.brad-ricca.com and follow him on Twitter at @BradJRicca.