From a certain point of view, Harrison Ford still owes Jordan Schlansky a new Millennium Falcon.
The original Han Solo actor famously smashed Schlansky’s LEGO ship to plastic brick bits during a comedy skit on Conan, where Schlansky serves as associate producer and occasional on-camera Star Wars enthusiast.
“It was really fun,” Schlansky says. “I’m guessing [Ford] gets a lot of requests to do Star Wars stuff so we were unsure if he’d want to do something silly like this and he was totally up for it. That’s one of the things I get asked about the most. People are always asking: ‘Was it real? Did he really break it?’ He did really break it. It was real. The only extenuating circumstance was, it was not mine.”
That particular toy version of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy actually belonged to the personal collection of one of the show’s writers, Andrés du Bouchet. “The truth is that we have a writer on staff who’s the unsung hero in this scenario,” Schlansky says. It was his colleague who “did spend 60 hours putting it together and volunteered it for this untimely demise,” but he wasn’t weeping over spilled LEGO and sweeping up the aftermath when the taping concluded. “Are you kidding? It’s the honor of a lifetime to have your LEGO Millennium Falcon destroyed by Han Solo himself.”
This week, Schlansky and the crew from Team CoCo take on San Diego Comic-Con for four epic live shows of Conan Con. Each taping gives lucky audience members the chance to take home an exclusive limited edition nerdy Funko Pop! including one Conan figure ready to take flight as a Rebel Pilot, which was handed out last night.
We caught up with Schlansky just before he headed to sunny SDCC this week to talk about the joys of shooting on location during the biggest “comics” convention in North America, his love of all things Star Wars, and his appreciation for the fine art of Sith Lord helmets.
‘The ultimate achievement’
Schlansky has worked on several iterations of the famed host’s long-running talk shows, in a career that began with Late Night with Conan O’Brien back in1994 and continues with the most recent incarnation, Conan. In over two decades, there have been plenty of Star Wars-themed stunts and comedy bits: the crew has toured Lucasfilm headquarters in San Francisco and quizzed the likes of J.J. Abrams and George Lucas on camera.
That last one even led to Lucas agreeing to name Admiral Motti in O’Brien’s honor, a distinguishing moment among the host’s Star Wars-related achievements including being immortalized in two decidedly non-canon action figures. “I’m too envious to even look at them!” Schlansky says of the Funko Pop!s. As the story goes, Lucas was on air in 2007 and game for a trivia showdown. “I tried to stump him on what that character’s name was, forgetting that he was the person that invented that character and named him in the first place, and he invented a first name right there on the spot, which was Conan,” Schlansky says. “He called the character Conan Antonio Motti.”
But Schlansky is still holding out hope that he could also be celebrated in a similar manner. “I would love to have a character from the first film get a first name of Jordan. I don’t care if anyone else knows that Jordan was named after me. I would know. My children would know. My children’s children would know. It would be written into my family crest. That, to me, would be the ultimate achievement.”
‘Star Wars is captivating’
Big name celebrities and creative comedy writing keep the job of producing Conan feeling fresh over the years, Schlansky says. “It’s something that I never get bored of because the show is absolutely different every single day and we end up doing all these cool things,” including staging live tapings from SDCC for the fourth year running. “One of the great things about working on a show like this is all of the extra-curricular stuff we get to do.”
Returning to SDCC is like coming home. “You’re talking to a guy who feels more at home at Comic-Con and with the Comic-Con crowd than anywhere else,” he says. “I love all of it. The stranger, the better. We have people coming to the shows in costumes. We have lightsaber battles outside of our theater. It’s all in good fun. It’s a great forum for people to express themselves and express their love of science fiction, fantasy and just great storytelling.”
Schlansky has been enamored with the galaxy far, far away since he was a kid. “I was always a huge fan of Star Wars,” he says, calling the saga “the greatest story ever told.” On this, he’s not joking. “I truly believe that. Especially the original movie. If we distill it down to its essence, it is the story of a simple farm boy battling a great oppressor. The greatest scene to me of any Star Wars film is in the climax to the 1977 original film where Luke is in his X-wing fighter about to destroy the Death Star because I think of where he came from, I think of where he started. He thought that life was passing him by, big things were happening in the universe. Suddenly here he is — the only one left in the greatest battle of all time. All his friends and colleagues have died and he has one shot. He is the only one who can change the entire course of the universe, and that scene, with the score building, to me is one of the greatest moments in cinema history, frankly.”
But his affinity for Luke’s trench run hasn’t deterred Schlansky from becoming an unabashed Imperial supporter whose most prized personal piece of memorabilia is a Don Post version of Darth Vader’s helmet from The Empire Strikes Back. “The Darth Vader character and that costume, the personification of evil represented by that mask and that helmet…it is just the quintessential representation of evil, both hideous and beautiful at the same time. I love how it’s changed over the course of the films that it appears in. If you show me that helmet, I can tell you exactly which film it came from.”
For Schlansky, much of the allure of Star Wars is the artistry of the galaxy, down to the fine details of the Sith Lord’s sinister face mask. “It’s just such a beautiful piece of cinematic sculpture…On so many levels, as a piece of art, Star Wars is captivating.”
Return of Conan Con
Schlansky has become a fan-favorite for his work on and off camera for Conan, starring in skits like a myth-busting tour of Lucasfilm’s office space and the aforementioned Falcon mishap with Ford. “The Jordan that’s on the show is the person I wish I could be because it’s the truest version of myself,” he says. “I think we all have those sides of us that are not always understood…At my core, I am all of the things that you’ve seen. I am definitely a huge science fiction fan, Star Wars in particular. I think everyone has all those quirky little things that interest them that they feel would be boring to bring up in public because maybe other people wouldn’t understand. And it’s a great experiment to just unapologetically extol the virtues of whatever happens to interest you in the moment and watch what happens.”
And when taking the show on the road to SDCC, Schlansky is always sure to encounter kindred spirits. “To see all the references to Star Wars there at this time of year is always really fun. And it’s really satisfying to know that other people love it as much as I do. It just seemed like such a natural fit for us. We’ve always been considered a bit eccentric and I think that resonated with a lot of comic book fans and a lot of fans of science fiction and fantasy in general. The guests that we’ve had have been unbelievable and the crowds go crazy and they love it. It’s just a really special and magical time that’s hard to kind of compare to the other shows we do because the energy level is just so big. I think people are just so excited to be there… When I think back to the times that we’ve spent at Comic-Con, [there’s just a] feeling like you belong somewhere and feeling like the people support you and the things that you do.”
Just for fun, we asked Schlansky to answer five rapid-fire questions.
StarWars.com: Blaster or lightsaber?
Jordan Schlansky: Lightsaber. It’s not as clumsy or random as a blaster. Anyone can pick up a blaster and make it work, but only a true expert can make a lightsaber serve them. And the sound…the whole universe is in that sound.
StarWars.com: Han or Luke?
Jordan Schlansky: Luke.…The original Star Wars film was 100 percent a story about that farm boy that went the distance, went to the big time and save the world. Something that everyone can relate to, it is the classic mythology of the underdog overcoming great odds.
StarWars.com: Ewoks or porgs?
Jordan Schlansky: I’m going to go with Ewoks. I’m a big fan of Warwick Davis, who played Wicket.
StarWars.com: Rebels or Empire?
Jordan Schlansky: Empire. The Empire has the menace. The Empire had the great costumes. The Empire had the great music behind them. The Empire had the great lighting. The Empire had presence. If you had said Emperor versus Darth Vader, I would say Darth Vader. The Emperor had the power but Darth Vader had the presence. Darth Vader represents all that is evil in the universe and in the world.
StarWars.com: Star Wars Holiday Special or Conan SDCC Special?
Jordan Schlansky: I love the Conan at SDCC Special….We have a great comedy bit coming up this week that finally focuses on come characters from the original trilogy that have been ignored for far too long. And I’ll leave it at that.
Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them!