Star Wars

First of all, my involvement with the production of Star Wars was minuscule. Probably three hours total of post production time. But being a voice in one of the greatest movies in the history of film--and having an inadvertent part in the naming of one of its main characters--has always been a source of pride for me. If, like me, you are a Star Wars fanatic, then I hope you'll enjoy adding my story to your collection of tales surrounding the making of this complex and compelling film.

Adding voices to an already completed film is called ADR - automatic dialogue replacement - and is sometimes called "looping". It's normally a complicated process, taking several hours in a sound studio, being "beeped" into a scene and cued to speak. It's usually precision work. But for our work on Star Wars, myself and a handful of other Bay Area actors, did our ADR work in George's San Anselmo home just north of San Francisco, in his small private screening room, delivering our lines almost randomly into a portable Nagra tape recorder. Although principal photography had been completed, the only video reference George had to show us was a little piece of the trailer--the Death Star exploding. That and George's direction was all we had to go on.

This wasn't the first time most of us had worked for George in this manner. Five years earlier, in 1971, I was part of the group that provided the ominous flow of voices on the soundtrack of George's first feature film, THX1138, the recreation of his student project at the University of Southern California's film school. As he did on THX, George handed out pieces of scripts from his space opera with the exploding death star and asked us to take turns reading various lines, mostly of storm troopers in the battle scenes. We were in his screening room in his San Anselmo house, lounging around on these leather ottomans. Sound genius Ben Bert was holding a Nagra tape recorder in his lap. (I understand it's still in use today.) In the film, by luck, my voice is paired with Obi-Wan Kenobi himself: Sir Alec Guinness. That's me asking to take a closer look at C3PO and R2D2 outside the cantina. Obi-Wan slips a quick mind-lock on me and intones, "These are not the droids you're looking for." My sandtrooper's brainwashed reaction, "These are not the droids we're looking for." Today's translation, "Duh!" As Obi-Wan pointed out, "The force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded."

My other lines include a moving and poignant aside to Darth Vader in the opening battle scene: "The Death Star plans are not in the main computer." Then, as the storm troopers searched for our heroes, there was my memorable rendering of, "All right. Check this side of the street. If the door's locked, go onto the next one." And who will ever forget, as The Millennium Falcon prepared to escape, the haughty machismo of "Stop that ship. Blast them!" Profound stuff.

By the way, the other stormtrooper voice actors were Jerry Walters, Scott Beach and Morgan Upton. Jerry was a very successful voice-over actor and two-term president of the San Francisco chapter of AFTRA. Scott and Morgan were equally busy and both were former members of arguably the best improvisation groups ever, The Committee. Sadly all three of these wonderful artists have past away. They are greatly missed in our community for their talent and for their unique and magical personalities. Maybe they're out there quelling a rebellion or two. Most likely, they are laughing and telling great stories.

There were several other voices that were added that day, including some general "walla" in the cantina scene. "Walla" stands for the unintelligible hub-bub or walla-walla sound of background conversation. That was pretty much the extent of my involvement in Star Wars. At least that's what I thought. It wasn't until after the film's release that I discovered that I had provided George with the name for one of Star Wars' most popular characters. In an 1977 interview in Rolling Stone magazine, George said, "Terry McGovern is a Bay Area actor, who was doing some voice work on THX. One day he showed up late for a recording session. His excuse was, 'I had an accident. I ran over my pet wookey.'" My recollection is that I had been late because it was a Saturday session, and I was serving my monthly weekend in the Army Reserves in the Presidio. I had cut out of the meeting and driven to the recording session with my best friend, Bill Wookey. Whatever excuse I came up with for George, "Wookey stuck with me," he said in the interview. "When it came time to name that character, that name just popped into my head." Giving the giant Chewbacca the surname Wookey certainly affected the life of my friend, I can promise you. For a while it was a minor annoyance for his sons at school, but I think over the years, the whole family has grown proud of the association. Coincidentally, Bill Wookey is well over six feet tall, has a thick mane of reddish hair and a full beard. No, he does not have a wet nose, and he seldom growls. Most important, he is still my best friend.

For all the great entertainment George Lucas has given us, for the chance he gave me to play a small part in his first three films, and for making the Bay Area home to his magical movie-making genius, I'm indebted to him. I don't think you'll find an actor who's ever been involved with Lucas who wouldn't say the same. May the force always be with him!