This Week’s Word Is “Threepio.”
Following on from last week’s Ultimate Star Wars is another DK book, but one that is something of a departure for the publisher and the column; an autobiography. C-3PO – The Inside Story by Anthony Daniels is the story of the saga told through one of its favorite characters’ golden eyes. This column goes out on the eve of the release of The Rise of Skywalker; there’s no better time to take a look at the memoirs of the robot who’s been there from the very first line.
What is I Am C-3PO – The Inside Story?
From A New Hope right through to The Rise of Skywalker, C-3PO and Antony Daniels have been there. This book is a chronicle of his time on set and is filled with behind the scenes anecdotes and, to a lesser extent, an examination of Daniels’ relationships with cast and crew.
Threepio has been there for it all. He’s in every single film, including Rogue One. He’s in The Clone Wars, Rebels, Resistance AND Forces of Destiny. Anthony Daniels has been in ill-fated Christmas specials, radio plays, symphonic symposia, and he was there at the inception of the now global phenomenon, The Star Wars Celebration. There is probably nobody better placed to tell the saga of the saga. Despite his golden counterpart’s omission from Solo, Daniels still had a role to play. He has seen it all, and now he’s written about his experiences.
The book is written chronologically, starting from just before Daniels’ first audition, and takes on each of the movies in turn, with some coverage of what Threepio had been up to during years that there weren’t new movies or TV series. At the end of the book, there is an extensive “driodography” that breaks down all of Anthony and Threepio’s TV and movie appearances. Interspersed throughout the book are behind the scenes photos from across the saga.
Why Read I Am C-3PO – The Inside Story?
If you’re looking to find out about the filming of the Star Wars saga from someone who has been there through it all, this is the book for you. In many ways, Daniels is the perfect person to recount the journey of this pop-cultural behemoth, because arguably, he is the actor most invested in it. Nobody has appeared in more Star Wars movies and TV programs than he. Many of the major stars who were there at the beginning have transcended their roles. They moved on. Daniels and Threepio are still there, and (mostly) loving it.
The book is not perfect. Daniels is a prickly character (I believe) and this shows in his writing. Perhaps fittingly, there isn’t very much about human interactions in the book; Threepio is a robot, after all. I imagine that if you’re looking for insight into the human condition you’d be better off reading Carrie Fisher’s autobiographies. That doesn’t mean you won’t find I am C-3PO interesting, but if you’re not that into Star Wars, this probably isn’t the book for you. But you knew that anyway.
For me, in my mid-40s, the most interesting parts of the book were the beginning. The inception of Star Wars. The photo of an early draft, an account of the audition process, and struggles with the suit. Insight into the film-making process, something I know little about, and the reality of working on an unknown sci-fi film in the mid-70s. The most interesting facets of this book are probably the technical aspects of being C-3PO, both the technology, but also the acting skills and adaptations required to work in such confines. How the suit developed across the years is also fascinating.
Such is Daniels’ writing style, you’ll get the most out of the book if you know the movies and the scenes well. When Daniels discusses a certain point in a movie, it makes much more sense if you can give it some context. This is perhaps why the account of the first trilogy is more interesting than the subsequent ones. I just don’t know the later movies that well.
It’s interesting that despite trying to glean tidbits of information from the chapters about Rise of Skywalker I found the writing in them leaden. Perhaps it’s the circuitous style to avoid spoilers, perhaps its because I can’t visualize much about the scenes referred to, but despite my anticipation for Episode IX, I didn’t find its related chapters all that interesting.
There are no excoriating revelations here, though Daniels is clear on who he got on with and who he didn’t. His disdain for the script and green screen use of the prequel trilogy is abundantly clear, as is his difficult relationship with the director of Jedi, Richard Marquand.
The most interesting personal insights probably come when Daniels is discussing the film promotion for Star Wars. The film’s producers were keen to ensure that the public were captivated by Threepio as a robot, not as a human actor, and as such, Daniels was largely left out of the publicity. He was barely acknowledged. He talks openly about how difficult he found that.
It is clear Daniels rates JJ Abrams highly, and seems relieved he was back at the helm for The Rise of Skywalker. He admires Abrams’ passion and love for the saga. He does rather throw Rian Johnson under the bus, unfairly in my opinion. Considering some of the flak the movie received, I don’t think Daniels has done The Last Jedi any favors. He’s not overtly rude about it but is somewhat dismissive of the direction Johnson took things. Propaganda for the final installment or cheerleading the returning director? Possibly. Anthony is entitled to his opinions and, obviously, he was there and I wasn’t, but I think history will look back more kindly on The Last Jedi than he suggests in this book.
There are also some interesting (often hilarious) accounts of some of the spin-offs Daniels appeared in, such as the ill-fated Star Wars Holiday special and his excitement at appearing on The Muppets and Sesame Street. I also found Daniels’ account of the first Star Wars Celebration interesting. From his autobiography, Daniels comes across as a man who takes his responsibilities to his fans seriously.
Despite my saying the book was low on the human side of things, it is definitely not a book devoid of warmth. Daniels conveys great warmth and respect for the crew who have helped him and Threepio over the years. He also clearly held Carrie Fisher in the highest regard. Daniels apparently formed a strong friendship with Mark Hamill, bonded by their initial scenes together in Tunisia. Daniels has only great things to say about Hamill and the book closes with a touching email from master to droid.
Above all, Daniels clearly has a great love for his on-screen character. At the book’s beginning he is open about his reservations about Threepio, but clearly, over the course of the movies, the droid has got under his skin (as opposed to the other way around!). Daniels has played the golden droid for over 40 years old and through him stamped an indelible mark across the saga; people, myself included, cheer when C-3PO pops up.
Much as the trailer for Rise of Skywalker suggests, the book hints that Threepio has a bigger role to play than he does in many of then other movies. There are also a few teasing lines about the droid’s ultimate fate… not long to go now and we’ll all know. Whatever happens, Rise of Skywalker is likely to be Daniels’ and Threepio’s final Star Wars movie appearance.
And this is my final Word Wednesday for 2019. Next Wednesday is Christmas Day and the following one, New Year’s Day. Nobody is going to want to read my column on those days, any more than I want be writing it on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. I hope you’ve enjoyed my reviews these past 12 months and discovered some interesting, useful, and entertaining books through it. I’ll be back in the New Year with more great books, but in the meantime, whatever you’re up to for the rest of 2019, I hope all goes well and you find some time to kick back and relax with a book.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes.