The Rebels . . . were British?

There is long standing acknowledgement in the Star Wars universe that all the Imperial officers and general bad guys are played by British actors; British comedian Eddie Izzard even has a sketch about it. The prominent characters of the galactic rebellion are played by American actors: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill. It’s no stretch to see that just below the surface of the original Star Wars trilogy the Rebellion is somewhat an allegory of the American Revolution against another English accented Empire, but with the exception of a couple of actors, all those Rebel pilots attacking the first Death Star in 1977 were British!

For close to four decades the actors did a great job into duping me with their fake American accents as they banter back and forth over their space radios while attacking the Death Star, but recently I was informed that Porkins was the only actual American actor in the fleet of X-Wings and Y-Wings.

Star Wars Porkins

Perhaps Porkins’s problem was really a droid with a bad motivator?

Jek Porkins, also known as Red Six, was played by William Hootkins who was born in Dallas, Texas. Hootkins may have been the only actual American in the attack wing, but one has to note that he moved to London, England in the early ’70s and lived there up until 2002. His training as an actor was completed at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, so while he was American by birth, the then 28-year-old actor was actually a British resident. Porkins is perhaps William Hootkins’s most remembered role, but genre fans might also recognize him from Flash Gordon (1980) as Dr. Zarkov’s bumbling assistant Munson, and as Major Eaton from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); he was also the corrupt cop Lt. Eckhardt in Batman (1989).

Star Wars Wedge

The flying ace who gets told by a farm boy that he’s no good . . . back there.

Most fans are aware that Rebel Ace Wedge Antilles (Red Two), the only tertiary character to survive the trilogy, is played by Scottish actor Denis Lawson, and many fans also know that Obi Wan Kenobi actor Ewan McGregor is actually his nephew. Less people, however, know that Lawson went to acting school with Ian McDiarmid who played the Emperor in Return of the Jedi and the prequel movies. Lawson was offered the role of Captain Antilles in Revenge of the Sith (2005), but turned it down, and more recently declined an invitation to revive his character in The Force Awakens (2015). 

Star Wars Biggs

Biggs had been encouraging Luke to leave Tatooine for a long time.

Prior to meeting Han Solo, Luke Skywalker’s best friend is Biggs Darklighter (Red Three), played by British actor Garrick Hagon. Before the 1997 “Special Edition” we don’t see Biggs except for when he is flying; the newer edit restored a scene in the Rebel hanger in which Biggs vouches for Luke’s piloting skills, giving a bit more credence as to why this farm boy from BFN Tatooine suddenly gets a command post in the Rebel fleet. Biggs also plays a much bigger role in deleted scenes that have never made it back into the film, and it looks very likely that the character will play a big part in the new Rogue One film coming out in 2016.

Star Wars Red Leader

Of all the pilots, Red Leader was surely American with that “good old boy” accent of his . . .

Part of Luke’s rapid promotion might have been due some sort of farm boy affinity on the part of Red Leader Garven Dreis, but despite Dreis’s thick “corn-fed” American accent, actor Drewe Henley was born in Worcestershire, England. Prior to Star Wars, Henley was in numerous British TV shows including UFO (1970), and following his portrayal as Red Leader he was in Space 1999 (1977) as Joe Ehrlich. By the end of the 70’s Henley retired from film after diagnosed with manic depression and now runs the bed-and-breakfast Granary Cottage, Devon, England. 

Star Wars Gold Leader

Advice from Gold Leader? “Stay on target!”

In Gold Squad, the pilots of the Y-Wings, there were more English chaps playing Rebel pilots. Jeremy Sinden was Gold Two and Graham Ashley was Gold Five, but Gold Leader Jon “Dutch” Vander (picture above) was actually Canadian actor Angus MacInnes. Like William Hootkins (Porkins), MacInnes was another transplant in London and worked in several British TV shows and films. MacInnes’s other sci-fi appearances are actually quite broad playing supporting characters and extras in film and TV such as Space 1999 (1977), Superman II (1980), Outland (1981), Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), Judge Dredd (1995), Space Island One (1998), Hellboy (2004), but more recently Tostig in Vikings (2013).

Star Wars Red Four

Famous last words? “I’m hit!”

Actually there was one more non-Brit in the squadron; Jack Klaff, who played Red Four pilot John D. Branon, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Klaff, however, was another transfer to London, and guess what his next acting job was after Star Wars? Yes, like many of the pilots he went on to be in Space 1999 (1977), but Klaff was also in the Bond movie For Your Eyes Only (1981), and played Abraham Lincoln in an episode of Red Dwarf

Hopefully we shall meet many of these characters again next year in the Rogue One series of films, but latest reports are that the spin off film is more about spies and secret agents than it is a Star Wars version of Top Gun, but either way we do get to meet a whole new squadron of flying aces later this year in The Force Awakens. 


 

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