Book review: I Am C-3PO – The Inside Story by Anthony Daniels

(image courtesy Penguin Books Australia)

Odds are that if you think of Star Wars, and particularly the trilogy that began it all (New Hope / The Empire Strikes Back / The Return of the Jedi), that your mind will first fall upon the unmissable trio of protagonists of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) that plays a key role in driving its gloriously samurai meets Flash Gordon narrative. (Let’s not also forget Vader for whom many people would seemly answer a recruitment drive to the dark side of the Force.)

That’s fair enough – they are designed to make a spirited impression for a host of reasons, and they do.

But dig just a little deeper in your recollections of George Lucas’s much-loved creation, and you will come across the Laurel and Hardy-eseque pairing of C-3PO and R2-D2, with whom, you can quite convincingly argue, Luke, Leia and Han wouldn’t have got as far at all.

It is to this unlikeliest of heroes, and its taller, gold-hued and inordinately fussy member that I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story by Anthony Daniels plays tribute with an enticing mix of insider knowledge, passionate and protective devotion to its subject and a rueful wish that things had been just a little bit different.

“The poor creature was always out of his depth – always in the wrong place and battered by events beyond his control. Programmed for abilities that would rarely be required in such a violent world, his frustrations were increased by his close and loving friend, Artoo-Detoo – Threepop reticent and self-protective – Artoo gung-ho and inquisitive – their affection for each other so clear in its understatement. It was a master-class in odd-couple scripting. Their banter was delightful. Their menial and meaningless place in society was classically tragic.
I was hooked.
Forget it was sci-fi.
Forget Luke and Han and Vader.
Threepio was the one for me.” (P. 20)

It’s this concoction of nostalgia-laden gee-whiz wonder and benign bitterness about what might have been that infuses this quite readable recollection of the making of nine main trilogy movies, Solo: A Star Wars Story and sundry other small entries in the franchise’s canon, a legacy of which Daniels is understandably quite proud.

He marvels at his initial casting by George Lucas who by the time he came across Daniels had auditioned hundreds of actors to squeeze themselves inside a suit that offered no comfort, limited movement and comfort, and which by its very nature, obscured the thespian talent within.

He glories in the idea that he became friends with Sir Alec Guinness, a kind and self-effacing man who played Obi-Wan in the first (and later fourth) film in the succession of now three trilogies and that end up in a heady raft of exotic locales such as the Tunisian desert, Jordan and New York & L.A. where his hitherto small English world view was given a significant and mind-blowing boost.

No matter how you examine it, and Daniels goes in deep while managing to keep the tone largely light and interesting, laying bare the creation and evocation of a character who is to many people, most especially the actor himself, landing the role of C-3PO was a life game-changer.

While at the time of his casting in the mid-1970s, no one really knew how great a phenomenon Star Wars would become – while George Lucas clearly had an imaginative and certain vision, the film itself felt small and oddly ramshackle at times in its production – for Daniels himself, it was already a massive deal.

Anthony Daniels (image courtesy syfy.com)

The only problem, in Daniels’ eyes at least, was that for all glitter, glamour and surfeit of kind and supportive people he encountered, upon he bestows gushing, genuine praise that is a pleasure to read, he was given short-shrift as a person.

In 1977, as the world fell madly, deeply and irrevocably in love with Luke, Leia, Han, Vader, Obi-Wan, C-3PO and R2-D2, Daniels failed to get any of the recognition he wanted.

While he is self-deprecating, witty and full of understanding in his recounting of these seminal events, there is a quite strong and prevailing, not to mention recurrent sense, that he feels robbed.

He is quick to counter this perception of sourness – too quick at times in fact with some paragraphs moving almost whiplash style between gratitude and thrilled delight to a corrosive sense that “I wuz robbed!” – with what comes across as genuine delight that he was given this extraordinary chance and all the many life-changing opportunities that flowed from it.

He is full to the brim with fascinating facts that add another layer to many people’s experience of the films which have come to present not just great sci-fi storytelling but a host of memorable life moments too.

Star Wars is no longer, and hasn’t been really since 1977 really, just a series of films; it is a phenomenon, a cult, a religion, a great and many-tentacled thing that bestrides the globe and people’s hearts and minds, and Daniels is clearly thrilled to have been a part of it, a role to which he beautifully plays homage with a mix of school boy delight and insider’s insight.

“Back in my spot, I began to read. And read. And suddenly three-and-a-half hours of my life had gone by. Never to return. Just like that. But it had been time well spent. And there was a distinct possibility that either J.J. had indeed read my words or that he already knew exactly what to do. I suspect both.
I loved the script. Chris has clearly steeped himself in the lore of the Saga – certainly, as far as my metallic friend was concerned. Threepio had been away a long time. Now he was back.” (P. 234)

He is also though clearly disenchanted with many aspects of the business, taking a proprietorial stake in Threepio to the point where you get the strong sense he firmly believes that it was not only he who got the bad end of the deal but C-3PO himself.

For all the sweet love he displays for the character that reshaped his life and for which he displays an enduring, almost brotherly concern – that’s understandable; C-3Po has occupied a huge chunk of the real estate of Daniels’ life – there a lingering sense that he has always longed for more.

It doesn’t come close to obscuring the many fascinating stories that Daniels brings to life, a little clunkily at times (his style is friendly and conversational but a little staccato and monotone at times) but it is hard to miss that the actor thinks he could have had and experienced so much more.

Even so, I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story is a pleasure to read, an invaluable addition to the many books written on a franchise that came from a galaxy far, far away and a long time ago in 1977 and changed our lives for the better, not least that of one Anthony Daniels who brought life, personality and gravitas to the one of the most memorable robots and who remains thrilled to have been along for the ride.

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