Our latest guest is the star of the Ewok movies Caravan of Courage and Battle for Endor, but there’s a lot more to this actor than just that. Please welcome Eric Walker.
JN – Eric, welcome to Lightsabre.
EW – Thank you Mark. It’s a pleasure.
JN – To the wider public your involvement with Star Wars began in 1984 with Caravan of Courage, but were you a Star Wars fan prior to that?
EW – Sure I was. I had seen Return of the Jedi like 10 times the summer before we did the Ewok movie. As I have stated in past interviews it seemed unreal like I was in a dream or living in a fantasy. But once we got down to doing the acting part of it, that changed as it became time for me to get into character and put to work what all those acting lessons taught me. Acting never came easy to me and I was not a natural at it. I had studied acting for almost 4 years prior to doing the Ewok movies with some well known teachers in Hollywood. I do have to say that once you put that orange flight suit on it sure helps with the magic of believing that you are Mace Towani.
JN – Your first acting role was age 6 in a Jack in the Box commercial. Did you know, even back then, that the entertainment industry was the one for you?
EW – At the age of 6, you never fully know about that. What I did know was I got to go eat hamburgers and French Fries all day and still get paid me for it! The truth is my father did not let me get into acting right away after I did that commercial. I had only gotten that commercial because I played on a football team and the people who were making it came out and asked us if we would like to be in it. It was just simply being at the right place at the right time. My father made me wait about 4 years and after pleading with him with the help of my older sister he finally caved in. My sister had went to school with a friend who was already an actress, so since he said okay finally my sister got a few agents numbers to call from her actress friend. It just so happened that the very first one I interviewed with the Beverly Hect Agency signed me. Beverly later discovered from audition feedback that I was in need of study, so she referred me to acting coach Virgil Frye, who is the father of Soliel Moon Frye from Punky Brewster. In his acting class I learned a lot about not only acting but life. Some of my other class mates and special guests in the class were Noah Hathaway and Barrett Oliver from the Neverending Story movies. Sean Penn, Courtney Gains and many others.
JN – Which of the movies stands out as your favourite and why?
EW – Well my first Star Wars movie was Return of the Jedi and I loved it not knowing anything about the others since they were not out in the movie theatres anymore. Back then they did not have DVD’s and VHS was just coming out and the movies had not be released on either of them. But once I did get to see them when I was invited to attend a special fan trilogy screening sometime in 1987, I quickly had a favorite. It was The Empire Strikes Back because it had the best acting and storytelling of all the movies hands down. I believe that is solely because of its director Irvin Kershner, who is more of an actor’s director. An actor’s director is someone who knows a little bit about acting. Most of them were once actors or studied acting so they are able to help out an actor more.
I had a great conversation about Irvin with A New Hope and Empire producer Gary Kurtz while attending a convention many years ago in Hamburg, Germany. We also talked about the old story of Gary having a print of Empire in his vaults and how the restoration of it did not have to be done. Gary said all George had to do was call him and he could have saved 2 million dollars. Ouch!
JN – What is it like to be part of the Star Wars phenomenon?
EW – Grateful. A Struggle. Grateful. A Curse. Grateful. The grateful is because of the great fans that Star Wars has. The Struggle and Curse is what you get from being so well known for one role and being a part of it when you’ve done some other work that you think is just as good or better.
I do not regret it and would do it again, don’t get me wrong. But I think all that is about to change with some of the upcoming projects I am currently working on.
JN – You must have many golden Star Wars memories. Tell us about some of them.
EW – But of course I have great memories and there were lots of them. I will give you some of them here but you’ll have to read my book I am just about finished with after all these years. The book, which some Star Wars fans may have heard about, is titled with subject to change, “Growing Up on Skywalker Ranch”. Now I know I did not grow up there but it is a figure of speech since I did spend some time on the Ranch over a two year period as well as at ILM and the forest moon of Endor. I will always remember certain things like being told by the director John Korty, after a long day of screen tests at Kortyfilms that I had got the part. It was quite funny since I just came out of the restroom. He met me in the kitchen area and shook my hand telling me that I had got the job. Geez, I hope I didn’t forget to wash my hands!
The first day of filming always stands out because everyone thought I was Mark Hamill. Even Warwick Davis’s mother Sue told me when she first saw me walking up from behind that she thought I was Mark. She thought ‘What is Mark doing here on the set, is he in this film?’ Then of course when I turned around and she saw how much younger I was she knew it was me. Yet she said you do look a lot like him you know.
Being able to meet some other well known stars that would stop by or be filming at ILM, like Ron Howard. He was doing test shots for effects on Cocoon at the time. Also getting the chance to do “The Making of the Ewok Movie” with Warwick Davis. We were given a camera and ran all over the set doing interviews and having fun. Warwick who was a natural comedian and would do all the funny commercials for filler. I hope to have a newer edited version of it as a collectable in my book so look out for it.
Being able to work directly with George Lucas when he came on board directing the one week of pick-up shots. I actually have the first day reshoot call sheet that lists him as the director. For which I understand a production assistant got into trouble, as it was taken off the second day’s call sheet. So the actual comeback into directing by George Lucas was not on Episode 1 but on Caravan of Courage. Well, that’s enough here but there are lots more and quite a few things fans have never heard about in the book so you’ll have to buy it.
JN – Filming the two Ewok adventures must have been fascinating for both you and Aubrey. What was the atmosphere like on set, especially with Lucasfilm coming off the back of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones hits?
EW – We basically had the same crew from the Star Wars movies so it was a very friendly, fun, family type atmosphere. The bad thing was that most of the poor crew members got poison ivy, since the woods of Endor are full of them. I was lucky enough to not get it. But yes, we all had a great time but it was a lot of work. I often was the first actor on set and the last to leave. In fact I was the only actor there on the last day of filming with a bunch of extras. We were doing underwater shots at someone’s house in a pool. They used a thick piece of Plexiglas that I had to swim under and hit my hands on. It was for the scene where Mace gets trapped in the lake and is saved by Wicket with his magic stick. Of course there are others but too many to mention them all here. But it was loads of fun.
JN – Caravan of Courage was a huge hit, with over 65 million viewers tuning in Thanksgiving Night 1984. However, the sequel The Battle for Endor was less well received, and your character was killed off. Looking back, how do you feel about that now?
EW – It was a very interesting time in my life. I had told no one except for a few of my Hollywood friends and acting classmates about the movie, so it was very strange to go out the next day after it aired on television. Suddenly going to school and having hundreds of kids and nearly half the school watching me play basketball during lunch recess made you feel like a superstar. Everywhere you went someone would stop you whether it was in the market or eating out. I did enjoy the attention from the girls somewhat, but it got a little annoying when they asked me to kiss them so much.
Also, at that time everybody was getting VHS VCR’s so it was said that the Ewok movie really was the first big movie event recorded by a lot by people all over the United States. I do believe that, since a few years later I would get stopped by a Mom in a market telling me how their kid was home right now sick with the flu and only wanted to watch the Ewok movie that they’d recorded. Some of them told me they watched it so much they wore the tape out and asked how they could get a copy of it. Almost always something that came up in the conversation would be them telling me they did not like The Battle For Endor, the second movie because the whole family was killed except the girl. They always seem to relate to the first one more and I am not sure why? I do know it is a better family movie, so maybe that’s it.
As for the second movie I enjoyed working on it and was happy to even be in it. At first I was told I was not even going to be in it at all, but I guess at one point they realized since I was the star of the first one so I had to be back if only for a moment then be killed, or have my life monitor go out. So am I really dead? Perhaps the life monitor went up with the explosion and my hand was severely injured. Maybe an expanded universe writer can write about it one day. I still remember being told the bad news by my father and it upset me so much that I cried myself to sleep that night. So naturally when they came back a few weeks later and asked me to be in it, I jump at the chance. It was also told to me that the second movie was being made just for George Lucas’s daughter Amanda. ABC at first wanted a weekly series with the Ewoks and the whole Towani family but George said no because he did not want to do that at the time. So I guess after enough pleading from his daughter he decided to do one more Ewok movie.
The directors who were brothers and a directing team, Ken and Jim Wheat took me aside on the first day on the set. They told me they had lots of ideas for a Mace, Wicket, and a Cindel adventure but George said he wanted to focus only on Cindel and kill the family. I know it sounds mean but that is what he wanted to do and that’s his choice. You see at the time Amanda was around Cindel (Aubree’s) age so naturally she was her hero. They said if Amanda had been a teenager it might have been a Mace movie. That is what you call bad timing I guess.
The second movie was not without controversy and George took a lot of flack because of it by the movie critics who thought it was lame and stupid to have such an adventure with a little girl. A lot of them said George Lucas really killed off his audience and if he wanted ratings he should have kept the Luke Skywalker looking Mace Towani. Nonetheless, I was proud of Aubree and happy for her because I really thought of her as my little sister. She did a good job, no, in fact an excellent job for a 5 year old. Speaking to her recently Aubree does not even remember making most of the movies because she was so young, only 4 years old on the first one and 5 on the second.
Not that I am evil but like noted in your question, I guess the ratings speak for themselves and they were much lower than the first movie.
JN – As a director and editor you certainly seem to have a long list of current and future credits lined up. Could you tell us a little bit about those projects, past, present and future?
EW – As I mentioned I am also writing a book which will contain hopefully The Making Of The Ewok Movie footage. I few years ago I got a Golden Halo award for my writing, directing and editing of a documentary in Canada from the Southern California Motion Picture Council for having strong family values. The documentary tells the story of The Melashenko family migrating from the Ukrane in Russia in 1907 up until now and how God has lead them through the generations to the present day. I have been working on a few scripts lately. One dates back to 1994 and is a great sci-fi movie called Time Keepers. It has the Back to the Future style time travel but relates mostly to a group of bad guys that are using time travel to alter history, so the Time Keepers are established to comeback and fix the mess and save not only our history but our lives. The Messenger is another project I have been working on and it deals with life after death experiences. It is based on a true story about Wiley Ezell, a man who died and came back with a mission from God to help others get their life on track before it is too late. We like to call them life after death experiences rather than near death experiences. But the story deals with actual accounts of where people have died that can be proven with evidence that it actually really happened. Star Walker: Ken Ju Kai is a project written and created by G. K. Holland, whom I’ve had the great fortune of working with on this for many years. G. K. Holland originally wrote it as a short story and wedding gift when I married Nhu Tran Walker in Vietnam in 2002. One of my best friends singer/songwriter Buddy Mix whose wife Ha Mix (who introduced me to my wife originally) also attended and performed at my wedding. Since then the project has taken a life of its own and grown in great detail. G.K Holland is a very prolific, detailed writer and has created an entire huge universe filled with aliens, fallen angels, demons, archaeology, time travel and other exciting elements. Oh , and we can’t forget about the elite Ken Ju Kai who are the good guys! They train the Star Walker’s and prepare them for this war of principalities that is now exposing itself after being hidden for centuries underneath a veil. The character that was written for me as a tribute by Star Walker writer G. K. Holland is Eric Dane. The Dane family has a long history of Star Walker’s that goes back to his great, great, grandfather Henry Dane who discovers the divine Ken Ju Kai medallion in Egypt in 1921.
Eric Dane is a reluctant hero who does not believe in all the stories about Star Walker or Ken Ju Kai that have been told to him about his family. His father Steve Dane disappeared and is believed to be dead when Eric was only 3 years old, so it also becomes a reason for a great emotional obstacle and why he wants nothing to do with it at first. And this in a small part of the story dealing with just the Dane family. The story involves other Star Walkers and actually covers some 14 centuries, so as I said it is a massive project. We recently have filmed a live action promo trailer that will be released in a couple of months with plans for the movie to come out around 2012 as all will go well. The actor playing Eric Dane is Adam LaFramboise. He actually looks like an older Mace Towani which is something that was not planned but is a nice fortunate accident if you will. Look for the trailer to be released by the fall and it is full of a lot of great action and special effects.
Star Walker Ken Ju Kai is also a book series, web and television series, mobile games, RPG, and more planned. Fans can check it out on the fan website at www.thestarwalkers.com.
I can safely say that my love for film making was inspired by George Lucas and learning about film making while running around with a video camera on the set with Warwick Davis doing the making of the Ewok movie. There also later came my student films while attending high school and college. One of my first projects was a student film called, After The War, and yes I used some of my famous friends like Anthony Anderson, (Transformers, Law & Order, The Departed) Courtney Gains, (Children of The Corn, Back To The Future, Memphis Belle, The Burbs) Bryon Thames, (Johnny Dangerously, Star Trek: Enterprise). My First Assistant Director was Betsey Chasse who later became a well known Director and Producer with What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?
JN – Tell us about your interests outside of the Star Wars arena?
EW – I tell you something you probably did not know. I was a semi-pro baseball player and probably would have turned professional but had to quit because it was becoming too difficult to continue playing baseball with the acting taking up all my time. I spent a lot of time training, even after great success as an actor by going to the Los Angeles Country High School for the Arts for 3 more years. I was in the first class to go completely through the program upon my graduation. Some of the Alumni included as mentioned was Anthony Anderson, Jenna Elfman, Josh Groban, and Corbin Bleu.
I played the younger brother of Robert Downey Jr. in Less Than Zero, and was in about 10 other movies. You can look them up if you want to see them on IMDB.Com. I also own and run a internet marketing company for businesses. I promote and distribute new music artists on iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody with my company Walker Media Group.
JN – You were the first Star Wars character to be named after George Lucas’ original hero, Mace Windu. In 1999, Samuel L Jackson came along and took a role with that same name. What were your thoughts on the prequels?
EW – You mean the toy and merchandising films? I am sorry, I am not trying to be mean for those who liked them, but I was disappointed. The last one Revenge of the Sith almost redeemed the prequels, but barely. The first three films for me, and the Ewok movies, are the only real Star Wars films. They are simply the best and I have had many fans tell me to my surprise that they think the Ewok movies were better than the prequels.
As for Samuel Jackson I have nothing but respect for the man. He is a wonderful actor outside of the Star Wars movies, but let’s get this straight. I was Star Wars First Mace. George Lucas must have like Mace Towani so much, or the name Mace, that he reused it. I have spoken with a few collectors who have copies of the original Journal of the Wills and the first Star Wars screenplay drafts. I have not read them myself so unless they lied to me I was told there is no Mace Windu or a Mace character anywhere in them. So even though it may be said that the Mace Windu character dates back far in the Star Wars timeline that seems to change from time to time, there is interestingly no record of it in the original materials and notes.
I think it is funny that you should mention this because in a few interviews that I have given for different official Star Wars Magazines often the name of the article was titled: Eric Walker Star Wars first Mace. But I think it was Marco Froemter a friend of mine and writer for The German Official Star Wars magazine who coined that phrase first.
JN – Where do you think Lucas will take us next on our trip through the Star Wars galaxy?
EW – I have heard he might explore letting some more of the Expanded Universe being made into movies and more television shows. Only time will tell and I would wish him luck, but I don’t think he needs it. I have hope that he goes back to his roots and surrounds himself with real film makers again such as myself, and not Yes People. There is no creativity if you surround yourself with Yes People and corporate shirts, it just makes him like the big movie studios.
Not that there is anything wrong with them as I have worked with almost every major studio but it is what he said he wanted to get away from, Hollywood. Now I hear Lucasfilm is worse but can only speculate. I only hope it will get better. In a way I understand it as well and see at times there is no choice because business still has to be run. Some of what I have heard may not be true as there is always someone out there who is a former ex-disgruntled employee, but when you hear about it so much and so often then one could find it hard not to believe something is going on. So George, if you ever read this article and interview and want some honesty and creativity, including getting back to the grassroots film making which is how you also inspired me then give me a call.
Again, let’s all hope he opens those doors for the fans and chooses people who are good film makers who do not worry so much about the toys and more about the story lines, acting, directing, and editing that comes with that.
JN – What do you foresee for yourself in the future?
EW – Producing, editing, directing. Making good films that strike a chord in everyone’s lives because they have strong story lines executed well with good acting. Films that will raise the bar, as I am always looking at ways to be the best at what I do.
JN – A quick question about Lightsabre. Any comments?
EW – I think what you have going is a good looking site. It is very interesting and I hope to be at a convention back in England soon, should I be invited I would love to come.
JN – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest. Just one final question. Wicket, Mace and Cindel are trapped in the upper branches up a giant Endor tree, and a hungry Gorax is climbing to get to them. There are three escape routes. There is a catapult to hurl yourself away in, an Ewok glider to glide to safety with and a zip line that shoots down to the forest floor. Which one do you take, and do all three of you manage to escape?
EW – Okay, in tribute to the fact that later this year we will celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Ewok Movies, here we go:
A New Ewok Adventure: Mace Lives
By Eric Walker
25 years after the Battle for Endor, an adult Cindel Towani lands again on the forest moon of Endor to visit her old friend Wicket W. Warrick. She is stunned to learn from Wicket that Mace lives and did not die in the battle for Endor but was found later next laying injured next to the exploded Warrick family hut. Mace did not die and was severely burned again, only this time on his other hand with the life monitor so it was destroyed making everyone believe that Mace was dead. Cindel is overjoyed and asks Wicket to take her to Mace right away.
Mace is out chopping wood for his fireplace and quaint little hut that Wicket points out to her on the forest floor nearby. They both leave to go see Mace and as Cindel sees him she knows instantly that is Mace because he still has his boyhood child like face that she remembered. Cindel runs over to Mace and gives him a big hug. Mace is surprised to see Cindel and full of emotion because he thought she would never return for him since nearly 25 years had passed.
Later in the day all three of them are walking and Mace wants to show Cindel something, so they climb up one of the big Ewok trees to his secret hiding place where he has put his mother and father Catherine and Jeremitt’s life monitors. It is a sad moment and Cindel begins to cry as she remembers the Battle For Endor and the day when her life changed so much when she thought she lost her whole family. Mace and Wicket comfort Cindel for a moment. Then suddenly we hear a large cracking sound coming from right down beneath them. It is the giant Gorax and they are trapped up in the tree. The Gorax growls at them swinging his giant arms high into the air, but they are just out of reach of them. Mace notices in the branches next to them that there is an Ewok catapult and glider. He tells Cindel that he will distract the Gorax by using the catapult to spring himself high into the air to draw the attention of the Gorax away from both of them. Mace springs himself off the catapult and very high right over the Gorax’s head and landing in a smaller Ewok tree a safe distance away. Cindel at the same time takes the zip line down the forest floor. Mace quickly slides down the smaller tree and runs over to join Cindel.
As Mace reaches Cindel they both look up as Wicket takes off on the Ewok glider. The Gorax jumps up lifting his arm even higher this time into the air and grabs the glider stopping it in its tracks. Wicket now stuck and scarred while barely hanging on to the glider yells down to Mace and Cindel, ‘Chyasee’ – help! Mace looks back up and in his old sarcastic ways says; “Where were you when I needed help in he Battle for Endor?”
Cindel yells at Mace telling him to help Wicket since the Ewoks did help them save their parents before they died 25 years ago. A reluctant Mace says ‘Alright’ and he takes out his trusty ax that he used to stop the Gorax once before to avenge the death of Chukha Trok. He throws it up and with his perfect aim hits the Gorax on the right side of his head. Screaming out in pain the Gorax drops the glider with Wicket in it and Mace runs over to catch Wicket right before he is about to crash hard into the forest floor. Wicket looks up at Mace holding him and says ‘Star Cruiser Crash’. Cindel laughs in remembrance. Mace then drops Wicket and says, ‘No, Ewoks Crash.’
They all three run off to safety as the Gorax continues to scream out in pain. Mace now with a reunited Cindel and Wicket are safe once again as they have easily escaped from the dumb Gorax that plagues the Ewoks of Endor more as a pest than an enemy.
I hope you enjoyed my take on a new Ewok Adventure story inspired by Mark in tribute to the 25th Anniversary coming soon. Everyone can check out my website at www.ericwalker.net for any upcoming appearance and I look forward to doing some more conventions and meeting more Star Wars fans as they are the best in the world.
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 8th November 2009. You can visit Eric’s official site here.