As film fans prepare for the release of the latest Star Wars film Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, ESP’s Marc Hernandez spoke to BBC presenter and documentary film-maker David Whiteley about the documentaries he’s made about the British contribution to the original trilogy of films and toys that are being shown as part of ‘Star Wars Night’ on BBC Four on December 16.
ESP: Many people will know you as a broadcast journalist for the BBC’s Inside Out programme and presenter on BBC Look East, but can you tell us how you first became a Star Wars fan? I guess being born on May 4th 1977 must’ve played a part!
David: “Well I guess I’ve ALWAYS been a fan of Star Wars, as I was born in May ’77, I never knew a world without it and by the time I was 4 or 5 I’d seen them, A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. Then in 1983, my dad took me to the cinema to see Return of the Jedi. So I grew up surrounded by Star Wars and the toys as well! Many of which I still have to this day.”
The 2017 Star Wars documentary you made ‘The Galaxy that Britain built: The British Force behind Star Wars’ was one of the best things I watched over that Christmas so I was very excited to hear you’ve made an extended version for Star Wars night on December 16 on BBC Four. Without giving away too many spoilers what can you tell us about the programme?
“That’s very kind, thank you. It’s been a part of my life for almost 4 years now. I hit upon the idea in February 2016 and made the original 60 minute film, with my colleague and friend, Matt Wildash. It did really well, fans and critics loved it. Mark Hamill even tweeted about it a few times!
“I just felt there was more to tell. We had a whole load of footage we hadn’t used from the original and I also wanted to get some fresh interviews in there. So I managed to interview Ann Skinner, who was Continuity on Star Wars. Ann donated her scripts, with her notes and the continuity polaroids to the BFI archive. We were given permission to film them, so there are some real gems to be seen. Plus Ann told me how she helped Sir Alec Guinness with a very famous Star Wars speech!
“We also explore how the London Symphony Orchestra scored the soundtrack, under Composer John Williams. I interviewed two of the Principals who played on the original soundtrack. The film is now feature length, running at 90 minutes. It feels like a whole new film, as we were able to play around with things much more. So we hope you enjoy it.”
I understand the show had a special screening by the Royal Television Society in Norwich last month which you hosted. What was that like watching what you’d made in front of an audience?
“A bit strange. We are crazy busy with the edits at the moment so I went along to the screening without much thought as to how things were going to play out. But it was great, the auditorium was packed and hearing people’s reactions to certain moments, that we always liked, was incredible. A very humbling experience.”
There’s also a new documentary you’ve made that will be shown as part of BBC Four’s Star Wars night called Toy Empire: The British Force Behind Star Wars Toys, focusing on Palitoy the company that made the hugely popular and collectable range of Star Wars figures, vehicles and play-sets. What can we expect from ‘Toy Empire’ and did you get to find any elusive toys?!
“The story mainly focuses on the talented people who worked at Palitoy. It’s wonderful, they tell the story brilliantly and all played their part, from the Managing Director, to the designers, toolmakers to the assembly line. They redesigned the Death Star out of cardboard, to save money. That is now a highly sought after toy, by Palitoy collectors. We film at a vintage toy auction, where one goes for quite a lot of money indeed. It’s a fun film, that accompanies The Galaxy Britain Built.. And look out for me as a 3 and 3 quarter inch plastic figure!”
Finally, as a Star Wars superfan how much are you looking forward to the latest film ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ out this Christmas that rounds off the sequel trilogy?
“Oh wow. I’ve been so buried in these projects that I don’t really think I’ve had the time to appreciate that the saga is coming to an end. Our documentaries air on December 16, the same week as Rise of Skywalker. Matt and I are going to the midnight screening of Star Wars and it will signify the end of our work on the docs, but also, as MASSIVE fans, it will be emotional to say farewell to the saga. There will be tears I’m sure. Then I’m taking my kids to see it the following morning!”
Watch ‘Toy Empire: The British Force Behind Star Wars Toys’ on Monday December 16 on BBC FOUR and ‘The Galaxy Britain Built: The British Force Behind Star Wars’ at 9.30pm (Available on the iPlayer afterwards).
Photo: David Whiteley. Storm Trooper image: Chris Brudenell