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From Dundee stage to Star Wars: Wedge, the Emperor and our links to a galaxy far, far away…

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Dashing rebel pilot Wedge Antilles and the evil Emperor Palpatine were intergalactic enemies in the Star Wars movies.

Crieff actor Denis Lawson famously played the X-Wing pilot while Carnoustie-raised actor Ian McDiarmid played the most despicable man in the entire galaxy.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, however… or to be more precise, Dundee, they were best buddies after striking up a friendship while up-and-coming actors.

Lawson and McDiarmid appeared at the Little Theatre before sharing a flat in Glasgow as they attended the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD).

Lawson said: “Dundee has responsibility for kickstarting my acting career.

“I got involved in the Dundee Dramatic Society and at the same time had a job selling carpets in the Cowgate – not that I did a very good job of it!

From Dundee Dramatic Society to the big screen - Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles.
From Dundee Dramatic Society to the big screen – Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles.

“I met Ian when I was 17.

“We did five or six productions together (with the Dundee Dramatic Society).

“That was where we started.

“We both auditioned for Glasgow drama school the same day.

“We both got accepted, we went through drama school together and shared a flat – when I meet him now it’s kind of surreal, the journey we’ve been on.”

Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. 1999.
Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. 1999.

McDiarmid joined DDS while studying for a degree in social sciences at St Andrews University.

He first appeared as Darth Vader’s master in Return of the Jedi in 1983, overseeing the last stages of the second Death Star’s construction.

He returned for the Star Wars prequels and sequels.

In 2019 a campaign was launched to bring the Dark Side to Carnoustie and erect a Star Wars statue in the town to honour the town’s famous son.

Star Wars became a family affair for Ewan McGregor.
Star Wars became a family affair for Ewan McGregor.

Meanwhile, Lawson is, of course, the uncle of Crieff actor Ewan McGregor, who played a youthful Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

“I was six when I saw the first Star Wars, and I was blown away by seeing the film the first time when I was that age; it’s a great age to see it at,” McGregor said.

“Alec Guinness has become a legend for playing that part, and he’s really only in half of the movie, so then becoming him, that was the challenge.

“One of the most interesting things about playing Obi-Wan was to try and track it back from a guy we know as an older man and work backward, see what he might be like as a younger man, without doing an impersonation of him.”

Princess Leia danced in Dundee

There are numerous connections between Courier Country and Star Wars including the time Carrie Fisher danced on a deserted railway platform in Dundee.

The Princess Leia actress, who died in December 2016, aged 60, danced the jig after stopping on a luxury train journey through the Scottish Highlands in 2015.

Fisher, accompanied by her French bulldog Gary, had been unimpressed by a visit to Glamis Castle because of the dim lighting within the building.

But that did not stop her splashing out £500 on a cashmere dog coat from the castle’s gift shop before both Carrie and Gary took part in some Scottish country dancing.

At midnight, an accordion orchestra led the 28 passengers on the £1,500-a-day trip on to the deserted platform at Dundee where they danced The Dashing White Sergeant.

Was the Star Wars producer in Kirkton?

There are other links between Courier Country and Star Wars.

In 1999 news broke that Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz was planning to shoot scenes from his new film in the unlikely setting of the Kirkton housing estate.

A company called Westworld International claimed that Kurtz was making a feature based on the autobiography of former drug addict Stephen Smith.

It turned out to be a hoax rather than a fresh chapter in the Star Wars story!

Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz was rumoured to be working on a new film in Dundee. Allstar/LUCASFILM. 1977.

Newport film-maker Gary Gowans commemorated ‘May the Fourth’ in 2017 by recasting Dundee’s under-construction V&A Museum as the Death Star.

The graphic design lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College created a short clip that saw the Millennium Falcon shoot from the roof of the V&A.

The spacecraft was swiftly chased by Imperial TIE fighters, as R2-D2 looked on, and the video racked up more than 200,000 views in less than 48 hours.

Speaking on what it is that has kept Star Wars so popular all these years later, Mr Gowans said: “I think the original trilogy endures because we still believe in these characters.

“We love to be carried on their journey each time we meet with them.

“Those early incarnations are mythic and mystical, full of love, camaraderie, self-sacrifice and adventure.

“40 years on, there’s a lot of nostalgia there, too.”

Star Wars comic art by Cam Kennedy was recently shown in an exhibition at the university.
Star Wars comic art by Cam Kennedy was recently shown in an exhibition at the university.

At the beginning of this year, artwork by Star Wars comic artist Cam Kennedy featured in an exhibition from Dundee University.

A full-page Star Wars comic strip was the collection’s star feature.

Mr Kennedy first worked on DC Thomson’s comic Commando in the ’60s and ’70s.

From his success in Dundee he went on to become the illustrator of the Star Wars: Dark Empire, Star Wars: Dark Empire II, and most of the Star Wars: Boba Fett comics series.

Mr Kennedy still teaches art masterclasses today.
Mr Kennedy still teaches art masterclasses today.

Mr Kennedy said that Star Wars was a world first when it was released in 1977.

He said: “Star Wars was very unique, the first time it started. Something like that had never been done before.

“People were really shocked when the huge Star Destroyer came flying over your head with no zipper on it, not shaking, no wires.

“They looked at it and said: ‘It’s real!’

“The special effects reached a quality that hadn’t been seen before – maybe with the exception of 2001… from Stanley Kubrick!”

A camp for cast and crew of Obi-Wan Kenobi was set up in Glen Tilt. 2021.

The story has now come full circle.

That’s because Perthshire locals were sworn to secrecy when cast and crew from the newest Star Wars series, Obi-Wan Kenobi, arrived for filming.

Production activity took place in May 2021 north of Blair Atholl at a hard-to-reach part of Glen Tilt, already known to fighter pilots as Star Wars Alley.

A camp for cast and crew was set up in a section of the glen while a number of film sets were built at various points along the River Tilt.

Filming lasted for about a month.

Filming concluded in June of last year.
Filming concluded in June of last year.

The new Disney+ series will now be released at the end of this month.

So 45 years after the first Star Wars film was released, it’s true that at least a small part of its success can be credited to this part of the world!

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