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Interviews -
Face To Face With The Masters

Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions.

Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+

John Morton

Name: John Morton

Aliases: Dak (Lukes Gunner in Empire Strikes Back)

Species: Human

Homeworld: Maryland

Weapon of Choice: the Pen

Vehicle of Choice: Snowspeeder

Political Affiliation: Rebel

John portrays Dak in ESB

Our interview with John 'Dak' Morton proved that Murphy's Law is alive and well. On February 14, 1997, Darin Smith and I conducted a phone interview with John and his friend Roger Rafler. We used a little device from Radio Shack to record the conversation so we could transcribe it later. Well, not only did we have a bad phone connection, the device picked up the local Tejano Music Station. So over most of the conversation, we picked up catchy little tunes you might hear at your local Mexican Food Restaurant. But the Force was with us and we were able to filter out John's voice, so most of the interview is intact. MTFBWY!

As readers of the Star Wars Insider know, issue #32 had an article by Jon Bradley Snyder that featured all the Rebel Pilot actors and what they were doing now. Snyder was unable to find John Morton, so he put out a request for information on where he was now. That's what led John Morton to us.

"A friend of mine's son, a young guy named Clark Le Compte, here in Baltimore, had gone to see Star Wars two weeks ago in the Senator theater. And somebody he had gone to see it with had read in a magazine that they were trying to track down the people who were in the films. One of them was a character named Dak. So this young man, about 14, he said, "Well I know where Dak is! He's in Annapolis." So word got back to me through his mother that they were trying to look for Dak. Well, I thought, "That's interesting. Get me the magazine and let me find out who I need to talk to." Needless to say, that didn't show up right away, but last Sunday a friend of mine at church came up and asked if I were in Star Wars. I said that I was. He said, "Oh, gee, I'll have to read about you in my son's magazine!" So lo and behold about six hours later around dinner time he calls me up with great enthusiasm and says, "I can't believe this! You're all in this Star Wars Insider article and they're trying to find you! Here's the number , and here's this guy Jon Bradley Snyder and you gotta call him and tell him where you are!" So I went back to Clark and said, "Do you want to be the guy to find Dak? Why don't you give him a call." And then along with that I sort of passed this on to Roger and said, "Hey Roger, I think there's something interesting here. Check this out on the Web Page." So thats when Roger started surfing around and finding you guys."

Roger continued the story.

"I did a search on Star Wars and came up with over a thousand sites. And then I picked yours because I kind of feel that college students are pretty much in the know, cause, in my experience, they've got the time and perseverance, certainly the dedication to keep something like this going."

Luckily, we had Snyder's e-mail address and put him in touch with John.

We first asked John how he got the part in The Empire Strikes Back

. He told us how he was an actor based in London from December 1971 to November 1980. It all started when they needed an American voice for a play, so he transferred to London's West End. In the summer of 1976 he was cast as a chaplain in A Bridge Too Far, then later as an astronaut in Superman 2, as well as various other roles. Eventually he was cast in The Empire Strikes Back. He was 32 at the time.

We then asked him about what it was like filming The Empire Strikes Back.

"I think first of all very definitely that film had a different morale than any of the other pictures that I worked on. I think thats a tribute to Lucas and Gary Kurtz. They were very sensitive men, very ethical."

"One tends to think of film making or anything else in life as small and beautiful, that large somehow creates bureaucratic problems."

"Empire Strikes Back was a big budget production." [as compared to Star Wars]

"There was no grumbling at the bottom. They created an atmosphere that was very collegial. A very upbeat atmosphere. I give credit to Kurtz and Lucas."

"It was a family atmosphere--we weren't pigeon holed. We had a lot of access. I found myself sitting next to Lucas a lot."

We then asked John about what filming the scenes was like.

"The interesting thing for example, Treat Williams, the actor, who had already established a reputation for himself as somewhat a rising star at that time, he was in London for some reason and I think he was friends with Harrison Ford..."

Treat Williams played Xander Drax in The Phantom (1996) and will be in The Devils Own with Harrison Ford in 1997. He was also in Mulholland Falls and 1941.

" Well, Treat Williams decided he was going to come and hang out on the set, which he did, and he appeared in those ice planet scenes as one of the lieutenants or officers in the Rebel Forces. And I'm sure that there is no credit for him at all and he didn't have a character or anything, but he just said, "Hey, this looks like a lotta fun and I'd kinda like to be a part of it, mind if I take a role of an extra?" Everybody said, "Yeah!" So here you have this Hollywood star who just decided, for probably no salary, just to hang out for a few scenes and was quite happy with the role of an extra in Empire Strikes Back. And that was kinda the way it was."

"In my case, what I did once when an actor by the name of Jeremy Bulloch had to go off and do a couple days shooting on another assignment, he asked me, because we were about the same size, to fill in for him while he played Boba Fett. So theres a scene in Star Wars where Boba Fett is with Billy Dee Williams' character and Darth Vader after Han Solo's been arrested, or imprisoned, where they're talking about Jabba the Hutt walking around the corridor into an elevator where Darth Vader disappears and Boba Fett is left with Billy Dee Williams. Well, that's me. I filled in for Jeremy for those two days of shooting and you know, that was kind of what we did. We covered for each other. That sorta stuff happened. And that's very unusual."

We asked John what it was like having charges blow up in his face.

"I had gotten used to that from working on A Bridge Too Far. I don't really remember that there was any kind of anxiety level on that film. There was when I was on Superman 2. What happens with a lot of those charges is they pack the material that flies around with a cork that sorta looks like those dark brown cork boards that you hang on your wall in your college dorm. At least when I was in college there was a lot of that around. Cork panels. Those kind of things or styrofoam that is spray painted gray which looks like its solid wall or whatever. And when it explodes it kind of blows apart. You know, thats the kind of stuff that hits you. If there's anything else, they pack it with Fuller's earth which is an inert, grayish, powdery stuff. You know, if you get it in your eyes or something its harmless. It's not granular, it's very powdery. So you know, there isn't any danger to speak of from that kind of thing. Things do happen, but I never felt any discomfort."

Darin and I then asked what sort of direction he was given for the battle scenes.

"The direction, oddly enough, in those scenes, was either from Irvin Kershner, who was the director, but also Gary Kurtz who did a lot of work with the second unit. Some of the shots that were just procedural things that didn't require any acting or whatever, technical sort of matters. Kurtz would frequently step in and be doing direction. Lucas was frequently there, you know, looking over their shoulders kind of observing. The technical aspect of those scenes, and I can't speak for the others, was very complicated, in so far as they originally planned on two or three days of shooting. In fact, it took four weeks to get it all done. You know, technically there were problems. "

"One of the things that a lot of people don't realize, and you guys probably do, is that we never saw anything happening around us. They were moving the equipment around with a fork lift truck. It was all shot onto a blue matte. So all of what was happening outside the cockpit was imagination. We got eyelines , like 'Look over there to the right' or 'Up a little bit, there you go'. And so there was no sound. They would record wha'ts called 'wild sound' so they at least hear what were saying, or ad libbing, or saying our lines, or what have you, but then the actual dialogue was dubbed over or looped, as it was called, later on, because the noise of the directors saying where they wanted us to look, whether up or down, and the noise of the forklift truck that moves this thing back and forth on pulleys to make it move. But what we were looking at was this blue screen, beautifully lit, and they really had to take care of it so that it wouldn't have shadows or hot spots or what have you, and it was that blue matte, that when they put the two prints together with the stuff that was done in the lab, was combined with the opticals done in the lab in LA. So you didn't really see what all was happening around you."

John also told us that his voice was dubbed over later due to the forklifts and noise from off stage.

We then asked John the question burning within everyone's mind. What was it like to be stomped by an AT-AT?

"It was crushing! Like I say, I got brain damage and my thumbs don't work. (laughter)" To which Darin commented, "Luke's a chump for not pulling you out of the speeder." (More laughter) John noted that it was an extra who played the unconcious Dak in the crash scene (which he believes was shot on-location in Norway for about 4 hours), then a model that did the actual stomping.

We asked John about any other interesting things from filming.

"I'll tell you one thing that was quite interesting. You know, there was some hardship there. All the snow that was used was stuff called dendritic salt. I'm not sure what it was used for, whether animal feed or what. But that's what the snow was all over the place. There were bags with ICI all over. Imperial Chemicals. It's a big chemical manufacturer. That stuff reappeared again in The Shining. There was one scene where Stanley Kubrik bought all that dendritic salt and used it to spread over a runway on an airport just outside the old studio to create the highway sequence where Scatman Caruthers drives up on these Colorado patrolmen and tries to figure out how to get around this jack knifed trailer. Well, the dendritic salt, when it was inside in the ice planet, which was in the studio, the heat from off the lamps, or what have you, promptly vaporized a lot of the stuff and everybody was running around with a lot of headaches. You know, I don't know, it probably had a very bad effect on us all, but again, nobody seemed to complain. You know, everybody had headaches."

He also mentioned the large scale Taun Taun puppets on the hanger set.

"For example, the furry lizard like things that had tusks on their heads, those were large puppets. And they were huge. They were like 10 feet high. But they moved, they were sort of on a track. And they put snow and all that on top of it. And behind the platform was a series of large levers. They were about four feet long each. They were like marionettes. Technicians would get this large puppet creature moving from behind the shot."

"The British technicians were very, very good at their job. "

He also mentioned some of the discussion behind the scenes between Lucas and Kurtz.

"Mark had said to me that there was a lot of agonizing going on between Gary Kurtz and Lucas over the amount of violence that was in the film. And I think, as I remember correctly, what Hamill was saying was that there was a lot of Quaker influence. Now I don't know whether Lucas was a Quaker or whether it was Gary Kurtz , but there was a spiritual basis for this film and they were concerned that the non-violence message that they were trying to get across was going to be compromised by a lot of the shoot 'em ups that were going on. The reason why I mention this was I think these guys were really very unusual in what they were trying to do with their motion picture making. I think they really had a vision of the world which was pure. They wanted to present some kind of legend looking ahead into the future. It really was some reflection of good vs. evil, not seeing it very simply as good being interior and evil being exterior. We all as human beings are wrestling with it inside ourselves. Like the relationship between Skywalker and Vader. The thing that I really did feel was that there was, going back to what I said earlier, the way in which they handled people in that production, they looked after their people very, very well. To me that's the essence of great leadership and creative ability. I give them full credit. Definitely they were talking about a spiritual dimension and trying to come up with a non-violent message."

Darin and I asked him about the other actors on the set.

"Hamill and I became pretty close."

"He was a very approachable, every day kinda guy. He had absolutely no sense of celebrity. He would sit there and give anecdotes about his appearances on talk shows and that kind of thing. "

"...Peter Mayhew, I don't remember him so well. He was a very, very tall fellow...I used to have lunch with David Prowse a lot. He and Hamill and I would go to lunch together."

John also mentioned that he knew Anthony Daniels who played C-3PO.

"I knew him quite well because the fellow who was his acting professor at drama school was a great friend of mine, an Australian fellow named David Miles. Tony Daniels did very well after that."

We then asked him what George Lucas was like.

"Lucas was very friendly. He was there on the set. You know, you could get down and talk to him about anything. You realized he was a brilliant guy, very approachable. I found that he was a very genuine open person. Very friendly, obviously very talented. And very committed to making sure that his work was done to high standards but without making difficulties for the actors and technicians. He's a good manager of people."

We asked John if he knew John Ratzenberger (Cliff from Cheers, the Deck officer from ESB).

"John Ratzenberger and I were very good friends. Ratzenberger and I met on A Bridge Too Far. He played one of the officers in the scenes that I was involved with. John and I also worked on Superman 2 and I knew him very, very well. In fact, he and I both came back to the states about the same time in 1980. And John, as I remember on Star Wars, I mean, I used to see him socially and we used to kick around. In the London theaters, he was a very accomplished comedian in the theater. He and a partner had a company called Sal's Meat Market that kind of did improv comedy. Very unusual. He had a stage reputation. I think A Bridge Too Far was his first movie. John was kicking around with another guy named Jack McKenzie. John and Jack were together as a kind of Tweedle Dum Tweedle Dee of officers. We were there almost every day together. Yeah, I saw him a lot then, but also in other movies."

"One of my great friends from that period was a guy named Eugene Lipinski, a Canadian actor. In fact, I talked to him last week. He's made 35 films now. He's quite well known in Canada. A nifty guy and I couldnt remember what role he played, but he was one of the Rebel pilots. As I recall, that might have been one of his first films. I had not met him before. And then there was this other fellow who was a good friend of John Ratzenberger's named Jack McKenzie (the Deck Lieutenant). A nice guy. He and I met on A Bridge Too Far. He used to be a Scottish Policeman before he got into showbusiness. Hes a very good stand-up comedian. "

John also mentioned that he knew Denis Lawson. He also told us about some of the other Rebel pilot actors.

"There was another Canadian chap, Chris Malcom (Zev Rogue 2), who I think I heard had a very serious motorcycle accident . He was one of the Rebel pilots. I know he's around in London. A tall Canadian fellow. He had been a part of the scene for years. And then there was one guy who Eugene remembered , and I had forgotten him completely, he was Lee Marvin's nephew, he was in at that time, but I can't remember his name. I do remember he played a role in Kennedy's Children, the play that Robert Patrick did in 75. It did very well in London in the West End and I think it came over here."

We asked John Morton if they allowed him to see the entire script, or only the parts for the scenes he played.

"Do you know I don't remember. I think I did see the whole script because I remember it was Larry Kasdan who did it if I'm not mistaken. Yeah, I think I had the whole script. To tell you the truth I think I still have it in storage in London."

Was the press a problem in London?

"I don't remember any press being around. It's a little different in England than it is in Hollywood. One of the things that I think made it possible for us to be very collegial was that once you went through those gates to Elstree or Pinewood or Shepard or any of those sets that I worked on, the public just wasn't around. I don't remember the press being there at all. And I would say that probably has a lot to do with the shrewdness with which George brought to do a little P.T. Barnham here. "

Darin and I asked Dak if he'd seen the Special Editions yet.

"No, I haven't. I did see the trailers and I thought they were very effective. "

We then asked if he had any kids and if they had seen the Star Wars hype yet and what they thought about it. He said he did have two kids.

"Soon to be nine and soon to be six. I got started late on having a family and I love them dearly."

"They're just beginning to digest it and I think its gonna hit them very squarely in the face on Friday when Empire Strikes Back opens. Its Emily's birthday, the younger one, on the 22nd, so as a birthday treat I'm taking her to the Senator to see it. I think when they see that they'll understand. Initially my thought was, 'Well, this is probably the only time they'll see Daddy on the big screen and not just in a television set, so lets make it big.'"

I asked if he remembered seeing The Empire Strikes Back for the first time.

"I saw it at one of the Lester Square theaters. I can't remember which one it was. Lester Square is kind of like Times Square or Picadilly in London and we had sort of a royal gala performance. It's a big film thing where they get one of the royals out. We were all invited to attend. It was just amazing. I sort of knew what to expect because I saw Star Wars on the Upper East side in New York, about two years before, and I think, to me, it hit me more than Empire Strikes Back only because that was the first time in theaters like it, and I think when the music hit and you saw the Star Wars logo going off into space coming over your head, so to speak, right away you were into something one step beyond . But, yes, definitely, theres nothing like seeing the film on the big screen. That's going to be a great treat for them. They'll remember that."

We mentioned to John the Men Behind the Masks Tour that some of the Star Wars actors were doing. We asked him, if they started a Rebel Pilots Tour with the old actors, would he be interested in doing it.

"Now I had heard they were going to try and do that. I'd love to do that. I mean, yeah, I was one of these guys that always felt that, I guess it goes back to my navy upbringing, you know, when you had a ship, the shipmates all got back together from the loyalties that you form and I hoped we had that sort of thing when we were filming. Certainly on this film there was the one . Yeah I'd be very interested."

Darin asked him if he has anybody recognize him in public.

"Not now. I guess I will in about three or four weeks. And I say that quite sincerely. I remember in about 1982 going down to Annapolis, I was still living in New York at that time, and I guess Empire Strikes Back had been released in 81 or 82. I can remember going into a party that was adults and kids that were 8, 9, 10, 11, or so. Suddenly I had these two women in their 40s coming up and saying, "Are you famous?" And I said, "No." They said, "Gosh, the kids are just bouncing off the walls saying theres a movie star in here and its you." Well, I said, "I've been in the movies." They said, "Oh, my goodness!" So it turns out that those kids, because they has seen Empire Strikes Back so many times and they knew every frame of it, they recognized me. So they all came up and asked for my autograph and that kind of stuff. That kind of stuff does happen, but its usually because somebody has seen the film so many times they recognize me. They're fans."

"I've lost a little bit of hair, but I can still pass for myself! I don't think Lucas would hire me to do a prequel, though! I don't think I could cut it as a seventeen year old. "

Darin also asked if anybody ever asks him to repeat his lines from the film.

"Yeah, they do, actually. They ask, "What was your line?" I just sorta say, "Well my line was 'Right now I feel I can take on the Empire all by myself!'" How can I forget it? It was a mouth full then and it still is! And then there were all the ad libs that went around. We had a lot of ad libs when the action sequences were done."

We then asked John Morton what he is up to these days.

"I'm a journalist and a playwright on the side."

He told us that his career peaked when he had a screenplay optioned for a film in Hollywood, but that fell through.

" I was sort of left high and dry in Hollywood. Right at the back of that there was a writers and directors strike that year. So I ran out of dollars and made the decision to leave LA."

"So I started off in New York and started writing plays."

He did a few plays there in New York, but then moved on.

"I did do One Life to Live, the soap opera. So I came down to Washington DC where I had been in college. So I became a journalist covering congressional (sessions)."

"The play I was doing in New York got an award. But that didn't go too far. I've pretty much consigned the playwright side to advocation. I'm a member of a playwrights group. I've been a reader for the Kennedy Center for the Playwrights Foundation. And writing bits and pieces. I'm working with a Baltimore filmmaker named Gus Russo who works for Frontline and were doing a treatment on Robert Kennedy which is circulating right now in Hollywood and New York. So, you know, if that comes to pass I'll get back into it full time. For the most part now I've got kids, so now I've gotta work seriously."

"I work as a journalist in Washington right now. (The Publisher I work for does) a lot of newsletters for various government departments."

"My major was international affairs, so I had a good poly sci background. So I do a lot of creative writing on the side that brings in those high level issues from the work I do in Washington."

"So if I threw myself back into the mindset of somebody in their twenties still in college, I would say I'd like to do what Tom Clancy is doing. I still am bitten by the bug."

We asked how he knew Roger Rafler, the guy who got us all together.

"Roger and I were college students together at George Washington. We go back a long way and we rowed on the George Washington crew in 1969. Whenever I have an engineering question or anything to do with the internet, I know exactly where to go and that's Roger."

Roger mentioned that he was between jobs right now, but that he has been a storm chaser. But he chases hurricanes, not tornadoes like in Twister. John mentioned that both he and Roger were in the south in 1969 when hurricane Camille hit. Roger mentioned that he experienced winds as high as 120 mph in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Roger noted that 85% of the town suffered major damage and that all bridges heading westward towards Biloxi and Gulfport were destroyed. John was in New Orleans at that time.

John also mentioned to us that he had recently become interested in country music in Washington. (Too bad not Tejano! :) )

Well, by this time we'd been talking for over an hour and we had unknowingly run out of tape. John asked what we do, so we told him how we're both engineering grad students (Scott in Civil, Darin in Aerospace). John and Darin talked a little about Aerospace politics, and then John concluded the interview with a story about a member of the government who heard about his experience in the movie industry. This was during the time of the Contra Affairs and the SDI or "Star Wars" program. The guy asked John to help with a promotional film. He asked about John's film making background. John mentioned that he was a playwright and that he had been in one of the Star Wars films. At that, the guy's eyes lit up and said, "Well, we've got to get you! Youre an expert on the subject!" That worried John. If he was an expert on SDI since he was in a Star Wars movie, he wondered about the mindset of our government in action!

That concluded our interview with John Dak Morton. It was a fun discussion and really interesting. We hope to meet John on the near future and wish him all the luck with his play writing. Or, more appropriately, May the Force Be With You! (And watch out for At-At feet!)

UPDATE!!! We have since learned that there are efforts underway to have a reunion of Rebel pilots, and possibly a tour. Keep your eyes and ears open. Also, Jon Bradley Snyder will have an interview with John Morton in the June issue of The Star Wars Insider.

We also received this from Roger on 2/20/97:

"BTW, the local TV stations in the area are going to interview John tomorrow. Fox will do it; so will the local network affiliates. This resulted from an article appearing in the Annapolis (MD) Evening Capital (Annapolis is the capital of Maryland). This article, in turn, resulted from the publicity of the interview you guys did with John (and me) this past Friday and which will appear on your homepage sometime tomorrow. I gave the address of your homepage, and it might have been printed in the Evening Capital (but I'm not sure of this)."

"John also spoke to Jon Bradley Snyder, and the "Star Wars Insider" will be publishing =their= upcoming interview with John in the June issue. Also, there =is= going to be a reunion of the rebel pilots (I had earlier thought that it had already taken place)."

Here's the Article Roger mentioned above (Courtesy of Allan on RASSM)

Tuesday, February 18, 1997

Empire actor back -- briefly

HILLSMERE, Md. (AP) -- John Morton just wants his kids to see daddy doing his part for the rebellion in The Empire Strikes Back. They'd better not blink.

Morton's character, Dak, exclaims, "Right now I feel I could take on the whole Empire myself," as he and Luke Skywalker jump into their attack craft to battle the huge Imperial Walkers on the ice planet Hoth.

Dak is killed, and the craft is shot down. Skywalker is unable to pull Dak's body from the wreckage before one of the Walkers crushes the craft.

Morton summarizes his role this way: "I get stepped on."

Seventeen years after its release, the movie is back as part of the 20th anniversary of the Star Wars trilogy. It will be brand new to Morton's daughters, eight-year-old Margaret and six-year-old Emily.

"This is probably the only time they'll ever see their daddy on the big screen," said Morton, 49, now a freelance writer.

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