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+
Name: John Morton
Aliases: Dak (Lukes Gunner in Empire Strikes Back)
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
We first asked John how he got the part in The Empire Strikes
. 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
We then asked him about what it was like filming The Empire
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.