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Star Wars' Anthony Daniels fell asleep the first time he saw Rise of Skywalker

The man in the golden suits shares stories from The Rise of Skywalker's production and dives into his new book, I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story.

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Anthony Daniels, a giant Lego C-3PO and me.
Christine Savage

Perhaps it was the will of the Force. In the wake of seeing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in December, I decided to dive into actor Anthony Daniels' I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story.

The memoir, written in a warm, idiosyncratic style that's unmistakably Daniels', gave me a newfound appreciation and affection for the man who played the lovably exhausting golden droid. And when I spotted him in a London train station on a crisp Sunday morning a few weeks later, I brushed aside my sleepy haze from just arriving on an overnight flight.

anthony-daniels-book

Daniels' book guides you through his years playing the beloved Star Wars protocol droid.

Penguin Random House

"Are you … Anthony Daniels?" I asked the slight, silver-haired man standing next to me at a coffee dock.

"Some people say I am," he responded in a tone my tired brain read as slightly wary.

Managing to play it cool, I told the 74-year-old that I'd thoroughly enjoyed his book. We chatted briefly and exchanged email addresses before he went off on a hike with wife Christine Savage.

I'm a major Star Wars fan, and the delightful, unexpected encounter was enough to leave me buzzed. But a few weeks later, I realized that journalistic duty demanded I ask him to sit down for an interview, which he agreed to, at his London home.

So on a rainy afternoon in early March, shortly before the city locked down, the couple greeted me warmly in their marble hallway. Daniels offered me tea -- yes, there is something quite surreal about the man behind C-3PO serving a beverage. He prefers a strong cup of the English Breakfast variety, with some milk. He also presented me with a plate of Marks & Spencers All Butter Stem Ginger Cookies, his favorites, as we sat down.

In their well-lit, tastefully decorated home, Daniels and I chatted about working on The Rise of Skywalker (which hits Disney Plus on Monday), revisiting his 43-year career to write his book, his favorite jobs and whether or not Threepio could ever exist.

The Rise of Skywalker

Christine Savage and Daniels attend The Rise of Skywalker's London premiere last December -- after which Daniels told director J.J. Abrams he'd slept through most of his initial viewing.

Dave Benett/WireImage via Getty

"I will tell you a secret," the actor says with sheepish mirth, before recounting the first time he saw the final movie in the Skywalker Saga last December.

Exhausted after months of traveling for his book-signing tour and promoting the film, he caught a "minor bug" and was hit with a bout of laryngitis while in Los Angeles. A car whisked him and Savage to director J.J. Abrams' screening room, where they joined Daniels' cast mates in a few glasses of "medicinal" wine and watched the first 20 minutes of the movie.

"And [I] fell deeply, deeply asleep," he said. "J.J.'s viewing theater is gorgeously comfortable, it's just wonderful. Too comfortable -- I was exhausted. Christine woke me up just before the end."

Daniels felt crushingly guilty as he dozed in the car ride back across LA, but he thought his 40 winks had gone largely unnoticed.

"It was only after the premiere in London -- when I avidly watched [the film] all the way through -- that I admitted to J.J. that I'd fallen asleep at his screening," he said. " 'I know,' he told me, with a laugh."

I told him how my girlfriend was basically in tears over C-3PO's newly iconic line -- "Taking one last look, sir, at my friends" -- as he prepares to sacrifice himself with a factory reset at the hands of droidsmith Babu Frik (a character Daniels "adores").

"You can tell her I was too," he responded with a warm smile. "I found it very moving on the set and to actually watch it."

He credits Abrams and his screenwriting partner Chris Terrio for the line itself, and editors Maryann Brandon and Stefan Grube for adding emotional weight by cutting to Daisy Ridley's and John Boyega's reactions. "I just said the script -- but I said it nicely!" CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo also broached this topic when she spoke to Daniels a few weeks ago.

C-3PO and Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Daniels loved how dismissive Poe Dameron was of Threepio.

Lucasfilm

But other small moments of friendship were cut from the finished film.

"Particularly with Poe, [who was] just deliciously played by Oscar Isaac. He was so dismissive of Threepio," Daniels said. "And I would just laugh every time in rehearsal because Oscar would say it just so -- not cruelly or rudely -- you just got his frustration with his comrade."

I suggested that it'd be amazing to actually hear all the lines cut from the movie and -- in one of the interview's wilder moments -- Daniels pulled out his iPhone, on which he'd recorded some dialogue for the film. It was a glimpse of the moviemaking process in our hyperconnected world.

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BB-8: Faster than Threepio.

Lucasfilm

From the iPhone Threepio's voice yells, "Slow down, I am not as fast as a ball," presumably remarking on a moment when he failed to keep pace with fellow droid BB-8.

I also heard a few iterations of expository lines that didn't make it.

"This message has been sent as a warning to the Resistance. Palpatine … Palpatine lives, and is now in league with Kylo Ren," Threepio said, his prim and proper voice tinged with suitable graveness. "Palpatine and Kylo Ren are now poised to deploy the legendary Sith armada."

Considering how directing duties for the movie shifted after Colin Trevorrow stepped down and Abrams took back the reins, I asked if he found the experience any more fragmented than in previous movies.

"No … but the changes were fairly constant and you get used to inconsistency," he said of the script  "As I say in the book, I actually stopped really cramming the words in because I knew they were going to change on the day."

Of course, the decision to resurrect big bad Emperor Palpatine led the movie to some throwback locations. One such place was the villain's ruined throne room, last seen in Return of the Jedi.

"We did walk on the set of the Death Star, which was, even without the stage lighting, a really scary set," he said. "It was so cleverly done, that throne on one side. The sets … magic."

Carrie Fisher in The Rise of Skywalker

The late Carrie Fisher appeared in The Rise of Skywalker through archival footage.

Lucasfilm

The same could be said of how the movie used the late actor Carrie Fisher, who died in 2016. Abrams and his team managed to bring her into The Rise of Skywalker using repurposed extra footage from The Force Awakens, and I asked what it was like for Daniels to see his castmate brought back to life.

"It was OK, it's part of the suspension of disbelief," he said fondly. "My memories of her are strong enough. The use of the character wasn't quite as much as I hoped, but she was there and she was acknowledged as having passed away in the story. I do remember the day on the set was quite moving, with all the extras and other artists being rather quiet. I think she would have laughed."

Anthony Daniels and C-3PO

A dapper Daniels poses with a cutout of his golden alter-ego in London in 1980.

Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The book and the saga

Daniels' writing style in the book is a little like the Star Wars movies. He begins with A New Hope, the 1977 movie that got it all started, before jumping around the timeline of his career.

"I realized that the films, including The Rise of Skywalker, did make a kind of clothesline, and acted like markers on it," he said. "I could then weave things around it, trying not to make the jumps too difficult. And I wanted it to be more or less the way I speak, which is in partial sentences like most people."

He admitted that he occasionally found the writing experience "quite lonely."

"Because nobody else was contributing," he said. "But then I realized that I was remembering quite human-filled moments, experiences, whatever. So maybe I delved into the companionship of those moments."

It took him more than a year to write the book, but it was during a period when he had a lot of time to focus. "I was lucky in many ways that I had train travel, a lot of aeroplane travel. Being on a film set, we have a lot of time on our hands," he said. "And I was kind of disciplined -- some days were better than others."

He showed me a mockup of the now-published Japanese version and said he was excited to read his book in French, a language he knows. That version is coming in October, with Spanish and Korean editions to follow. The Ewokese version might take a little longer, he noted with a smile. "First the Ewoks have to learn to read," he said. "They may use my book for lighting fires or for standing on, to give themselves some extra height -- it's a very useful book.

Ewoks

The Ewokese version of Daniels' book might be a while off yet.

Lucasfilm

Given their reaction to Threepio in Return of the Jedi, where the Ewoks revere the golden droid as a golden god, I suggested there's no way they'd besmirch the holy tome in such a manner.

"Ah yes, and indeed they would fall down and worship," he responded, his smile growing. "Yes, you're absolutely right."

Rather less warmly, he also recalled a moment when Star Wars-owner Disney tried to make a change and he had to put his foot down. The company didn't like that the word "turd" was used in relation to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, but Daniels insisted on keeping it.

George Lucas and C-3PO

George Lucas directs a gold suited-Daniels on the set of the original Star Wars in 1976.

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Since we were talking about the Original Trilogy, I asked him whether he agreed with my impression that though George Lucas was a creative and technical genius, he didn't always express himself to his actors -- they've joked that all he ever said was "faster" or "more intense."

"He expresses himself through the movies and particularly through the editing process," Daniels said, rather diplomatically. "He admits to being more comfortable with that. He basically is trusting the people that he's employed. And he may not find it easy communicating with actors or crew, but when you look at that first film particularly, boy, did he communicate with the audience."

His second favorite job and major pet peeve

Daniels makes it clear in his book that narrating Star Wars: In Concert, a touring series of live performances showcasing composer John Williams' iconic scores, has been the highlight of his career. When I asked him if any other experience came close, he immediately jumped to Star Tours, the simulator ride in Disney Parks around the world.

Star Tours ride

Threepio waits to greet visitors to Star Tours, which opened in 1987. His role in the simulator ride expanded when it was overhauled in 2011.

Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

"The editing on Star Tours is miraculous, and I've had such joy voicing sequences," he said. "The problem for me is usually Threepio is hysterical with fear, and it's a hard voice to do full-on, for days. I have to be careful."

One topic that doesn't bring  Daniels joy -- rage is a more accurate term -- is fake autographs. His book highlights the time he acted as a witness for the FBI as the agency made a case against some forgers. That drove me to his website, where he documents such fakes and adds a little commentary for flavor.

"They're mostly appalling," he said of the forgeries. "Some are borderline and I don't put those on the site because I might have had an off-day, because most people's signature varies slightly."

C-3PO in Phantom Menace

"My parts are showing?" Threepio's early days, as seen in The Phantom Menace.

Lucasfilm

C-3PO's range

I asked Daniels if he thought Threepio had developed as a character across the saga. By the end of The Rise of Skywalker, the droid had, after all, been in continuous service for nearly 70 in-universe years.

"Threepio is a machine. There's a microwave in there," he said, pointing to his kitchen. "It's a microwave, but we cook different things within it. So you're changing not the context, but the contents, and that makes a difference. The way he really possibly changes is with the dynamics of other characters and with the situations."

He noted that Detective Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) in Nordic crime show The Bridge made him think of a  Threepio line from The Empire Strikes Back: "Sometimes I just don't understand human behavior."

"She just says things straight out. She hasn't learned the social niceties of wrapping things up," he said.

People regularly tell him that Threepio makes them feel more comfortable in their skin, because they often don't understand human behavior either.

"We're all more sensitive to that these days, we understand that people are different in all sorts of ways," he said. "Often, a difference here is made up by an exquisite skill over here."

Could C-3PO exist?

Though we have lifelike humanoid robots today, Daniels doesn't think robots in our world will ever exist like they do in a galaxy far, far away.

"AI is advancing rapidly, but it's already heading towards a buffer point where you begin to question it -- now people are even questioning the rights of AI -- -- because it is potentially open to abuse of all sorts." he said.

He pointed to the films Bicentennial Man and AI: Artificial Intelligence, which premiered in 1998 and 2001, respectively, as examples of how he thinks the tech could develop. He also cited the 2004 movie I, Robot, in which a synthetic army rebels against humanity, as a believable example of how things could go wrong. 

Bicentennial Man

Daniels highlighted the movie Bicentennial Man as having a believable vision of how robots could become a part of our lives.

Ronald Siemoneit/Sygma via Getty Images

"It is interesting to think that those three films are, to a great extent, dystopian in their treatment of robots and the fear of them, or the emotional response," he mused. 

When I suggest that Threepio and other tech in Star Wars could inspire people to create it in reality, he points to the work of Cynthia Breazeal, the head of the Personal Robots group at the MIT Media Lab.

"She saw Artoo and Threepio as a kid and she said 'Yeah, I want to do that,'" he said. "And she is doing that, particularly in the field of haptic responses. They appear to have nerves, they react to being stroked."

I noted that this work mirrors the prosthetic limbs we see in Star Wars -- where characters regularly lose appendages in lightsaber duels. 

"George didn't invent prosthetics, but he certainly showed their use with Vader and Luke and so on," he agreed.

Earth's increasing population is a reason not to make robots, he said. Instead, humans are perfectly capable of fulfilling most of their own needs.

"You have to say 'Why do I want this?' But of course, people relate to pets, people relate to the computer. We shout at it, sometimes we apologize to it. I'm leery of it," he said. "I'm quite happy with the current situation because it means I can go on working as Threepio."

After nearly two hours, my time with Daniels came to a close -- he and his wife had an evening event to attend. After saying our farewells, I was back on the streets of London, slightly unsure if my time with someone whose work had delighted me for decades had been a reality or a trick of my pop culture-soaked imagination.