C-3PO performer Anthony Daniels didn't want to be in 'Star Wars' — then became the only actor to appear in all 11 movies. Here's his epic story.

·6-min read

For the dozens of actors who have played primary roles in the Star Wars cinematic universe — and hundreds, if not thousands, who appeared in smaller parts — only one actor has been in each and every movie.

That would be Anthony Daniels, the man behind the iconic gold-plated, oft-bumbling C-3PO. Over four decades, the British performer, now 74, has played the protocol droid in films, TV series and specials, commercials, and even on record, singing as Threepio. But if you ask Daniels, it almost didn’t happen.

"It is so weird to be here in 2020 and think back to 1975, I think a day in November when I went to meet George Lucas. I was reluctant because I didn't want to be in a low-budget sci-fi movie, in the part of a robot," Daniels told Yahoo Entertainment in our latest episode of Role Recall, in which he walks through all 11 films (nine episodes and two spin-offs). Daniels, whose background in mime work and thin frame enticed the THX 1138 and American Graffiti filmmaker, was eventually won over not by Lucas's pitch but by the character's conceptual design by the great illustrator Ralph McQuarrie. "It sounds kind of weird, but I looked into the eyes of the character in his painting and the eyes of the character said, 'Come with me.'"

A variation of the Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for the 'Star Wars' droids. (Image courtesy of 'Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie,' Abrams Books, 2016; copyright 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.)
A variation of the Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for the 'Star Wars' droids. (Image courtesy of 'Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie,' Abrams Books, 2016; copyright 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Still, none of the actors involved in Lucas's ambitious space opera, now known as Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), expected it to make much of an impact — not Daniels, not Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), not Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), not Harrison Ford (Han Solo). "At no time did [any of us] think it would make it off the shelf."

Not only did the film make it off the shelf, obviously, it changed the course of film history, ballooning into a pop-culture phenomenon and dominating the zeitgeist. However, when a sequel (1980's The Empire Strikes Back) became inevitable, Daniels once again found himself hesitant.

"It was clear that I was becoming completed negated from any type of publicity, that I as an actor didn't exist," he said. "Threepio, people rather liked him, to my great pleasure. But me, they weren't allowed to know I had any part of it. My name whizzed by on the credits, but you wouldn't know. So I didn't really have a good feeling about it [editor's note: well played]. I felt left out, because believe me the publicity was panglobal.

"So why would I re-enter a job that was so uncomfortable, physically, so uncomfortable that physically hurt me, attacked me, bruised me, pinched me? And then having been through the psychological trauma of being wiped of the biggest success of cinematic history. … And then I realized that I had become quite fond of C-3PO."

TOKYO, JAPAN - DECEMBER 11:  Anthony Daniels attends the special fan event for 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' at Roppongi Hills on December 11, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan.  (Photo by Jun Sato/WireImage)
Anthony Daniels attends the special fan event for 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jun Sato/WireImage)

Daniels endured perhaps his most daunting Star Wars moment on the set of 1983's The Return of the Jedi. While filming the scene where the monkey-lizard Salacious Crumb extracts C-3PO's eye, Daniels suffered a panic attack as he lay horizontally and helpless in his suit. "I'm lying there on the floor and out of nowhere, I got something that I understand was claustrophobia. Instant panic," he said. "I had no idea what was going on. … I'd never had that experience." The actor admits that he's more embarrassed, though, by Threepio's "disco'ing away with an Ewok" during the threequel's oft-mocked climactic dance party.

The long-awaited 1999 prequel The Phantom Menace and its follow-ups, Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005), surrounded Daniels with a new cast of characters, save for Threepio's trusty right-hand droid R2-D2. But while the robo-pals have always been inseparable onscreen, life did not imitate art for Daniels and Kenny Baker, the late actor who operated Artoo. "The relationship between R2-D2 and C-3PO was brilliant in the script. … It just wasn't the reality," Daniels says diplomatically (before Baker's death in 2016, the two occasionally exchanged barbs). "I was working with a prop that didn't make any sounds. And then there were empty boxes that Kenny Baker would get into and make wobble. I never knew, really, which I was working with. … We never had a relationship on-set and certainly not outside."

C-3PO and R2-D2 in 'Star Wars' (Photo: Lucasfilm)
C-3PO and R2-D2 in 'Star Wars' (Photo: Lucasfilm)

Daniels reunited with Hamill, Fisher and Ford for what became the Skywalker Saga's third and final trilogy, starting with 2015's The Force Awakens and followed by 2017's The Last Jedi and 2019's The Rise of Skywalker. In addition to the original cast members, there was a new generation of heroes in the mix. "People say, 'So did you help Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac and John Boyega?'" Daniels says before laughing. "They're so much better than I could ever be. They knew everything about Star Wars because they'd grown up with it. And obviously they're really, really good actors."

Even after 11 movies — the nine-film, triple trilogy Skywalker Saga plus Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), in which Daniels cameoed in the flesh as the human slave Tak — it's hard for Daniels to vocalize what it means to him to be Star Wars' most reliable mainstay.

"People say, 'What's it like to be in all the Star Wars movies?,'" Daniels says. "It's too big for me to understand. I genuinely cannot of conceive the bigness of what I have done, that people tell me. So I just accept that they like it, [that] they're impressed. … I just think, 'I'm kind of happy to have survived it all, really.'"

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, hits Blu-ray and other home entertainment formats Tuesday. For more from Daniels, check out his autobiography, I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story.

Watch Daniels talk more about wrapping up The Skywalker Saga:

Read more on Yahoo Entertainment:

Want daily pop culture news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle's newsletter.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting