On episode 320 of Skywalking Through Neverland, our podcast party jumped into high gear when Corey Dee Williams and Stephen Costantino came by to reminisce about their days working as Jabba the Hutt’s creature henchmen for the Sail Barge Battle in Return of the Jedi.
In April of 1982, principal photography on Return of the Jedi (née Revenge of the Jedi, née Blue Harvest) moved to Buttercup Valley, California to shoot the Sail Barge Battle scenes. Billy Dee Williams asked his son Corey to be his Lando Calrissian stand-in. If you don’t know, stand-ins are used instead of the actors since it can be a long process for the director to block a scene and the cinematographer to light it. This way actors can save their energy for the actual filming.
Corey agreed and asked to bring his friend, Stephen Costantino, so the two could continue to work on their music. As stuntmen were getting injured at a quick rate, as well as Billy Dee who got a bad burn, Corey was asked to be a photo double as his father’s character, Lando Calrissian. You can see Corey hanging off the side of the sand skiff right above the Sarlacc.
On one of the last days of shooting, Corey was asked to put on a creature costume (the character later became known as Klaatu). He says, “We’re going to have you attack Skywalker.” He continues, “When they put the head on me, I was like, where is he? I couldn’t see anything. I was several stories up, there’s no guard rails. You’re trying to get your bearings.”
In the film, Luke Skywalker slashes Klaatu’s weapon with his Lightsaber. Klaatu and another human henchman are then seen running into a door leading below the deck.
Being in their early 20’s and having a background in martial arts and fitness, Corey and Stephen were prime candidates for the physical work needed to wear these heavy costumes and perform in a high-intensity action scene.
Stephen gives his insight into what it was like working as a Gamorrean Guard. ”There was footsteps that they drew on the barge and I had to follow them because my peripheral was off completely. And when I took the top off (of the costume) to breathe, they put a blow dryer into my mouth, Corey had to hold me up because the bottom half was like Humpty Dumpty. I didn’t want to commit to taking that thing off even to go to the bathroom, I just held it.”
Corey continues, “It’s like a dance, because you have all these people doing action moves at the same time, and when you look at that scene, there is so much going on. It took a couple of weeks just shooting that one scene.”
Just wearing these costumes is one thing then performing stunts under the hot sun can take a toll for even the most well-trained stuntmen. Stephen shared a story of how stuntman, Dickey Beer, passed out in costume while the crew took lunch. He woke up as “Princess Leia is over him reviving him. She saved Dickey’s life!”
To hear so many more great stories and join the podcast party, download episode 320 of Skywalking Through Neverland! Hear more Return of the Jedi stories and learn about their music, influences, and Cloud City Funk.
To see Stephen and Corey in action as the Gamorrean Guard (later named Thok) and Klaatu, check out this documentary by Jeff Broz as he shot this footage from behind the security fence while the production was taking place.