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The in­spi­ra­tional story of how Sa­muel L. Jack­son said he’d quite like to be in a Star Wars movie and then wound up in a Star Wars movie. NB: this only works if you are Sa­muel L. Jack­son.

SA­MUEL L. JACK­SON WEARS HIS heart on his sleeve. Ac­tu­ally, to be more ac­cu­rate, he wears it on his chest. Over re­cent months, the star has used his In­sta­gram ac­count to show off T-shirts he owns that cel­e­brate his favourites from the 118 movies he has made to date. In one photo, he’s sport­ing a natty orange num­ber bear­ing a car­toon ver­sion of Jules Win­n­field, Jack­son’s in­deli­ble en­forcer from Pulp Fic­tion (In­sta­gram cap­tion: “To­day’s mood. Might have to cap a mu­phukaa to­day”). In an­other, he’s wear­ing a white one em­bla­zoned with the funky logo for Jun­gle Fever, the early-ca­reer Spike Lee joint in which he played Ga­tor Pu­rify. An­other gar­ment is shark-themed, cel­e­brat­ing his 1999 schlock­buster Deep Blue Sea (cap­tion: “Morn­ing mood, Sharkey! Ready to be deadly & in con­stant mo­tion”).

And then there’s the T-shirt Jack­son donned when he woke up on 4 May. Black, adorned with three phos­pho­res­cent­pur­ple stormtroop­ers in bat­tle po­si­tion, it was un­mis­take­able as a piece of Star Wars merch. But if there was any doubt, the ac­tor help­fully posed for the may-the-fourth-be-with-you selfie while grip­ping the lightsaber he once used as Jedi mas­ter Mace Windu. Star Wars is, and has been for some time, some­thing of which Jack­son can’t get enough.

Which is why, one lunchtime in early June, he turns up to spend the af­ter­noon with Em­pire in an LA photo stu­dio, rem­i­nisc­ing about his years as Mace Windu. And why he’s brought along that very same lightsaber. As he points out with a grin, at the top of the hilt are three let­ters — “BMF” — which he had etched on by the prop­mas­ters dur­ing the shoot for At­tack Of The Clones. They stand for “Bad Mother­fucker”. A phrase which fits both Jack­son and Windu to a T.

Jack­son first went

into space one balmy sum­mer’s day in 1977. His fu­ture as a bil­lion-dol­lar-gross­ing movie star was a long time ahead, in a town far, far away: that night he was in New York, a strug­gling, 29-year-old the­atre ac­tor who was oc­ca­sion­ally man­ag­ing to bag a bit-part in a movie or TV show. Dur­ing that pe­riod, he played ‘Pa­trol­man’ in an episode of big-rig-truck­ing se­rial Movin’ On, and ap­peared as Sam in in­ter­ra­cial ro­mance Black Cream. “That was pretty much it,” he re­mem­bers. “I had enough time dur­ing the day to catch a movie and then make it to what­ever the­atre I was work­ing at.”

That af­ter­noon, he de­cided to hit a pic­ture­house on 44th Street to check out this new thing ev­ery­body was talk­ing about called Star Wars. Jack­son was an avid sci-fi fan who had grown up in­hal­ing movies such as The Blob and I Mar­ried A Mon­ster From Outer Space. Be­sides, he had some mar­i­juana on him, so even if it

turned out to be a dud, he could at least lean back and en­joy the ef­fects. “Yeah,

I was high,” Jack­son chuck­les. “New York was that place then where you went to the the­atre with a nickel bag of reefer and a six-pack of beer, and ev­ery­body in there would be smok­ing weed like it was le­gal. So when they went into hy­per­space it was like, ‘WHOOOOOOA!’ I was fly­ing through the stars with them. The whole au­di­ence roared.”

The ef­fects were more as­ton­ish­ing than he could have imag­ined, from the very first shot in which the Im­pe­rial Star De­stroyer glided and glided and glided across the screen. “We were used to Buck Rogers! A space­ship the size of a room. We’d never seen any­thing that’s like, shit, 12 blocks long.” But it was the char­ac­ters that re­ally mes­merised him. Luke Sky­walker and Obi-wan were fine, but he was par­tic­u­larly drawn to the edgier ones: the ras­cally Han Solo, the hair-trig­ger-tem­pered Chew­bacca, and the menagerie of shady aliens skulk­ing in the back­grounds of scenes. “When they got to that in­ter­galac­tic bar, I was like, ‘Okay, this is dope,’” says Jack­son. “Ten­ta­cle peo­ple, furry dudes, green peo­ple, pur­ple peo­ple, polka-dot peo­ple. I thought, ‘Space is di­verse in this thing. I’m down with it. It’s just like fuck­ing Sun­set Boule­vard.’”

And so be­gan a life­long fas­ci­na­tion with Jedi and Sith, the ins and outs of lightsabers, and what ex­actly a Wampa is. Jack­son fi­nally saw his ca­reer ig­nite, work­ing with ev­ery­one from Steven Spiel­berg to Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas An­der­son, but in the back of his mind he al­ways har­boured a dream of play­ing in that toy­box. Then, shortly be­fore Christ­mas in 1996, some­thing hap­pened that would turn that dream into a re­al­ity.

It took place in a cu­ri­ous venue: the faux-pub set of Chan­nel 4’s TFI Fri­day, a rowdy chat show now best re­mem­bered for the time Spice Girl Geri Hal­li­well arm-wres­tled Kylie Minogue (then snogged her), ques­tion­able reg­u­lar fea­ture Fat Looka­likes, and Shaun Ry­der drop­ping a for­bid­den F-bomb while ex­am­in­ing host Chris Evans’ shoes. Not nec­es­sar­ily a place where you’d ex­pect cin­e­matic his­tory to un­fold. But on 6 De­cem­ber, a Kan­gol-capped Sa­muel L. Jack­son made a short ap­pear­ance as “The Hol­ly­wood Star We Haven’t Got Time For”, re­veal­ing that his mid­dle ini­tial stood for “Liv­ing” and that his main am­bi­tion was to star in a Star Wars

film, di­rected by Ge­orge Lu­cas.

As un­likely as it may seem that Lu­cas was an avid viewer of TFI Fri­day

(per­haps he was a fan of ‘Baby Left Baby Right’, in which a small child was put in a cush­ion to see which way it would fall), word of Jack­son’s off-the-cuff com­ment some­how reached the King of the Force in his Cal­i­for­nian hide­away, Sky­walker Ranch. “I was do­ing an­other movie, Sphere, in Vallejo,” says Jack­son, “when I got a mes­sage say­ing, ‘Come to the ranch. Ge­orge would like to meet you.’ So I went, and I was look­ing at all this Nor­man Rock­well art he has on the walls when he walked up on me. We just had a brief talk. He said, ‘I’m writ­ing a new Star Wars script right now. I don’t know that there’s any­thing for you aside from the cap­tain of the guard.’ I said, ‘Okay. Cool.’ And then he told me he was writ­ing a book about causes of death. He asked me what killed more peo­ple in Amer­ica than any­thing else. I was like, ‘Car ac­ci­dents?’ He went, ‘No, peo­ple giv­ing the peo­ple the wrong medicine in hos­pi­tals.’ It was kind of a strange con­ver­sa­tion.”

Months went by. Ru­mours bub­bled up on the in­ter­net about whom Jack­son might end up play­ing: Boba Fett, per­haps, or Grando Cal­ris­sian (Lando’s dad, ap­par­ently), or Yoda’s body­guard/ chauf­feur. “I wasn’t too aware of that stuff,” ad­mits Jack­son. “Back then, the in­ter­net was there but it wasn’t like a thing that ev­ery­body fucked with.” Then his phone rang again. This time he was in­structed to head to Lon­don, to meet the film’s cos­tume de­signer. There, the be­mused star was handed some robes, a pair of boots, and a three-page scene marked up as “Mace Windu/ Yoda”. Jack­son just smiled. “I know I’m not Yoda,” he thought. “So I must be who­ever this Mace Windu per­son is.”

He was about to go fly­ing through the stars once again. And this time there were no nar­cotics re­quired.

Mace Windu had,

in fact, been born way back in 1973, when Lu­cas wrote his first out­line for what would be­come Star

Wars. The first line of two pages about ‘Jour­nal Of The Whills, Part I’ read: “This is the story of Mace Windy, a revered Jedi-bendu of Ophuchi, as re­lated to us by CJ Thorpe, padawan learner to the famed Jedi.” Both of these char­ac­ters were dropped as the project clomped at Ban­tha-speed to­wards the screen. But Lu­cas never for­got the un­for­tu­nately mon­ick­ered Windy, re­viv­ing him for

The Phan­tom Men­ace and giv­ing his name a one-let­ter tweak.

Jack­son was ini­tially thrilled to be play­ing a Jedi Mas­ter, even one who was as far from edgy as you could get: Windu was solemn, earnest and doggedly prin­ci­pled. The main at­trac­tion was that he shared all four of his scenes with Yoda. “He was still a pup­pet then, not CGI. So stand­ing there eye­balling him was crazy. That’s a dream come true.” But when he was fi­nally handed the full Phan­tom Men­ace script, that ex­cite­ment was tem­pered by a pang of dis­ap­point­ment. “I started to re­alise I was just go­ing to be sit­ting in a Jedi Coun­cil room with my arms folded,” Jack­son says. “I was flicking through the pages like crazy, go­ing, ‘Fight? Fight? Fight? No? Damn!’ But you can’t turn some­thing like that down. You know, it’s the great­est fan­tasy se­ries ever in the world, and all of a sud­den the ge­nie turns up and says, ‘Your wish is granted... but you won’t be the star.’ I was there, but I couldn’t fight.”

When called to set, he sat on some man­ner of in­ter­galac­tic easy chair, Yoda to his right and a jel­ly­fish-man named Plo Koon to his left, man­fully try­ing to pep up lines such as, “Queen Ami­dala is re­turn­ing home, which will put pres­sure on the Fed­er­a­tion, and could widen the con­fronta­tion.” Frankly it wasn’t what he’d hoped for, but un­like co-star Ewan Mcgre­gor, who moaned to the press about his end­less green-screen scenes, Jack­son kept his dis­plea­sure to him­self. “My big­gest con­cern was not to do any­thing to piss any­one off and get killed!” he laughs. “When I heard Ewan com­plain, I was like, ‘Dude...’

I had no idea where Mace was go­ing, but I wanted to be in the next one. So I kept bring­ing Ge­orge snacks!”

That strat­egy proved a win­ning one. He was called back for se­quel At­tack Of The Clones, which shot in Aus­tralia rather than the UK, and found that this time Windu would get to un­leash hell, head­ing up a Jedi strike team to take on

waves of malev­o­lent droids in a sun­scorched arena. Jack­son rose to the chal­lenge, de­ter­mined to fight like, well, a bad mother­fucker.

“I watched the Baby Cart movies and a lot of Za­to­ichi movies,” he says. “That move where I kill Boba Fett is straight out of Za­to­ichi: back spin, spin around, take his head right off, arms out­stretched. That was my best move.” He per­suaded Lu­cas to make Windu’s lightsaber pur­ple, rather than the tra­di­tional red or green, to make it stand out on screen. The back­story since cre­ated by fans has it that the Jedi was “given the pur­ple-shaded Ky­ber crys­tal by na­tives on the planet of Hurikane... The pur­ple blade is a sym­bol of light and dark side Force tech­niques”. Jack­son just laughs when Em­pire reads him this ex­pla­na­tion. “That’s hi­lar­i­ous. Nah, it was real sim­ple — I wanted to find my­self in the big fight.”

As he be­came in­creas­ingly pro­fi­cient with the weapon, Jack­son started wind­ing up Lu­cas, say­ing, “C’mon, let me kill Pal­pa­tine.” That, of course, couldn’t hap­pen — the Supreme Chan­cel­lor goes on to be­come the orig­i­nal tril­ogy’s gnarled Em­peror — but the di­rec­tor did go on to write a face-off be­tween Windu and Pal­pa­tine at the cli­max of tril­o­gy­cap­per Re­venge Of The Sith. It would prove to be the most test­ing se­quence for Jack­son, by far. “For Episode III I had to learn, shit, a 99-move fight through three rooms, backwards,” he re­mem­bers. “So I was prac­tis­ing like crazy. It was al­ways in my golf bag so I could pull it out, wait­ing to tee off. I did not want to look aw­ful with my fuck­ing lightsaber. It’s not ter­ri­fy­ing un­til you have to fight in cloak and boots — you’ve re­ally got to find ways to kick it out of your way while you’re back­ing up, so you don’t step on it and fall over. So yeah, it gets pretty in­tri­cate.”

That fight goes badly for Mace, with the chrome-domed Jedi struck by Force-light­ning, los­ing an arm, then flung from a ver­tig­i­nous win­dow. “I was re­ally the only per­son they could do some­thing to in the movie to cre­ate some tur­moil, be­cause ev­ery­one else shows up in the orig­i­nal films,” Jack­son sighs. “I kept say­ing to Ge­orge, ‘You sure about this? I can kill this dude — you know that, right?’”

But no amount of snacks could change Lu­cas’ mind. Out of the win­dow Windu went.

Since 2003, Mace

Windu has re­turned in an­i­mated form, voiced by Jack­son in the Clones Wars film and by Ter­rence C. Car­son in a va­ri­ety of car­toons and video games. Those sto­ries have all been set be­fore his show­down with Pal­pa­tine. But Jack­son has never lost hope that the Jedi some­how sur­vived that bruis­ing en­counter, and will one day re­turn in live-ac­tion. “You know, it’s not that crazy that Jedi can fall from great heights and sur­vive,” he in­sists. “And how many one-handed peo­ple are roam­ing about in that galaxy? Quite a few.”

Aside from on a very spe­cial oc­ca­sion such as this, his BMF lightsaber re­mains sealed up in a tro­phy case in his of­fice (he keeps the stunt hilt, com­plete with real bat­tle scars, in a closet; that’s the one he lets vis­i­tors play with). And one day, Jack­son senses, he might just have to reach for it and go into bat­tle once more. “Still got the old Jedi spirit,” he says. “I’m down. If they call me, I’ll show up — hell, I’m hang­ing around just for that. I’d even show up as a holo­gram or some shit.”

Jack­son willed Mace Windu into ex­is­tence once; it would be fool­ish to doubt he can do it again. And the galaxy would be a brighter place for it. The Star Wars pre­quels have their flaws, but with their over­ar­ch­ing theme of dark po­lit­i­cal forces schem­ing for supreme power, they’ve also never felt so rel­e­vant. Jack­son loves the lightsaber-twirling, but even more than that he digs Windu’s in­her­ent, in­cor­rupt­ible good­ness. The char­ac­ter is as far from Han Solo as they come, but Jack­son has learned to ap­pre­ci­ate his dis­tinctly un­edgy, black-and-white world­view.

“Mace is the re­sis­tance,” he states. “Right now, I’m mak­ing a con­scious ef­fort not to turn on the news, be­cause I know there’s no way to avoid it, him, them, what­ever. What’s great about Mace is he sees the big pic­ture. He has to­tal clar­ity about what’s go­ing on in the world.”

But with all those end­less Jedi Coun­cil meet­ings, does the guy ever just re­lax? “Oh yeah,” Jack­son dead­pans. “Af­ter hours, he and Yoda kick back, with an elixir of some sort. Maybe some­thing stronger.”

Tuns out even Mace Windu might have a dark side.

Sa­muel L. Jack­son, pho­tographed ex­clu­sively for Em­pire at Quixote Stu­dios, Los An­ge­les, on 8 June 2018.

Be­low: Mace Windu in lightsaber ac­tion.Bot­tom: Jack­son’s lightsaber hilt, etched with the let­ters BMF: “Bad Mother­fucker”.

Right: At­tack Of The Clones: Jango Fett (Te­muera Morrison) gets on the wrong side of Windu’s ’saber.Be­low right: The Phan­tom Men­ace: Jedi Masters Yoda and Mace.

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