Derek Lyons (Medal Bearer)

Derek Lyons
Rebel honor Guard, Medal Bearer (A New Hope)
Interview: 2006

Star Wars: A New Hope was your first feature film back in 1976 when it was filmed. Can you tell us how a then-18-year old got cast for what has now become the most-loved movie ever?

I got a phone call from my agent, asking if I was available to work on a film being made at Shepperton Studios called The Star Wars. I was to play one of the rebel soldiers. When I arrived for my fitting, I met the Assistant Director and he thought I would be perfect as the Medal Bearer and the Massassi Temple Guard. This was my first job in the film business – what a fantastic start.

What are your specific memories from the set during filming? You got to interact with the three main characters of the film, as well as the most important secondary characters. Do you have any anecdotes from your time on the set?

I remember one day coming back on set after having lunch, it was very quiet on set, not many people around. I always liked to be early back on set because I was so excited. R2-D2 was on the Medal Bearing set, and I thought it was a remote control robot – I was very surprised when the robot started rocking from side to side, I approached the robot, and suddenly the top popped off and Kenny Baker said “Hello there.” Reflecting upon it, it was very funny. He looked very hot and was sweating profusely.
Mark Hamill became a friend during the two weeks I was at Shepperton. We found out that we had the same birthday – 25th September – but he is a few years older than me. We explored the old Oliver set together which was behind H Stage (Massassi Temple set), and also looked at the Pink Panther set. I happened to have my camera with me and we had some photographs taken. We chatted about movies and what he had done before and what my ambitions were.
During the close-ups in the medal bearing scene, Carrie seemed to be in some discomfort with her foot (I can’t remember which foot it was), I was very shy in those days, but offered to help her remove a splinter from her foot. She kissed me on the cheek and said “Thank you, that’s very kind of you.” I then went as red as the Emperor’s Royal Guard!

I had lunch with Peter Mayhew most days at the Shepperton pub. We had pub lunches outside as it was a very hot summer. He told me about his past and what he did and how he got the part of Chewbacca.

When you were filming your scenes, did you think Star Wars would become such a big hit? Many people thought it would become a failure; did you feel the same back then?

As Star Wars was the first film I ever worked on, I was extremely excited about it. I didn’t have any other film experiences to compare it with, so I hoped that it would be a big success, but never dreamed it would be the success it has become. There was talk among the other artistes about toys being made of the characters.

What were your impressions of George Lucas on the A New Hope set?

George Lucas was a quiet, focused man with an obvious passion towards his film-making. There was a good atmosphere on set and everyone enjoyed working with him.

When and where did you first see the movie? Did your opinion about the movie change when you first saw it?

I first saw the movie at the Dominion Cinema on Tottenham Court Road, within two weeks of opening. I was absolutely blown away by the movie, especially the opening sequence – the Imperial battle cruiser felt as if it was coming over our heads.

Mark Hamill once claimed in a documentary that during the filming of the Massassi Temple scene, some of the Rebel-soldiers he and Harrison walked by were whispering nasty stuff to them, like “wimp.” Do you remember this? And if so, can you shed some more light on it?

I don’t remember Mark mentioning anything like that to me during the filming. When we were filming the Massassi Temple medal bearing scene, I don’t recall hearing anything negative being said, but if Mark did say that, then it must be true, as he’s a very honest guy.

Your first convention ever was Empire Day 16 in the United Kingdom. So many Star Wars-actors have been doing conventions for years, why did it take so long for you to do one?

I have received letters over the years via British Actors Equity asking for my autograph and enclosing pictures for me to sign. I’ve always enjoyed doing this and have been aware of the interest for a number of years. It has been mentioned to me by fellow actors, who have taken part in conventions, that I should give it a try.

At Empire Day 16, you signed loads of items. What is your general feeling towards signing stuff for the fans? And was there a “weirdest” item you have signed so far?

I really enjoyed meeting the Star Wars fans. Every single one of them was polite and very, very interested in what I did on the movie and asked me questions about Mark and the other stars. I was taken aback by their enthusiasm and excitement in meeting me. People traveled from as far afield as Japan and also from Europe to meet us at Empire Day 16. I signed Star Wars trading cards, Star Wars tins, t-shirts, books, posters, and the Star Wars trilogy DVD. I was amazed when one young lady asked me to sign her bra, which she was wearing at the time!!

And what was your reaction to being asked to sign a bra?

At first I thought it was a joke, as I had already signed an item for her, but I was quite willing to do it and it was a pleasure! I was thinking of adding “Massassi Temple Bra” or “Mammary Bearer”!

Over the last thirty years; have you had any contact with anyone of the Star Wars cast & crew? If so: with who? If not: How was it to meet a whole bunch at Empire Day?

I’ve kept in contact with Kenny Baker, on and off over the years, (we’ve worked on Mona Lisa and Flash Gordon) and his son is a friend of mine. I bumped into Anthony Daniels at Planet Hollywood in London and we had a nice chat about old times. I had seen Anthony quite a few times over the years when he was appearing in the West End theatre. I last spoke to Mark and Carrie at the crew showing of Empire Strikes Back and they kindly signed the program for me. I also bumped into Alex McCrindle (General Dodonna) on Waterloo Bridge and we had a quick chat, this was in the late 1980s.

It’s been thirty years since your scenes were shot, looking back at that time, what do you regard as your best Star Wars-memory?

My best Star Wars memory would be arriving early in the morning at Shepperton Studios and going onto the Massassi Temple set in my costume and makeup. It was so realistic and I became totally immersed in the Star Wars universe.

In the late eighties you featured in another LucasFilm production: Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade. In this movie you played a German soldier. Can you tell us in which scenes you played?

I was involved in the film’s penultimate scene, the chalice scene, in which myself and two other actors rousted Indy (Harrison Ford) over to Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) before he had to collect the chalice. I’m standing just behind Harrison Ford and Sean Connery with my rifle trained on them.

And can you tell us more about making this movie? Did anything strange or unusual happen on the set, for instance?

We had a few surprise celebrity visitors turning up on set.

Michael Jackson visited with his friends and bodyguards to see Steven Spielberg. There were only a handful of actors and crew on set, including Sean Connery. Michael came up to us all, shook hands and introduced himself.

Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) was another visitor I remember – he was very funny and I enjoyed talking to him.

During the filming of the chalice scene, a surprise was arranged for Harrison Ford as it was his birthday. A very large cake was brought onto the set and we sang Happy Birthday to Harrison. He looked very surprised and embarrassed, but enjoyed sharing the cake with us all.

I sometimes collect autographs and thought it would be a good idea to bring a book on George Lucas’ films to the set and get it signed. I managed to get George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies to sign this book. It is a treasured possession.

I talked quite a bit to George Lucas about working on the first Star Wars movie, and how much I enjoyed the experience. He remembered me from it and was very nice to me.

Being part of films which have an active “genre” tag tied to them (Indiana Jones, Star Wars, James Bond), what are your thoughts with being part of the “legacy?”

I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to have worked on such classic films.

You were in Krull with Liam Neeson. Did you ever anticipate he’d go on to be a huge box office draw and eventually end up in Star Wars: Episode I?

Liam Neeson has star quality. He was very pleasant to the other actors, always smiling and professional. I did think he would go on to greater things. I think his was one of the best performances in Star Wars: Episode I.

As an actor, do you have a dream you’d like to achieve movie-wise? If so, what would that be?

I would like to play a villain in the next Indiana Jones film, a bit like Ronald Lacey’s Nazi, Toht, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

You’re still active in the movie business. Have you got any interesting new project(s) you’re working on?

No, at the moment I’m doing some research and teaching.

During your career, you have featured in some of the most-loved movies ever: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Ghandi, Roger Rabbit, Flash Gordon…of all these movies, which one has given you the best memories? And can you share these memories with us?

Obviously Star Wars was my favorite and always will be. A close second is Flash Gordon and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Any other memories from those days can be given at another time and in another galaxy!