Friday 17 January 2020

William and Harry duel with lightsabers as Star Wars heroes look on

Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge try out lightsabers during a tour of the Star Wars sets at Pinewood studios
Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge try out lightsabers during a tour of the Star Wars sets at Pinewood studios
Prince Harry sits in an A-wing fighter as he talks with actor Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker
The Duke of Cambridge hugs Chewbacca as actor John Boyega looks on
The Duke of Cambridge smiles at the BB8 droid
The Duke of Cambridge tries out a lightsaber
Prince Harry meets Chewbacca
Mark Hamill and director Rian Johnson and were among those to pose with the royals during the tour
Prince Harry takes a closer look at a robotic mask
John Boyega and Daisy Ridley speak while Prince Harry talks with Chewbacca
The Duke of Cambridge is shown props

The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry could not resist the lure of the lightsaber when they met the heroes of the latest Star Wars movie - as well as the creative technicians bringing the latest instalment to the silver screen.

William and Harry had a brief duel in the props department at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, where Star Wars: Episode VIII is currently in production - and loved every minute of it.

Guided by British actress Daisy Ridley, who played Rey in last year's The Force Awakens, the royal brothers were shown Chewbacca's head - before getting a hug from the full-size 7ft 6in version - as well as robotic stars R2D2 and the BB8 droid from the latest instalment of the sci-fi saga.

The royal brothers both confessed to being big fans of the movies, which began in 1977 and starred Mark Hamill as the hero Luke Skywalker - who also chatted to the duke and his sibling at the end of their tour.

But when the royal brothers came across Ridley's lightsaber, William picked it up, while Harry wielded the weapon belonging to the villainous character Kylo Ren.

The props' effects were remotely controlled by a technician who turned on their internal glowing lights.

The Duke joked with his brother, asking "are you scared?" before their sabers clashed, following some tentative moves from both of them.

Ever the joker, Harry aimed at his brother below the waist, but the duke was too quick and stepped back.

A few moments later, the prince asked everyone in the workshop to mimic the lightsaber's famous sound effect, before joining in as their weapons clashed.

After their moment fencing with lightsabers, Harry jokingly mimed sliding the weapon into his belt and told William: "Your son would love this."

Ridley later joked about their mock battle: "When you see someone with a lightsaber you're like: 'You're just one of us'."

Hamill said even establishment figures regress to being children when they come into contact with Star Wars.

He quipped: "It's unsettling when you see grown men, policemen or any figure of authority melt and turn into an eight-year-old boy.

"They're doing their job, then all of a sudden it's like: 'What's it like working with a Wookiee?'"

During the tour Maria Cork, supervisor of hair and creature effects, was working on the head of Han Solo's best friend Chewbacca - usually played by Briton Peter Mayhew - when the royal brothers stopped for a brief chat in the creatures department.

They were a little shocked by the life-like model head of Ridley, used by her stunt double in the film, but William could not resist touching Chewie's head.

Ms Cork said about working on the character dubbed the "walking carpet" by Star Wars character Princess Leia: "It's lovely being on set, everybody wants to hug him, when you see an iconic character that's been around since the 1970s, it's amazing."

Commenting on the work of the department, William said: "It's a combination of good special effects and putting people inside (the creatures)."

The props department had an array of weapons on display for the royal visit, and Harry could not resist trying one unusual item: a First Order taser that spun around a handle. But the Prince put it down when he though he had damaged it.

When he was offered a pistol, as a former frontline Army officer he instinctively pointed it at the ground. When he pulled the trigger and it failed to fire, Harry made those around him laugh when he shrugged his shoulders and said: "See, look, why does everything I touch end up breaking?"

Mark Rocca, head of props, highlighted how much his department's work was under scrutiny by Star Wars fans across the globe: "There are people out there who know every single nut and bolt, so we have to get it right and we have to make it last because they are well-used.

"It's been an honour to work on films that we've grown up with, and to work in an industry where you can go on set and see stormtroopers running around is great, but there's a lot of hard work."

Britain's contribution to making Lucas's vision of Luke Skywalker's fight against the Empire a reality has been significant over the years.

From actor Alec Guinness, who famously played Obi-Wan Kenobi, to the creative teams making props and weapons like the original lightsaber, designed by British set decorator Roger Christian.

The Force Awakens - the seventh instalment of the series - saw the return of original cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill and was the highest grossing film of all time in the UK.

The royal engagement was aimed at recognising the wealth of British creative talent involved in the production of the Star Wars films, Kensington Palace said.

The end of the visit brought the royal brothers to a huge film set with a green backdrop where various X-wing and A-wing spacecraft were on display.

As an ex-Apache helicopter pilot Harry did not hesitate when asked if he wanted to get into the cockpit of one of the impressive life-size A-wing craft and he chatted to Hamill as he slid into the seat.

The Luke Skywalker actor said later: "To see Harry jumping into the cockpit like that, I was asking him how does that compare to the real thing and he said it was luxury with the leg room - as in the real thing your knees are up by your chin, and I asked what about the controls and he said 'that's complete fantasy'."

He said about William and Harry's obvious love of the Star Wars films: "They're roughly my sons' ages, so if they're anything like mine I have a real fanatic and I have one kid who likes them but (is not too bothered)."

Hamill said filming in the UK was like a homecoming but he remained tight-lipped about what his character would be doing in the latest instalment of the Star Wars saga.

William and Harry had each got a hug from Chewbacca when they first arrived on the studio set and before they left the Prince had a chat with the actor inside the costume, Joonas Suotamo.

The Duke, who is president of Bafta, looked across at the pair talking and said: "Something quite surreal about watching this conversation."

PA Media

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