Quint chats with Darth Vader's Secret Apprentice, Sam Witwer, about Lucasart's upcoming STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED!!!
Published at: Sept. 15, 2008, 6:25 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a rather lengthy chat I had with Sam Witwer regarding the upcoming Lucasarts release of THE FORCE UNLEASHED. Witwer did the motion capture and voice work for the lead character of the game, known only as Darth Vader’s Secret Apprentice.
I met Witwer during my time on the set of THE MIST where he played Jessup, the doomed soldier sacrificed by the fanatics in the store. I really got along with him there, having many geeky conversations. We even touched upon Star Wars and he had a smile on his face saying that there might be something cool in the future regarding Star Wars and himself, but he wouldn’t spill.
I liked the idea of the game, watching some scenes online, docs on the process, etc, but it wasn’t until I played the demo that hit X-Box Live that I got what this game was going to be. I have my full review coming tonight, but I will say now having played it through twice that it’s the best Star Wars story we’ve seen realized in a very long while. It was able to take this lapsed Star Wars fan and give him some hope for future Star Wars entries after a run of disappointing movies and that godawful Clone Wars movie.
I hope you enjoy the chat. It’s a long one and very conversational. We discuss a few plot points, but nothing beyond the halfway point of the game.
Sam Witwer: Eric!
Quint: Hey man, what’s up?
Sam Witwer: Dude, how are you?
Quint: I am doing very well.
Sam Witwer: Awesome man. How’s it been going?
Quint: Very good, man. So, I just got to Kashyyk, that’s where I am in the game right now.
Sam Witwer: You’re not Darth Vader, you’re…
Quint: Right, I’m you and I’m finding it a bit of a shock that the hardest thing that I have had to fight in the game so far are Stormtroopers with bubble shields and flame throwers.
Sam Witwer: You see, you are far beyond where I have been.
Quint: You haven’t played the game through?
Sam Witwer: No dude, I played like four hours into it, so I haven’t seen a lot of the stuff. As a matter of fact, my buddy David Collins, the audio lead and also he plays Proxy, and he will bring up something that happens in the game and I’m like “OK, wait what happens?” and he’s like “You do this…” and I’m like “You guys must have put that in” and he’s like “Dude, you remember you said this and you said this… We recorded the thing with the whole dialogue” We recorded so much of that man, I have no idea.
Quint: Well, with videogames you have to record so many different things because there’s the interactivity to aspect.
Sam Witwer: The shoot, when we shot it for whatever it was like two and a half weeks and we came back to do some pickups later, in terms of the shoot where we had all of the actors there and we were shooting it with motion capture and stuff, I remember all of that, but when it comes into going into the vocal booth and recording “Hey alright Juno, where am I going? What am I doing?” That type of thing.
Yeah… We went through it so fast that I don’t think I remember most of it, so I’m looking forward to it as much as anyone finding out what happens, but hey man as far as difficulty man, if you are having a problem with that, you can always go back and start it with a higher difficulty level.
Quint: Yeah I will.
Sam Witwer: What are you at?
Quint: I’m at “Sith Apprentice.” I’m kind of on the sliding scale where it’s not easy, it’s not hard, but it’s in those two middle ground ones.
Sam Witwer: You’re not doing “Sith Lord?” You’re not doing difficult?
Quint: Not yet. I will probably play through it a second time, because I’m an achievement whore on 360, so I’ll play through a second time once I get the combos and stuff down. I love playing through games a second time, because I actually get to lose myself in the universe and not have to always be worried about what I’m hording and “do I have enough life?” and all of that stuff. RESIDENT EVIL 4, playing that through the second time was probably my favorite experience, plus I’m hoping that there’s a way to unlock Vader, but we will see.
Sam Witwer: I wouldn’t doubt it man. I know that there’s a lot of crazy secret stuff in there, but yeah as far as the difficulty, for me I’m really looking forward to… There’s like four difficulty levels you can play on and there’s a fifth that’s unlocked if you knock it off on the top level, right?
Quint: Jesus. Is there?
Sam Witwer: The highest difficult level I think is unlockable, so it’s like stop pussin’ around and start taking care of business man.
Quint: I know. I’m really digging it so far. As somebody who is very critical of the prequels, it’s just really cool to see a STAR WARS story that looks like it was being taken seriously and then as I’m playing it, it really is a nice serious… Not kiddy… Even with Proxy. Proxy could have been the comic relief, but he hasn’t been that so far. It’s actually really creepy to me just to see him take on the different personas when they upload the personalities into him and how much it takes out of him.
Sam Witwer: It’s a creepy thing and the fact that he is such a sweet guy, but he tries to kill you every now and then. That’s his program and he thinks he’s helping you and he thinks he’s doing you a favor by trying to murder you, by letting you down by not putting you out of your misery. There’s some messed up stuff in there and as far as Proxy goes, I have got to say, I love that character and the two people that I credit with making that character what it is obviously are Haden Blackman who came up with the whole idea. He wrote the whole story and had consultation with Lucas, but he wrote the script and he created Proxy and all of these ideas, so he wrote all of this really great dialogue, but at the time Haden didn’t really know exactly what he wanted with the character and then David, when we assembled the cast, we had Juno who is Natalie Cox, a wonderful British actress and Adrienne Wilkinson as Maris and she was all sexy and evil and we had Cully Fredricksen as Kota and he’s giving a really unique read on a Jedi general which I loved and like “OK, we haven’t seen this type of Jedi before.”
Quint: Are you talking about when he’s kind of broken?
Sam Witwer: Yeah, exactly. Either way, he’s this samurai type Jedi who doesn’t really sound like the other Jedi and he’s not like the “Hey, get in with your feelings. Stretch out with the force. It’s alright, it’s cool!” He’s more like “Get out there and win.” You’re like “OK.”
Quint: Not to cut you off, but what I love so far is that there is that kind of Han Solo degree in your character and then when you meet back up with the general, it’s like where he is, he says he’s cut off from the force and I love that that kind of forces you to… It’s a very smart way, I think, to…
Sam Witwer: To face what he has done.
Quint: Definitely and I think it’s also a very smart way to have the guidance without the question of like “Well, if Obi Wan was so powerful, how come he didn’t just step in and end everything himself?” Where you have a mentor like “If Yoda was so powerful…” What I love about the original trilogy is just how smartly they kind of avoid those. “Yeah sure Yoda’s in exile, but he’s also dying. He’s old.” So of course, if he dies and Luke isn’t trained then the line of the Jedi ends forever and it’s like the same thing here. It’s a smart way to write yourself out of the situation of having your characters be too powerful, you know?
Sam Witwer: Absolutely and I think again a lot of that credit goes to Cully, who had his own take on what this Jedi general should be and what it’s like for the guy to be broken and cut off from the force and he’s lost everything, but he has to live through that and I sort of love that, but really quickly to complete the whole David story, we had the cast assembled and we would be doing read throughs of the script and then we would start shooting it and the thing is there are a lot of smaller roles, like Stormtroopers or agents that come in and out and say a few lines and that’s it.
David Collins, who is the audio lead on FORCE UNLEASHED, but he’s also an actor, he was reading all of those small parts, but one of the parts that hadn’t been cast yet was Proxy, so David was reading all of Proxy and David and I are close friends, we go back. I think because we are close friends and also because he’s just a brilliant actor, he started coming up with this really amazing read on Proxy and then as he kept reading it and kept shooting it, people started looking around saying “Um, OK isn’t this the guy like right here? This is Proxy!”
Certain people weren’t convinced yet, because they work with him and they couldn’t believe it would be that easy. They were like “Oh, we’ll go and hire this celebrity or we will hire that celebrity.” They were talking about searching through hundreds of guys and doing all of this stuff and David just kept reading it so perfectly and so creepily. It was just like “This is the guy” and then after a while, the chemistry that me and David had with the Apprentice and Proxy, you couldn’t really change it and they tried. They actually went out and they hired a bunch of actors and recorded different takes on proxy and none of them worked, so just like Anthony Daniels, in the original Trilogy, he was the guy who was in the suit, but Lucas always intended to change the voice, because that’s not the character he envisioned, but then after a while you couldn’t change it, because that was the way it was supposed to be. It’s the same thing with David. He was there, it was perfect, it was exactly what it needed to be, and no one could have believed it was that easy, so David finally got the role.
Quint: So going back, how did you first hear about this? I imagine everything was so shrouded in secrecy. It’s Lucas… What was the first inkling when you first heard about it and went out for it?
Sam Witwer: The way that it happened for me was it was basically… there was this meeting at Lucasfilm and they were getting this whole FORCE UNLEASHED thing… They had been working on it already for a few years, but it was time to start casting and one of the first things they would do was hammer out the character concepts, visual concepts of the characters and finalize that and they also needed to start getting the script into shape and all of that, so this amazing concept artist, named Amy Beth Christensen who does incredible work, she created this painting of this character. She did a whole bunch of concepts, but the one that got approved was this painting of this guy and if you look at the original concepts for the Apprentice, she painted me and she had no idea who I was, we had never met, but she just happened to paint a person that looked like me.
So, back to David. David and his boss Darragh, who knew my work through BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and Peter Hirsching, who is also a BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fan, they all kind of looked at each other and said, “Hey isn’t that Sam?” So they asked for my headshot and I had no idea why.
It was like “OK, cool I’ll send my headshot to Lucasfilm… what the hell is that all about?” and then two months later I get a very covert call from David and in the meantime they ask for my reel and they ask for other material, so then I get this covert call from David and he’s like “OK look, you are up for the role of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice. I couldn’t tell you this, but that’s what’s going on.”
He’s like “Your headshot’s on the top of the pile. I’m like “You didn’t have to do that man, that’s not really fair.” He’s like “No, I didn’t do anything. You look like the character. You are the character. Your headshot is the same as our concept art, so that’s the advantage you have right now, buddy.” I’m like “Oh, OK fine that’s great” and after that, they called me in for an audition and your typical audition is like three to five minutes of acting and then like ten to twenty minutes of discussion and just talking and this was forty five minutes of acting.
They gave me two scenes that you could read in any way that you wanted and I was like “Well, let’s just read it in every way that I can think of then… What kind of character do you want? You said he’s a Sith apprentice, is he like Darth Maul? Or do you want Luke Skywalker? How do you want this?” So we literally went through in every possible conceivable scenario we could come up with, so for forty five minutes we did that and then they hired me and thankfully Haden Blackman wrote a lot of sides of that character into the script, so the character by the time that I had arrived was very well defined.
Quint: Nice. I can only imagine how… It’s great that David gave you that phone call, but I’m sure at the same time you were just like “Fuck you man, you can’t raise my expectations like this!”
Sam Witwer: Yeah, I actually… I’ve been in the business long enough to where you just kind of keep your expectations down for everything, but when the words “Darth Vader” sort of come into it and he mentioned “Action Figure,” you are just like “God Damn it, this is hard. This is really hard. Be cool.” But yeah it was really fun to think about and for me just hearing the concept of “This takes place between the two trilogies and this is a story about what happens in that time.”
That was very exciting, because it’s like… something about Darth Vader’s apprentice kind of makes sense and then when I read the script, I’m like “OK this is why,” because the script definitely makes sense. What’s your sense of it, Eric? Do you feel like it fits within the framework of the STAR WARS mythology?
Quint: I think it fits more than the prequels do and a part of me is sad that I have to get it in a videogame and I couldn’t get it in the movies, but if anything visually man, I can’t… On the writing side, they take it seriously. Visually even in the prequel world like the Plant Planet that Shaak Ti lives on (Felucia), it’s like even that feels lived in, it feels used… in a video game! That kind of stuff always just felt like bright fucking Willy Wonka land with Gobstopper colors. It just didn’t feel used… If you look at even the most beautiful tropical rainforest it’s still dirty, but it’s naturally dirty, so that just adds to its beauty.
I have to see the whole story play out and I’m glad that we get a little bit of Vader and of course that’s cool for me. I just hope that once we get through this kind of run with the TV series and THE CLONE WARS and all of that stuff, I just really hope that the next round of STAR WARS stuff is completely taken away from the universe that we already know. I would love to see a Jedi story where I don’t know the outcome of almost every character as I started.
Sam Witwer: Yeah, I know what you mean.
Quint: I would love to see something that either happens way in the past during the Old Republic times or something that happens in the future, but like I said, I’m not knocking that aspect of this one. I think it’s really good, just as an original trilogy fan. I am a STAR WARS geek and a lot of the die hard fans have trouble believing that on the site, because I am always… I’m not a fan of the prequels and I’m just like “If I didn’t love STAR WARS, I wouldn’t be so critical of the prequels.”
Sam Witwer: Right.
Quint: It is quite a compliment for me to say that this is the one who is getting it the most right in my opinion.
Sam Witwer: Can I be honest with you man? I feel like it’s a compliment enough that you want to talk about this on the site, because I think I even mentioned FORCE UNLEASHED to you like a year and a half ago and I think rightly so you were like “That could be anything, I don’t know what that is… STAR WARS: FORCE UNLEASHED, what is that?” and “I can’t tell you with 100% certainty that that’s something we would cover.” You were very nice about it, but that’s what you said and I am totally flattered that you would feel like it’s worthy of people’s attention.
As a matter of fact, we are… Everyday we are shocked and sort of pleased to hear that it’s being received well, because for us… I mean, especially the fact that one of my closest friends was in on the production of this, I mean dude can you imagine being with one of your best friends going to work at the LDAC, Letterman Digital Arts Center, which is the new Lucasfilm complex and hanging out at the ranch and you get to go and make your own STAR WARS. That’s what it meant to us man.
I couldn’t sleep if the next day had some sort of big scene, all I could think about was “How could you do that better?” It was all about… I’m a gigantic STAR WARS fan myself. As a matter of fact, Haden Blackman said that’s one of the reasons I got the job, that I knew my stuff about STAR WARS.
For me, and again a tremendous pressure on everyone’s shoulders, for me I’m like “Well, I’m going to get killed.” There’s going to be a huge group of fans that hate me from now on, but this is a tremendous opportunity to sort of lend my voice to this chorus and say “I think it should be sung like this.” For me and David and everyone else on that, cast and crew, from the artists to the programmers to the designers to the testers who were making sure that we had a clean submission and coming up with cool things to implement… Everyone wanted to get that right. Everyone was desperate to get that right and if you knew the challenges that they had to overcome and the things that went wrong and the panics, dude, everyone was so doggedly determined and desperate to get it right, because they felt this was their chance to make their own STAR WARS and that’s what it has meant to everyone on that team.
Quint: It’s a really curious time, because so many people are viewing THE CLONE WARS movie as kind of a death knell for STAR WARS and then you have this coming out and I honestly can’t tell you if it’s going to be the thing that changes people’s minds or if it’s going to get lost. I don’t think so. I think it’s too big of a game. It’s advertised at every game store and the game play is actually really natural and really easy to get used to, so it’s a good game on top of it, but I think that there is a chance for this to be the thing that actually reminds people of “Oh yeah STAR WARS can be cool and it’s not just for eight year olds and younger.”
Sam Witwer: You know what it is is… on THE CLONE WARS issue, my take is I just feel like that would have been better represented on television. It was designed for television and it would have been seen in a completely different context if you saw a thirty minute story and then the next week a thirty minute story and if two weeks in a row are about Jabba the Hutt’s son, “that’s fine, let’s move on. Let’s get some more Clone War stories… What else happened?” I think when you put it in a theater, you’re not only up against people like Pixar, but you are up against all of the other STAR WARS movies, so I feel like it was a little bit handicapped and I personally feel like people are going to come back to the cartoon and go “You know what? This is great. We were hard on this.” I understand why they were, because they put it in a different arena, a completely different playing field and again I don’t think that is where it was designed to be. Would you agree with that?
Quint: You know, I don’t know. I definitely agree that it shouldn’t have been shown theatrically. You are exactly right on that it was made for TV and it feels that way, but…
Sam Witwer: Even things like the pacing. It’s paced to have commercial breaks and that’s not a knock, that’s a technical design that you have to do for television…
Quint: At the same time, you can look at what Tartakovsky did with CLONE WARS in three minute shots and then follow that up with the five minute or ten minute long episodes in the second season. I think fans just want the universe taken seriously. They are tired…
That’s why most of the fans think EPISODE 3 is the best of the prequels, because it was the first one to actually begin to start taking the world seriously. There are serious moments in EPISODES 1 and 2… They want a movie that’s not aimed for a specific demographic. If you look at STAR WARS, the original stuff, my Dad loved them just as much as I did and I think that’s been missing from this new series. I think that when you hear so many people railing against THE CLONE WARS, it’s because it kind of represents the worst of what they have in their mind in terms of the theatrical release of the cartoon and people take that as a sign that that’s where the series is going to languish from now on.
That’s why I’m glad when I played that demo, it was like “Thank God, look at this. It’s epic, it’s big, it’s serious, but it’s the original trilogy.” It’s taking the design elements and taking the kind of emotional and nostalgic benchmarks that we all have and the memories we have and actually let us play around in the world and what I’ve really liked about the story aspect of it is that it is serious. It’s not really a downer, but the stakes are real and the people are real and you don’t need to be a Paul Schrader movie to be serious, but always go back to EMPIRE and just look at… that is kind of a depressing movie, but as a kid I never associated that with it being depressing, because I always knew in my heart that the good guys were going to win.
Sam Witwer: Exactly. It was still wondrous. It was still a fantastic journey, yeah. I agree. FORCE UNLEASHED for us… we definitely… We were taking it very seriously. Every lunch was a working lunch. We never stopped working on that thing. We would sit down between shooting for six hours and then we would go to lunch and then during lunch we would talk about these characters and we would say “OK, what was it about Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia? Why are we still talking about these guys? Why do we even care? What is it about these characters that makes them last? What is it about the style of those movies?”
We would break it down and we would talk about old 1940s movies and we would talk about all of those things and as a matter of fact there was this one time we shot this… very early one, one of the first scenes that we shot I said some lines and it just didn’t feel very STAR WARS-y, so we stopped and I look at Darragh and Darragh, this brilliant director, he’s searching for the words and he starts talking about stakes and things being important and then I just barked in, “You know what Darragh? One of the most important directions we need to have for this whole shoot forward is ‘faster and more intense,’ it all has to be faster and more intense.”
The joke is that that’s all that George Lucas said on the original set of STAR WARS. They would say “How was that George?” “Faster and more intense” or “Do it again faster” or “Do it again more intense.” You watch that original movie and as much as the actors make fun of him for it, guess what, that’s the exact right direction for that movie. The entire thing needs to be faster and more intense, so we continuously would go back to things that were even joked about in the first STAR WARS movie and say “Yeah, but where did that serve them?” “Where was that a good idea?” and again, “Faster and more intense.” It turned out to be a great idea, you know?
Same dialogue, faster to make it sound a little bit more important… We really tried to create as much of a flavor of that as much as possible, while at the same time maintaining elements of the prequels because we are a bridge of those two situations and even the music reflects that. As you get later in the game, you are going to start hearing music of a completely different style than what you may be hearing now. I think, well at least that’s what I’ve been told. I’ve heard a lot the music and the stuff that was meant to happen later it was awesome. It really sounded like EPISODE 4, like “Oh my God.”
Quint: I’ve noticed a very smart use of John Williams’ themes and how at some of the darker periods for your character, you actually get the Emperor theme and on top of the visuals, the auditory benchmarks. People give JEDI a lot of shit and there are parts about JEDI that I can agree with, like “Oh yeah Han Solo should have been a little bit more like he was in the first two movies” and I think Ewoks get a bad rap. Those little fuckers at least were killing Stormtroopers, you know?
Sam Witwer: I’m glad you said that, as far as JEDI is concerned, my take on that is “Yes, there are flaws…” That movie takes the most difficult… Let’s be clear, RETURN OF THE JEDI is what turned Darth Vader into the character that he is today, not EMPIRE. EMPIRE hinted at it. Throughout EMPIRE he is the Dark Lord of the Sith, but you are starting to learn that there is something else behind it.
JEDI, he’s actually dealing with those issues and you are seeing it for the first time and you project all of that stuff back to EMPIRE, because that’s when it started, so you’re like “Oh yeah EMPIRE did that” and it’s like uh uh, RETURN OF THE JEDI gave you all of that and the Emperor… Imagine, “We are making a STAR WARS movie and we are going to introduce another villain and he’s going to be even badder than Darth Vader!” It’s like “That’s not going to work.” Then you get this 35 year old Ian McDiarmid and he just blows everyone’s socks off and it’s like “that’s incredible.”
My whole thing with JEDI is that there were ways that they could have more eloquently tied in the whole “Luke and Leia are brother and sister.” There were ways they could have utilized Han Solo to make his story arc more of a constant throughout the whole trilogy, but the main storyline of the trilogy in RETURN OF THE JEDI, I don’t see how it could have been done better, and that’s what is most important and it’s a home run with that. On top of that, it’s also the one that has the most showmanship, so it’s like anyone who wants to take issue with JEDI is like, “You guys are going after a pretty great movie.”
Quint: I would argue and I still argue to this day that some of the best stuff in any of the STAR WARS films is the Luke, Vader, and Emperor sequences.
Sam Witwer: Oh my God.
Quint: Luke and Vader and the scene on the bridge, where the father is complimenting the son’s work on his light saber and you can really… Considering that you have an actor and then a mask and you can read in every single movement the intense internal struggle that Vader has going on and then in James Earl Jones’ delivery, where he’s like “It’s too late for me.” He has the perfect amount of emotion where it just feels defeated. I agree with you, the dream of what Vader is is largely due in part to what happened in JEDI.
Sam Witwer: And also another thing for anyone who has ever criticized Mark Hamill, I take issue with that as well. This is an actor who delivered a performance where at no point do you ever look at Mark Hamill and ask “I don’t really get what’s going on with that character.” In every moment, you know exactly what that character is going through and that’s exactly what a STAR WARS movie needs. It needs a main character whose through line is so clear and the actor who is just so clear on what every moment means and his evolution through those movies is phenomenal. By the time you get to RETURN OF THE JEDI, he has shed all of that... what people say about him that he’s whiny. It’s like he’s completely shed that in JEDI.
In JEDI he is a totally different guy, he’s an adult and now he’s facing the main issue that got him there to begin with, even to the point of when he’s taking about the force or addressing the Emperor, his vocal pattern changes. As an actor, he instinctively knew if you talk about these things, you don’t go British, but you go somewhere between American and British, you know what I mean?
Sam Witwer: You don’t want to say “The Force,” you want to say “The Force” [Different emphasis] and little things like that I really appreciate. I think Mark Hamill is the guy who, aside from George Lucas, he’s the guy who gave us STAR WARS. Don’t make any mistake about that, along with a whole bunch of others, but in terms of like chief contributions, dude, that guys is unbelievable. He was perfect for that and then Ian McDiarmid shows up and James Earl Jones and Harrison Ford… All of those people… Carrie Fisher… Everyone really played their role, but as far as I’m concerned and I will always say this, Luke Skywalker is my favorite character. That’s the guy. He’s the guy who, whether you like to admit it or not, he’s the guy that we all relate to.
Quint: Yeah. He’s our in. He’s Harry Potter. He is the person that we wish as a kid growing up, as I would imagine Harry Potter is to a whole new generation … We wished that Obi Wan would have found of and we could have been the guy going on these adventures and being a JEDI, just as kids of today wish they could be Harry Potter and be in a magical world and be able to do cool shit.
Sam Witwer: When we were doing FORCE UNLEASHED, we came up with this formula, because you mentioned Han Solo as relating to my character. Me and Darragh would sit around and talk about it and like this is probably going to sound a little bit lame to some people, other people might think it’s cool, we thought it was appropriate, it was our way of sort of defining the character, we were like “Look, we need to be real clear on this” and we came up with this formula that this Secret Apprentice is one part Darth Maul, two parts Han Solo, one part Indiana Jones, because there is a difference, and then one essential part Luke Skywalker.
If you don’t have Luke Skywalker in there, I just don’t think it would work. If there isn’t some wide eyed kid inside who is trying to figure it all out, then where does the urgency come from? Someone said to me at some point, “Shouldn’t Vader’s apprentice…” this was someone working on the project and he asked a very valid question, “Shouldn’t Vader’s apprentice have been somewhat just totally dark and soulless?”
While at times it is, my take is “No, if we don’t give this guy any humanity, then we have just created an incredibly boring story.” “Isn’t it good enough that this guy is a lot of times extremely dark and wipes out hundreds of people? I think that’s dark enough, we now need to look for the light,” because this whole story is totally dark. People are dying left and right, the Jedi are not doing well at all. Every Jedi that you meet in this story, although you don’t meet that many, every one of them is representing some sort of horrible failure, I mean Kazdan Paratus is insane.
Quint: I love that aspect. That’s my favorite part that he’s so fucking crazy that he builds up the trash temple and is talking to the caricatures of the old Jedi.
Sam Witwer: Right, this guy can’t deal with what he has lost, so he’s in denial about it so much so that he has created a false Jedi temple. That’s awesome and then you meet General Kota, his way of dealing with the Empire is he built his own army and he has just continued the fight, like he never stopped and that he paid the price for it and he becomes messed up and then I love Shaak Ti. With Shaak Ti, you are like “That Shaak Ti has pretty much stayed a Jedi…” No she hasn’t though, she’s training a dark Jedi and she’s in denial about it, like her apprentice is so clearly consumed by the dark side, but Shaak Ti is like “No no no, don’t worry, she’s fine. She’s just a little bit scared, but it’s fine.”
I love how it plays out and again Lucas is the guy who sat down with Haden and gave examples of how the dark times affected the Jedi and talked about all of the terrible things that were happening to these people and that was the launching board for where Haden took these characters, so I just thought that was great. When I read the script it was like “Oh, so you’re not just hunting Jedi and there are Jedi Knights. No, these Jedi have been through years of persecution and being hunted and nothing is the same and these people aren’t the same.” I really got a kick out of that, but the story is so dark, I think that’s the point of what I was saying, the story is so dark that if you don’t have some sort of light, then you have just created this one note piece of crap really.
Quint: There’s also an under current of if you don’t have that Luke Skywalker aspect to it, then you lose the almost stepson relationship between Vader and the apprentice.
Sam Witwer: That is exactly right.
Quint: It really does seem to feel to me, while I was playing, especially when you start questioning Vader’s motives when you have your heroic act and you save Juno, it’s like you start… It really did feel like it was almost a precursor. If this had taken place between EMPIRE and JEDI or something, you could easily see it as Vader trying to replace the son that he knows it out there, but just looking at it in this time period, he feels a whole, but I assume he doesn’t know he has a kid.
Sam Witwer: He doesn’t know it yet, but when he sees the apprentice, what’s great about that moment is that this kids is standing up to Darth Vader and you have never seen a child stand up to Darth Vader or at least successfully. Vader takes out children pretty easily, as we know, but he’s looking at this kid and he starts realizing that “Oh my God, this Jedi that I’m currently killing,” and that he kills moments later “we have something in common, he had a wife. He had a kid. I almost had a kid.”
And Vader was a kid, maybe he sees himself in the kid, maybe he sees the kid that he lost, maybe he sees the family man he could have been and all of those things were happening and then at that really crucial moment when the kid is about to be killed, what does Vader do? He does the right thing and he steps in. Instead of slaughtering the kid, like he did last time, he saves him and you go “Good, you’re still kind of Anakin Skywalker, you’re still with us,” but then he can’t follow through. He cannot follow through and what does he do? He raises the kid in darkness and turns him into this tool instead of into a proper son and that’s what I love about Vader’s choices in this. There are several moments and I’m trying to think of where you are in the plot, I think you have already seen one moment where it’s like…
Quint: Where the Emperor has found out about the apprentice?
Sam Witwer: Exactly and Vader makes this call, well that is a deliberate echo to RETURN OF THE JEDI, you know, there is a moment where Vader takes a moment and the Emperor says “Do this.” He takes a moment of “Do I do this? Do I not?” and then he makes the wrong choice, well in RETURN OF THE JEDI he’s provided with the same choice and he makes the right choice, so this story sort of sets Vader up for his second chance with Luke Skywalker, which is really in a way his first chance with his real son, but the way that we conceived of it was “This is the prototype Luke Skywalker,” this is not “Skywalker,” this is “Starkiller.”
This is what Luke would have been, the Darth Vader that wasn’t ready yet to say “Enough is enough” and release himself from this servitude that he has walked himself into and that’s just one of the many things that I love about the story, that it addresses all of that. The thing that I love about it is it doesn’t address it to your face. It doesn’t say these things and there’s not huge lines of dialogue about these issues, they’re just sort of there and we kind of just toss them out there to be like “hey.” I’m wondering what people are going to take away from this. As a matter of fact there were even certain lines that were cut, because they explained too much. “Get rid of it, because we are not allowing people to debate anything if we put that line in there.” There was a… Have you been to the part where, again… I don’t want to spoil this for you, but there’s this one line where Proxy says something like “I hate being him.” Did you see that yet?
Quint: I’m not sure. Is it the scene after the betrayal and you are strapped to the table?”
Sam Witwer: It’s well after that.
Quint: I’m not too… I’m just now getting into the Imperial stronghold on Kashyyk, so…
Sam Witwer: And that’s another neat thing about the story, that I love how it is a story that chronicles a little bit the rise of the Empire. In the beginning you start out on this lush jungle forest world that’s under attack and then when you return, you are in this forested nightmare and it’s the same place, but the Empire has now moved in, it’s fifteen years later and “here are your Imperial tax dollars working for you.” The same thing with Falucia, that place of being corrupted by the dark side and you see how things change there and I love the fact that you get to go back to these places that you visit early on and see that “Oh my God, everything is changing for the worst and these characters are changing for the worst. Who’s going to try to set this right? Who’s going to turn it around?”
The thing is, Eric, you’re not even at the point yet where you know what the story is really about and when you find out, I think you are going to be really pleased and I want you to email me, because there’s a scene coming up that me and David were standing there and we were reading with Jimmy Smitts and he delivers a certain line to me that I had had delivered to me several times before, because we had done read throughs and this and that, but Jimmy wasn’t there, so I had heard this line, I had read this line a million times, it was great “OK moving on…” When Jimmy delivered it to me and he was Bail Organa delivering this certain key piece of dialogue, the eight year old STAR WARS fan in me just had a meltdown, because I finally understood. “Oh my God, this is the story we are telling. The story we are telling is about this moment right now, this line…” With me, the eight year old STAR WARS fan, I’m standing in the middle of it. I was there. I would love to know what you think about it when it comes up and I really don’t want to spoil it for you man.
Quint: Sure, I appreciate it.
Sam Witwer: I think the best stuff has yet to come. I mean, there’s cooler stuff awaiting.
Quint: Good, it feels like a nice long game, because I played it for a good six and a half hours yesterday and I’m only at this point, so it’s either that or I’m just really bad at it. (laughs)
Sam Witwer: The fun thing about this game is running around and exploring.
Quint: And finding the cubes and holocrons…
Sam Witwer: And finding all of the detail they threw into it. I was walking around in Raxus Prime and I look over this cliff and I’m seeing star cruisers from various films or things that are just in the background where I’m like “Wow, these guys really worked very hard on this.” You want to know how much of a STAR WARS geek I am? Check this out: I appreciated that on Raxus Prime at one point there was a… you could use the force to raise an X-Wing out of the murk, so you could jump on it and you have probably already passed that point, it’s kind of hidden and I remember being very disappointed by that. I remember being like “There are no X-Wings yet. The X-Wing is like the new thing that the rebels use against the Death Star, this is disappointing.” I was really saddened by that, but the next time I played it, it was a Z-85, which is supposed to be the ship just before the X-Wing. I was like “OK, these guys are geeks, I’m a geek…”
Quint: Somebody caught it. That’s awesome.
Sam Witwer: It was fun to see that. Everyone was… this was absolutely a labor of love, this entire thing and there’s also something else that I can’t reveal to you until you see the credits, there’s a… I’ll put it to you this way, I play another character in this as well, but I don’t want to tell you who until you see the credits.
Quint: Well, you have already spoiled that for me.
Sam Witwer: Oh, I told you that? Oh man…
Quint: Very impressive job though, I have to say I couldn’t pick out your voice at all.
Sam Witwer: Awesome, thanks dude. If you could, just don’t share that until after the game’s out.
Quint: That’s why I haven’t mentioned it yet.
Sam Witwer: You rule dude, thank you very much! It’s been really fun. It’s like, as a STAR WARS fan, this project has been… I’ve loved it every bit as much as my favorite acting projects, you know, I loved DEXTER, I loved THE MIST, I loved BATTLESTAR and this is every bit as important to me, if not in some childhood ways more important to me, to do this.
Quint: You were talking earlier about not being sure how the people are going to respond to it or you as a character and all I have got to say, because I can’t speak for everybody, but as somebody who has in recent years been cynical on the series, it’s like I think your character and what you bring to it is really strong and I really don’t think you have much to worry about.
Sam Witwer: Oh, thank you.
Quint: Once people see that you’re not throwing out slang and throwing out modern day references and stuff that none of the die hards believe to belong in STAR WARS, it seems like you are being really benefited by somebody who actually takes this world and this story extremely seriously and like I told you, that’s what I have been grabbing onto just in little moments just watching you construct your lightsaber.
Sam Witwer: Oh yeah, and then Vader interrupts.
Quint: You lose your concentration and it’s just small little touches like that, I think that the worst you are going to hear is people going like “Why wasn’t that kind of shit in the prequels?”
Sam Witwer: That’s extremely kind of you to say and actually, Eric, yours is the first feedback I have gotten from anyone that wasn’t involved with the project, so that’s great to hear man, it really is. I took this with the assumption that I was going to get hatemail, because I knew what the projections were in terms of what kind of business they had hoped this was going to make, so I’m like “Alright, there’s a real audience here, but hey fine let’s do it,” so I appreciate that man, thank you very much.
Quint: Like I said, the fans, especially the ones that are the most vocal, they just want to see… They are vocal because they fucking love the original movies and so you have this new story that actually feels like it really could and should be connected to the original movies and it’s done by people that are taking it really seriously and you don’t have that stigma or that feeling of being left out that I think a lot of people did before. I can’t imagine that you are going to get hate mail, but then again I haven’t seen the second half of the game, so…
Sam Witwer: He starts totally sucking. He starts actually calling everything “Cool” and then starts calling Kota “Kochizzle.”
Quint: Or Kotizzle?
Sam Witwer: Yeah, General Kotizzle. We just wanted to spice things up dude.
Quint: I imagine, you start seriously and then two years into it, your are still in the middle of doing everything so you’re going to want to do something… You probably had some Britney Spears references that you now had to rewrite for Miley Cyrus…
Sam Witwer: I kill a Jedi and I say “Oops, I did it again.” We took out the laugh track, because we didn’t feel like maybe that belonged in STAR WARS.
But dude, I think it’s wicked and when I say wicked, I mean that in the way that a twelve year old would say “wicked,” that’s what I mean and I really appreciate what you are saying. Again, like I have been saying, this is a group of people who… take it from me, Me, David, and all of our friends, we would sit around for many hours thinking “What would we do if we were put in the driver’s seat of a STAR WARS production?” and we in our own way had a chance to do just that, so this was an extremely fun experience and rewarding in many ways and also I should say that George Lucas’ contribution to this whole situation was not insignificant. He really encouraged the team in some incredible direction in terms of the story.
Quint: I believe he still has it in him. As vocal as I am about not liking the direction he took in a lot of the prequels, it’s like I still can’t deny that the overall story we was going for was a great story, it’s just when it comes to the execution of it where I start having problems, but even at my worst I never thought that he was anything less than a master story teller.
Sam Witwer: REVENGE OF THE SITH really… sure, you can take shots at that movie and I will agree with you, but I can’t help to get goose bumps at various points in that movie. It’s very impressive to make a film, where everyone already knows what the story of the film is, but you still have to watch it again. I really like that movie.
But Lucas he… when they were coming up with the story and pitching story concepts, they came up with a lot of wild wacky ideas and Haden is really creative guy, so he came up with a lot of ideas, some of which were off the beaten path. When they settled on Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, everything was going along the way that you are playing the game and then at a certain point it diverts and they start going after this other secret apprentice and other things are happening and Qui-Gon Jinn shows up, his ghost, and then the ghost of Mace Windu and all of these things happen and these are all story concepts, so no one was settling on this. So when they presented stuff like that to George, George was like “Guys, STAR WARS is about Darth Vader and the Emperor and what’s going on with the Empire. Stay central and come up with a Jedi mentor who is kind of like this” and “Come up with a droid sidekick who has the potential to be a comic sidekick and come up with a new love interest.” They were like “Can we use this character?” and he’s like “Yes! This character is doing this, this, and this and if you can, incorporate it this way… and this is how this guy got started and this is where this organization got started…”
He was really helpful in that way, so he does deserve credit. The ideas and the things that I’ve heard from the team members in terms of the things that he came up with, I can’t specifically discuss them, because I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but like there were some brilliant in terms of direction that came from him, so…
Quint: I’m hoping that this is kind of the beginning of a trend that I’m hoping I will see in the live action show, where Lucas is very much involved in the story level, but he kind of gives the tools to the people who are excited about making it and kind of have a fresh perspective on the series as a whole. I’m really hoping that this is the beginning of that. I think that is kind of the dream, to have that kind of sweet spot, just like EMPIRE where Lucas had so much creative control, but at the same time he had to trust other people and I think that that creative back and forth is what helped make that movie so timeless.
All my bitching aside, I still love lightsabers and I still love the idea of the force and how it can be used for good and evil. I love the universe, so I would love for nothing more than to see people just giving a new perspective on it. Have great filmmakers or with this have people who make great video games who just have the passion and run with it. I’d love it if that’s where STAR WARS is going.
Sam Witwer: There are things that came across with my experiences at Lucasfilm that suggest that that might be exactly where it’s going, so I can’t really say more than that and I don’t really know much more than that, but there were certain encounters that took place that were unscheduled where I’m like “Oh, I wont say anything. I’m under NDA!” I’ll get sued. They will stab me, but yeah man there’s some…
Quint: They might take your action figure away.
Sam Witwer: (laughs) Exactly, but yeah dude as far as I’m concerned, George Lucas… it’s incredible that he was able to cook up… The thing that gets me is like “OK, I’m going to come up with this archeologist.” “OK cool.” “He wears a fedora.” “Why?” “It takes place in the 1940’s. It’s brown and he’s got a leather jacket.” “Alright…” “And he wears this gun on his side and then a whip and then he goes and… he’s an archeologist…” It’s like “That’s probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard if I didn’t know who Indiana Jones was.”
“We got these guys, these space wizards who run around with laser swords…” “That’s really stupid! Oh no wait a second, it’s the coolest thing ever. It’s so cool in fact, that thirty years later we still think it’s cool.” I mean, I don’t know how you come up with stuff like that. I think it’s really incredible. We’re still talking about the same issues.
Again for all of the flack the prequels get and believe me I’ve had my own issues with them, I do find it really interesting that a lot of the things that are talked about in the prequels are very topical in terms of what’s happening in our country and in the world, especially with the whole idea of how a democracy becomes something less than democracy and Palpatine’s rise to power and I thought the way that Palpatine’s character was handled through the prequel… that’s really incredible how that was handled, because I couldn’t really envision how that would take place and I certainly didn’t know Ian McDiarmid was still going to play the role, because I assumed that he was just some 85 year old dude, you know? I had no idea that he was 35 at that time, but it’s like with the prequels the thing that I will give them credit for is that there are things in there that aren’t…
You have your expectation of what the prequels would be from when you were a kid, right? You knew they were coming, since the originals came out, you knew the prequels were coming. Well years later they show up and everyone has had now 15 years to generate their own prequels in their head, in terms of expectation, well I am just happy that there are not just moments, but many moments and entire scenes and all kinds of stuff that happen in the prequels that aren’t just as cool as what I imagined, but completely surpassed what I imagined, you know?
Certain things of course fell short or they were different and I was like “I’m not happy with that,” but there were absolutely things like the way that Darth Vader is actually birthed, I didn’t see that coming even though I knew that was what was coming, I didn’t see that coming. There are a lot of elements in there where I didn’t really see it going down in the way that it went down and it’s like you have got to give the guy credit for coming up with some ideas that could still surprise us, even though we knew they were coming.
Quint: And he created a whole new visual language, which is something that isn’t a plus for me, but I still acknowledge that if one of the prequels is on TV and you see two frames of it, you know exactly that “Oh, it’s one of the prequels.” It’s so far removed from any other film, which is part of the reason why I don’t like the visual identity, but it also gives me, at the same time, some sort of respect for being able to create that and create that feel that is instantly recognizable that no matter what you think of the movies, you can’t say is that it looks like everything that had come before.
Sam Witwer: Oh yeah, it’s a completely different look and that was one of the fun things about FORCE UNLEASHED was bridging those looks, because you talk a lot about the classic trilogy and I think the reason that you are saying that is because yeah, we had a very sort of conscious effort to include those elements in our story, but really if you look at it, it’s merging the two. That’s what we were really trying to do, was to merge those two and what do you do when you take the prequels and you take the classics and you crush them into each other? Hopefully you get FORCE UNLEASHED.
So if you like the prequels, you have plenty of stuff there that’s going to be really familiar to you and if you like the classics, you are going to find something there for you, too. It’s sort of what we went for. It’s funny man, there was a lot of testing and they would go out and I don’t really know what the process was when they were developing what the next STAR WARS project was going to be that became FORCE UNLEASHED, but I remember being told that it was all, again, all of the data that they had acquired just told them what they should have known, but didn’t, which is that people just really want to have that story.
They want to have that fundamental, that thru line, that whole dark side/light side conflict, that’s the most compelling thing about STAR WARS and so that’s really what Haden went for and Haden Blackman man, you want to talk about a STAR WARS geek, a guy who knows his stuff, that guy is brilliant. That guy comes up with great, great stuff and he’s come up with… this is his baby and he had such a bullheaded, stubborn take on what this game was from day one and no matter what hurdles got in his way and people saying “You can’t do that” or “How do you know that’s even going to work?” He would just say “No, just keep going. It’s got to work. It will work, because I’ve seen it in my head.” He knew what this game was long before anyone else did and if it’s any good, it’s because we had the best leadership ever and that’s Haden Blackman.
He also wrote, I feel, a very good script. Talk about someone who knows his STAR WARS, he really does dude. He loves it more than anyone does and he was a joy to work with and to work for. He’s this big football player guy and just really fun to be around, that was our general. That was our leader.
Quint: I dig it so far and I’ll let you know what I feel about the rest of it when I finish it and actually when we finish up here I’m going to go right back to playing. I stopped playing right before the interview and I’ll pick it right back up.
Sam Witwer: That rules man. Absolutely let me know. There are a few more surprises left in store. The thing and again I don’t know if this is going to spoil anything for you, but the thing that I think I love about it is that there are certain things that are revealed that some people might take as “Oh, this is a big shocking revelation in the story” and other people might take it as “No, this is a big lie” and I don’t think there’s a right answer. There are certain things that happen where I don’t think anyone really knows what really happened and that’s I think the brilliance of what Haden did, that there’s so much in this story that it’s like he’s not telling you. He’s not explaining it to you, he’s not telling you what actually did go down and he’s giving you enough to come up with your own opinion and feel satisfied with that, but he’s not giving you anymore than that. He’s not leaving you unsatisfied, but he’s not spelling it out for you.
Quint: That’s all we can ask for.
Sam Witwer: Absolutely man, good luck with that.
Quint: Alright, well thanks for talking to me. This went on very, very long, but…
Sam Witwer: Sorry about that, dude.
Quint: It’s not your fault at all. It’s actually really good. I really like the conversational interviews and it went well. I think we got some good stuff, unless there’s anything else that you want to touch upon.
Sam Witwer: I think that’s about it.
Quint: Alright, awesome man, well you have a good day and I’ll let you know what I think when I finish the game.
Sam Witwer: Alright bud, you have fun.
Hope you guys enjoyed the chat and the purty piktures from Lucasarts.
I’ll be hitting you guys with my Force Unleashed review probably tomorrow afternoon. As you can tell, I really liked it, but I’ll be a little more detailed than that.
Fantastic Fest coming up and I still have tons of catch-up to do. Keep them eyeballs peeled.