Star Wars

Whilst Ralph has appeared in a range of cameo and supporting roles on film and television over the years, it is not our intention to publish a resume of these on Ralphmorse.com.  Such lists are regularly updated by independent professional sources and are available elsewhere on the internet.   Due, however, to the continuing interest in one specific area of his film work, we have made one exception,  and will cover Ralph's roles in both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Return of the Jedi"   We are to indebted to Robert Williams for creation of this section of Ralphmorse.com

My name is Robert Williams and I am a journalist.  I have had the pleasure of interviewing Ralph, his colleagues, friends and a number of Star Wars aficionados in 2007 and again 2011, for the original Ralphmorse.com.   He has also been interviewed by various fansites and CNN Digital.   Collectively this informs the content of this page.

May the "Morse" be with you!

(Ralph pictured with Mark Capri who played Officer M'kae)

 

Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet a number of Star Wars cast and crew members at press briefings and conventions and found that each one has their own unique memories and perspective on the making of the films.  What I have found to be universally true is that a greater number of artists were involved in creating the filmed sequences than I had originally expected.  Several cameo players and supporting artists may have contributed to a single character sometimes with additional filming of a single sequence taking place in another part of the world with an entirely dfferent actor.   Contrastingly, such as the Hoth Rebel base, a smaller number of extras were used with actors doubling up, retreating as rebel soldiers in one shot and then shooting back at themselves as snowtroopers and stormtroopers in another.   This is a vast landscape;  all we can do here is give a brief summary of one actor's involvement in both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the  Jedi"    

 

"The Empire Strikes Back"

 

One of the first questions I asked Ralph, was one that he is most often asked, 

"How did you become an imperial stormtrooper?"

 

"Well it was not originally intended that I should be a stormtrooper.   I got a call from an agent inviting me to attend an audition for the role of a desk officer in a new film entitled, "The Empire Strikes Back."   When I asked him what it was about he told me I would find out soon enough!    Even when I arrived at Elstree Film Studios and saw the "Star Wars" stage with the massive sign on it I still didn't make the connection.  It was only when I met an assistant director that the penny finally dropped."

 

While waiting for his audition Ralph caught sight of and exchanged nods with Peter Diamond with whom he had previously worked on the "Dick Turpin" television series.  Ralph had appeared as a blackguard in the episode "The Upright Man" on which Peter Diamond had been the stunt director.  He recalls that first meeting.

 

"We were filming at an old Coach House in Hertfordshire and I had been waiting a while to be called.   At that point in career I had yet to learn that you have to wait your turn.  So I wandered on to the set, walked straight up to Charles Crighton, the director and bold as brass asked him what he wanted me to do.  An assistant, pulled me to one side and said they needed me to fall down this staircase.   I thought it was a strange request but who was I to argue.   After a few really appalling attempts, a stuntman appeared, (they thought I was him), and a diplomatic incident was averted by the arrival of Peter who saw the funny side of it.   He could have had me removed but did the opposite and let me watch some set-ups.  I later discovered that he was a RADA trained actor himself and liked my enthusiasm."

 

Ralph Morse, Imperial Stormtrooper - Early Publicity Shot

 

Having passed basic introductions at his audition, the assistant excused himself and Ralph waited another twenty minutes or so before he returned. 

 

"When he came back I was given a proposition.  The desk officer role was a couple of lines and filming would take no more than two days, but alternatively if I fancied the idea I could be a stormtrooper and other characters and spend several months on the movie.  I chose the latter, and later discovered that Peter Diamond's influence came in to play there as they needed another body to add to an existing team of extras who would be able to work competently in sequences where there were stunt men and he said I would do.  That was how I became a stormtrooper."    

 

As a consequence Ralph was involved in many of the key sequences in "The Empire Strikes Back"  including some of the Bespin scenes, the carbon freezing chamber, on the Executor and at the evacuation of the Hoth Rebel Base.  

 

The First Shot

 

Much has been written about the cumbersome and uncomfortable imperial stormtrooper armour but in Ralph's case there was, at least initially, an ever greater problem.

 

"The first helmet they gave me was impossible to see through.   I had to run down a corridor with three other stormtropers.  Well,  I was absolutely useless at it as I crashed into the walls, bumped into the other stormtroopers and fell over.    It turned out that a well meaning member of the crew who had been tasked with cleaning the lens on the eyes had done so with Brasso, an abrasive.  As a result it was looking through the glazed windows of a bathroom.  Fortunately, I was given another helmet that hadn't been given the Brasso treatment and life was a little easier.  I soon discovered that falling down was quite a repetitive process!"

The Corridors of Bespin

 

Ralph fell over many times during filming, sometimes deliberately, but mostly accidentally.  

 

"We wore white, glorified Chelsea boots that had no tread so we used to slide all over the place.  The soles would leave black marks on the set so pretty much before and after every shot the corridors had to be cleaned.  That made things even more slippery.    Also we couldn't properly bend our legs, so whenever we had to undertake a kneeling shot, a member of the crew would remove the relevant calf piece and cut a "V" shape in it.  We would then take the shot, after which we would be rebuilt with new calf pieces.   When an action shot was required the stuntmen would appear in rubber suits so they could fly through the air and land relatively safely.  My suit was quite hard so when I took a tumble I felt it.   I also spent one day with another stormtrooper walking back and forth against a blue screen so the images could be added to some of the more elaborate cloud city shots."

"Get My Shuttle Ready"

 

There were many comic interludes during the filming of "The Empire Strikes Back", but not all of them make it ino the final picture.

But one such moment appeared when shooting stopped temporarily while a technical problem was resolved with some doors.

 

"The doors were being opened by a pulley system operated by the crew and they were sticking, so we took a break.  I started playing around with my blaster and decided to hold it left-handed, side-saddle style as though I were carrying a shot-gun in the west.   Once the problem of the doors was resolved we had a rehearsal during which I was still carrying my blaster cowboy style." 

It turned out it was actually being filmed and that it is how it 

                                                                                     appears in the film.   

 

Ralph Morse - Corporal Derdram

 

Ralph did eventually become a desk officer, Corporal Derdram, for the sequence when the Millennium Falcon charges into Darth Vader's "Executor" star destroyer.

 

"When were rehearsing the shot in where we all duck down, Irving Kershner was concerned that I was little too high in frame and spoiling the mise en scene, (the overall shaping of the onscreen image.).   If you look at the still you can see that the top of my forage cap is just touching the arch sweep of the set.  You can also discern that I am neither sitting of standing, really.   In fact I suggested to "Kersh" that if I bent my knees a little it might lower me sufficiently in frame to give the result he was looking for.   "Kersh" was very approachable and agreed that it was a sound idea and that was how we filmed it.   I was stuck in that position for about ten minutes or so and spent the rest of the day walking like I was a cowboy who had just gotten off a horse after several days in the saddle"

 

Originally just listed as an imperial comms officer, the name of Corporal Derdram was officially adopted when the character appeared in an approved set of role-play cards.

 

The Carbon Chamber

 

One of the most difficult sequences to film involved Han Solo being placed in carbon freeze.   The set itself was built over fifteen feet above the sound stage and was incredibly hot, covered in smoke and steam and very difficult to negotiate.

 

"I actually had to be assisted on to the set by the crew.  It was a complicated arrangement of ladders, slopes and ramps and I was having incredible difficulty just gettiing on to it.   When we started filming my lenses clouded up in the heat and I could see very little.  Even though we were somewhat short of usuable space they moved us around quite a bit.   Stormtroopers were often moved between set-ups in order that each frame would look strong visually."

 

The extras involved in the various set-ups were even moved between takes and for still shots.  Hence Ralph could be standing at the back for one take but be next to Baba Fett or Darth Vader for the following shot or with Han Solo in another.  The carbon sequence as a whole took an incredibly long time to film and the actors suffered terribly from the heat, the smoke and the discomfort of the costumes.    Stormtroopers couldn't see from the mist inside their helmets and were also in danger of sliding because of lack of tread on the soles of their boots.

 

Fortunately, Ralph didn't have any trips during the filming  but that was probably because the extras were replaced by stuntmen for the more difficult shots..   Not everyone was so lucky

 

"On one occasion a stormtrooper who was not a stuntman fell off.  Fortunately he was not seriously hurt, but conditions were not favourable, especially for the smaller actors in the hoglike costumes."

The Evacuation of Hoth

 

Ralph spent the majority of the filming of "The Empire Strikes Back"  fighting for the "Dark Side"  but he did find himself as a Rebel during the Evacuation of Hoth. 

 

"The set for the Rebel Base was enormous and took up the whole of the sound stage.  At one end were the rebel command centres and the ice-caverns that exited onto the main base.  At the top end was the full size Millennium Falcon next which to stood various items of equipment.  Down one side of the studio wall artists had painted perspective vistas featuring X-Wing Fighters and comms equipment, out buildings etc.  These were brilliantly painted while in the foreground were the full-size models of the fighters that were towed into frame for the filmed launch sequences. At the far end were the two enormous doors that opened onto the ice planet.  The whole area was covered in white rock salt that certainly made it look like real snow.   Additonally on the other side of the stage were other individual settings where at one point I spent a happy half an hour or so watching the rehearsal of a tantuan.    For the main evacuation shots I was running with others towards the big doors and the crew were throwing large chunks of polystyrene at us to give the impression of the base collapsing.  I resolved that if anything should hit me, I would die a dramatic death.  Nothing did hit me so I never had the chance to try my idea out.   I also remember entering at the other end as a stormtrooper, (not a snowtrooper) and actually blasting at myself.  (That shot did not appear in the final cut of the film),   It was a really busy and enjoyable shoot."

Ralph Morse - Stormtrooper at Endor Docking

 

"The Return of the Jedi"

 

Ralph was invited back to reprise his imperial stormtrooper role in the last film of the original trilogy.  Whilst his involvement on "The Empire Strikes Back" had spanned many months, Ralph's contribution to "The Return of the Jedi" was filmed in a matter of weeks.   Nonetheless he did appear in three sequences that made the final cut, and another, that for reasons that will become clear, did not.

 

The Arrival

 

He was in the large crowd scene that greeted the arrival of Darth Vader and the Emperor, although as Ralph succinctly puts it, 

"... there were rather fewer stormtroopers than it appears."  

 

Endor Docking Station

 

The vast majority of the Endor sequences were filmed at the Redwood forest in the states, but some of the internals were undertaken at Elstree.  Ralph was one of the stormtroopers in the shots of Luke's partial surrender.

 

The Evacuation of the Second Death Star

 

Another of Ralph's falling over episodes.

 

"A number of supporting actors are running about denoting panic.   In order to incorporate a further sense of movement into the sequence little droids, basically radio-controlled cars,  are intervweaving through this traffic and I am, again, tearing down a corridor.  Needless to say, I couldn't see very well with the appalling eye-line of my helmet and certainly not the small object at my feet.  Consequently, I tripped over a little droid and crashed in the wall and collapsed quite loudly on the floor of the studio.   The crew were most concerned with preserving the electronic life of their little machine so leaving me to nurse my injured pride."

 

Bizzare!

 

One series of shots that didn't make it into the finished film involved Ralph, Darth Vader and several other imperial stormtroopers, doing things, away from the main stage, what Ralph describes as, "Bizarre!"

 

"I thought we must have been filming some kind of comedy nightmare sequence or something; it made no sense at all.  Basically we posed for the kind of clowning around shots that these days would not be out of place on social media.   For example, I remember being given a helmet that was slightly cracked and loosely fitting.  Another stormtrooper and myself then staged a fight in which he pushed me, so I pushed him, and so on, until eventually we smacks me in the helmet and my head appears to spin round."   (It was of course only the helmet that was moving).

 

The timing of these apparently unrelated shots coincided with the moment on the main unit, Sebastian Shaw was being unmasked as the face of Darth Vader and his final dramatic death scene with Luke was being filmed.    

 

 

Still taken from the Ralph Morse interview for CNN Digital - The Great Big Story

In the late summer of 2015, Ralph was approached by Beryl Shereshwesky, producer of CNN Digital's "Great Big Story".  Beryl wanted to know what it felt like to wear the original trilogy iconic armour and helmet.    The short, resulting film is both amusing and informative.

 

If you would like to meet Ralph at an event or obtain his autograph, please contact him through: http://scifisignersunited.weebly.com/ralph-morse.html