On the weekend of May 3–5, 2002, I flew to Indianapolis, Indiana to attend the Star Wars Celebration II. This was the year that Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones was coming out, and many of the actors from both trilogies would be attending. I was a big autograph collector at the time, and I had a list of favorites (and many I was barely aware of yet) that I wanted to add to my collection. I was after signed 8×10 glossies from all… all but one. For Porkins, AKA William Hootkins, I had something a little more special for him to sign.
A couple of years earlier, I had created a 12″ custom figure of Porkins. I had bought a second Biggs/Wedge set, exclusive to FAO Schwarz. I sculpted a belly, butt, love handles, moobs, jowls and a double chin, and then I painted him, stubble and all, plus perfect detail to Porkins’s unique helmet deco pattern. Then I cannibalized both orange jumpsuits and sewed it into an extra-large. Once it was dressed, it truly looked like a store-bought 12″ Porkins figure.
Now I had a unique opportunity to meet William Hootkins and have him autograph the back of the figure’s white vest. This would be the holy grail of my Star Wars collection.
I was in autograph alley, surrounded by Star Wars stardom. (I’ll get to the rest of them later.) I pulled the Porkins doll out of my backpack, unwrapped it, and approached William Hootkins’s table. There was no line, and he was probably feeling a little neglected with everyone giving their attention to the new Episode II actors. He smiled at me, and then his eyes darted to the doll. He had a huge grin as he lunged over the table and snatched it out of my hand! He held it in the air and danced around with it. Then he rushed over to Oola’s table and showed it to her. Then he had someone take his picture with it. Then he grabbed me, and took his picture with me and the doll. Then he ran over to the table with the rest of Red Squadron and showed it to Biggs and Red Leader, and took his picture with me, all of them, and the doll. I looked Red Leader, Angus McInnes, right in the eye and told him “Space Island One is the most brilliant show that no one is watching. It’s such a shame that it isn’t more appreciated.” He patted me on the shoulder and said, “You don’t know how much it means to me to hear you say that.”
Flash Fact: Space Island One was a barely heard-of British sci-fi series that ran on PBS for one lousy season. It was a very (almost too) realistic series about life on a space station in the near future. There were no aliens, although there was one episode near the end of the series where a completely unexplained floating pyramid “visited” the station. Angus McInnes played a space shuttle pilot who had hit retirement age but kept stalling his trip home, despite growing health problems due to living too long in outer space. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Island_One
After Hootkins settled down in his chair behind the table, he said to me, “How much do you want for it?” I just watched this man dance with sheer, utter, unrestrained joy in a way that I had never witnessed before, and may never see again. All because I made a doll that captured one of the greatest moments of his life. How can you put a price on that? I simply said, “I’ll trade you for an autograph.” He said, “Hell yeah!!” and grabbed an 8×10 and a gold pen. He signed it “To Burn, Thanks for my beautiful body!!!” We chatted a bit more, and I moved on to get some other autographs.
I’m sorry to say that this is my only photo of the Porkins doll. I honestly didn’t know that day would be the last time I saw it. And somehow in the whirlwind of a dancing Porkins, I kind of forgot about my own camera in my bag.
I met Bariss Offee and Luminara Unduli, a pair of Jedi whose characters are always featured together, but in real life, they were as different as day and night. Barriss Offee, played my Nalini Krishan, was polite and sweet, and was having a great time engaging the fans. She and I had a great conversation before I left her table. I bought the 8×10 photo of her with Luminara, so I went straight to her table to get her autograph as well. Luminara, AKA Mary Oyaya, was as far from luminous as you can get. She never looked at me or spoke to me. She grabbed my photo and angrily signed it, bitching to/at her assistant/boyfriend about who knows what. She shot me a “go away” look, so I did. I bought a stack of autographs that day, and I have to say meeting her was my only negative experience.
Flash forward to my final night in Indy. I was walking back from a restaurant with my traveling companions. We’re walking past a nightclub with two Stormtroopers guarding the door, and the Star Wars theme is playing inside. We stopped and asked what was going on. The Stormtrooper on the left told us it was the convention after-party. He said we needed our lanyard to get in, but he could tell we were conventioners, so he let us enter anyway. It was one of the most surreal, unforgettable moments of my entire life. Every actor attending the convention was there. It was like Studio 54 for geeks. Admiral Piett was chatting up some cute fans. Aayla Secura was letting some geeky guys attempt to charm her. There was club music blasting from the dance floor, and through the smoke machine and the strobe light, you could see Stormtroopers in different stages of undress, white armor thrown around the dance floor, as they thrashed about with fans both costumed and plain-clothed. There was Darth Vader dancing with Slave Leia while holding her leash, while another Slave Leia was dancing in a cage. As I stood there taking in the full scope of it all, I see William Hootkins, in a loud Hawaiian shirt, walk out of the restroom door. He waved his arms in the air and yelled “BUUUUUUURRRRRRRNNNN!!!” loud enough for the whole club to hear. He ran up and hugged me, and proceeded to buy me drinks. He already had more than a few, and I had to catch up. He told me about his plan to build a glass case in the center of his office to display the 12″ figure. We sat there, pointing out the many sights to be seen in this room. Me and Porkins, watching the world go by. We all had a flight to catch the next morning, and eventually we called it a night and walked back to the hotel.
The next day I was sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight to Houston, reading the novelization of Episode II: Attack of the Clones. By some strange twist of fate, two ladies approached. The one that sat next to me was Barriss Offee, and the one across from me was the not-so-luminous Luminara Unduli. She was in a better mood, but was still a bit “above it all”. I smiled at Barriss. Luminara said, “Whatcha got there?” nodding at my book and giving a sly smile to Barriss, like I had no idea I was in the presence of esteemed Jedi. Without looking up at her, I said in my best I-don’t-give-a-shit voice, “I know who you are.” Luminara looked annoyed. Barriss cracked up laughing and proceeded to talk with me. We had a great conversation about Houston. They were working another convention there, and she had never been before. I told her about a few places she needed to check out. Eventually we boarded the plane. I was flying to Houston with two Jedi just a couple of rows behind me. And the plane Captain’s name just happened to be Kirk. I proceeded to read my book, on my flight back to the real world.
Epilogue: William Hootkins passed away in 2005. I always wondered if he got around to building that glass case.