Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, June 1, 2023 @ 3:44 p.m. / Community

Del Norters Involved In 'Return of the Jedi' Production Had No Idea How Big It Would Be

Photos: Mark McKenna, from last year's "May the Fourth" event in Eureka. Submitted by Humboldt-Del Norte Film Commission.

Linda Yuvan’s mission to recruit 12 women to dress little people in “fur ball costumes” initially hit a brick wall. Many thought she was kidding.

That request came from Miki Herman, unit production manager for “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi.” But Herman was silent when Yuvan asked if George Lucas would be visiting Del Norte County.

“She looked at me and was silent — never said a word about yes or no — which of course indicated to me that that’s what it was,” Yuvan told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday.

Yuvan, who dressed the Ewoks, still lives in Smith River, about two miles away from where the Galactic Empire’s deflector shield sat alongside Morrison Creek.

Forty years after the circus that was Star Wars descended on Del Norte County, fans still ask to see that redwood grove, though the trees were logged years ago. They want to buy items she’s kept from the production and pick her brain about what working on the set was like.

Yuvan’s also not the only Del Norter who has experienced this. Joe Gillespie, a retired teacher from Crescent Elk Middle School, was a stand-in for Harrison Ford on “Return of the Jedi.” Both said they were interviewed by filmmaker and Star Wars fan Cris Macht for his 2013 documentary “The Force Within Us.”

“The Force Within Us” will be screened at 9 p.m. Friday at the Minor Theater in Arcata and 4 p.m. Saturday at Crescent City Cinemas.

“These people are over the top into it,” Gillespie said of Star Wars fans. “Ten or 15 years ago I started getting packages and envelopes in the mail with photos in them of Harrison Ford and even photos of myself that people took off the internet and wanted me to sign and send back.”

Gillespie said he had returned from a two-month sojourn in Central America and was looking for a job. He said they wanted someone about his height and hair color.

“A stand in stands in the place of a character as they’re setting up the cameras and lights,” he said. “With a stand-in, they want you to stay close by and then you stand back and watch the filming and then stand right back in. It was kind of fun because we got to watch all these things get filmed that are in Return of the Jedi.”

Gillespie said the first time he introduced himself to Ford, “he looked at me and just looked away” without saying a word. Ford redeemed himself later at the Ship Ashore Resort, now Howonquet Village and Resort.

“He was sitting there with the other actors and I came in and stood at the bar and he jumped up and bought me a drink,” Gillespie said. “I thought that was nice of him. He apologized.”

Gillespie also remembers the day when another Del Norter, Terry Twomie, filled in for C-3PO. Anthony Daniels had been sent back to his hotel and the director didn’t want to wait for someone to track him down.

“Terry Twomie and I and, I think, one other guy went to his trailer that had several C-3PO costumes and tried them on,” Gillespie said. “My shoulders were too broad. I couldn’t even come close to fitting in one. Terry Twomie fit right into the costume. He was in the filming and in the movie.”

Yuvan, who previously worked as a seamstress on the movie Final Terror, said the excitement of working on a Star Wars flick wore off after about two weeks. She worked 12-14 hours a day six days a week for about six weeks putting the Ewoks into their costumes. She made about $5 an hour.

The first costume layer was a pair of jammies. Over that came a layer of foam that gave the Ewoks their cuddly shape. Then came the fur. Yuvan said she and her coworkers would be on set with the actors and would put their Ewok heads on and take them off as soon as the director said cut.

“In the beginning I would have to lift them up and slam-dunk them into their costumes,” she said. “One man ended up in the ER because they couldn’t pee because the costumes are so hard to get on and off. He ended up with kidney issues because he wasn’t drinking enough and they were sweating in them.”

Yuvan said one actor had a panic attack because of the costumes and some left the movie entirely.

In addition to repairing the Ewok costumes, Yuvan said she silk screened about 200 rain coats with the title “Blue Harvest” — the code name for “Return of the Jedi.” She later found out that these have become a collector’s item.

Macht, creator of “The Force Within Us” showed her a picture of a “Blue Harvest” rain coat on display at a Star Wars convention. She received emails and phone calls from people asking her to sell them the silk screening equipment.

“I told them all I’ve got is one dried up can of old ink. I’ll sell that to you,” Yuvan said. “I sold it for $100 to a guy back in New York about four years ago, maybe.”

Both Gillespie and Yuvan were taken aback to hear that Humboldt County was initially going to be the hub for the Forest Moon Festival. In addition to being filmed on timberland near Smith River, many scenes were shot at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, though the speeder scenes were shot in Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park east of Fortuna.

Gillespie said he’s glad to see Del Norte County also taking advantage of the Forest Moon Festival.

“It’s been fun to tell these stories over the years to students and to various people that just love the idea of anyone being associated with the movies,” he said. “It’s been fun for me and I hope the community can get some mileage out of it and perhaps make (the festival) an every-year event.”

The Forest Moon Festival in Del Norte County will include a screening of “Return of the Jedi” that starts with a pre-party at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Beachfront Park in Crescent City.

Saturday’s activities include a Forest Obstacle Course & Griffon Costume Contest from 9 a.m.-noon at Howonquet Village Resort in Smith River; a Rebel Training Challenge Obstacle Course, Costume Contest and Festival from noon-5 p.m. at Beachfront Park in Crescent City; and Forest E-wok Walks at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park from 2 p.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

For a full list of events in Del Norte County, click here.


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