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It's Not a Trap: The Time I Talked Traps With the Man Behind Star War's Admiral Ackbar

18/04/2016 19:59

On 3 April, 2016, Erik Bauersfeld passed away at the age of 93, at his home in California. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Erik last year and I'll never forget it. He was the man behind the voices of Star Wars characters Admiral "It's a Trap!" Ackbar and Bib Fortuna, who was Jabba The Hutt's pasty-faced lackey in Return of the Jedi. He could have been the voice of Jedi Master Yoda but eventually lost out to Frank Oz, and initially he wasn't even credited for the roles that he did get. However Erik bore no grudges, and was totally comfortable with his near-anonymity. How many actors can say that?

Ever since Erik blurted out "It's a trap!" for the very first time in 1983 his character has been immortalised in cinema history, and in recent years the line itself has become both a meme and the title of a Family Guy Star Wars spin off. For anybody who hasn't a clue what I'm talking about here (really?) then picture this - it's the climatic battle of the (at the time!) final Star Wars film and the rebels need to save the galaxy by destroying another Death Star. That's the Empire's "ultimate weapon" that got blown to bits twice, or thrice if you include the Death Star-alike 'Starkiller Base' in 2015's The Force Awakens. If you still don't know what I'm talking about, then it's just not going to work.

So anyway, the rebels are bracing themselves to secretly attack the giant death-machine-turned-waffle-making-machine...

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When a rebel subordinate tells our Admiral "We have enemy ships in sector 47!!", and then it happens:

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Yes Admiral, it is indeed a trap, and you are officially five minutes behind every member of your crew. But that's partly what's so endearing: the archetypical befuddlement, and of course the delivery. Erik nailed it. He developed the voice simply by looking at a photograph and within an hour he had recorded all of his lines for both characters.

According to 'Wookiepedia' - yep, a Star Wars Wiki - Admiral Ackbar was a Mon Calamari who dedicated his life to freedom fighting. He was a career fish. Erik the human was a career man, but his passion wasn't film. Instead, Erik was a radio dramatist through and through, always sticking to his guns in an ever-changing industry (or rebelling if you will). Unlike the UK, where Radio plays are still actively produced and popular with listeners, radio drama has all but disappeared from american airwaves, limited to repeats from decades gone by. Unabated, Erik continued to produce, direct and perform until his final days. He served as the Director of KPFA's Drama and Literature Department for 31 years, before forming Bay Area Radio Drama (BARD) a non-profit foundation where he would showcase previous work and new projects. You can hear his work here: http://www.bardradio.com/

I met Erik back in August last year for an interview to discuss his radio career. It was for BBC 5 Live but I also recorded some additional Star Wars chat for my youtube channel which I've been tracking down former and current Star Wars actors for. He was in London for a convention appearance and despite being 93 years old and fresh off a twelve hour flight from LA, he was surprisingly sprightly and sharp. He was also super interesting and fun! At the time he hadn't been called up to return for The Force Awakens but return he eventually did, bringing his dulcet fishy tones of Admiral Ackbar to a whole new generation.

In this first video I got Erik to put his trap hat back on one last time, to demonstrate his range by giving him various emotions to deliver those three iconic words in - the sultry "It's a Trap" is a personal favourite...

And in our full interview you can hear how Erik stumbled into working on Star Wars by accident and his more serious, straight talking version of Jedi Master Yoda:

RIP Erik Bauersfeld 1922 - 2016

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