January 1, 2017 – This year marks the 40th anniversary of A New Hope. Forty years later, however, the backstory of one of the characters is still being developed – or, should we say, re-developed.
The everyman hero, Wedge Antilles, has become something of a cult personality. As a secondary character, his origins are an enigma – as is the mystery of the real-life actors who portray Wedge on the big screen.
The Search for Wedge Antilles
Wedge Antilles’ claim to fame is that among all X-wing pilots, only he and Luke Skywalker survived their attacks on both Death Stars at the Battles of Yavin and Endor. He also appears in the Star Wars expanded universe as the lead character in most of the X-Wing novels.
To bring Wedge to life on the big screen required the contribution of three actors: Colin Higgins, Denis Lawson, and voice actor David Ankrum.
The first actor, Colin Higgins, appeared in the briefing room scene of A New Hope prior to the Battle of Yavin. His single, uncredited line was, “That’s impossible, even for a computer” – expressing disbelief that a single starfighter could destroy the Death Star.
Unfairly or not, fans have been calling the briefing-room Wedge “Fake Wedge” since the 1990’s. He was, after all, uncredited, and he had but one brief appearance and line in A New Hope, only to be replaced in the rest of the film by Denis Lawson.
Fellow actor Gerald Home (he played both Tessek and a Mon Calamari officer in Return of the Jedi) recounts in a 2013 interview that he had met Higgins for the first time at Star Wars Celebration IV in Los Angeles in 2007. It was the 30th anniversary of A New Hope and Higgins’ first appearance at any Star Wars convention.
Gerald Home said, “I liked Colin. I met him at Celebration IV and we had a long chat. I felt sorry for him as so many fans considered him a fake, and he was embarrassed by that, but he really, truly WAS the original Wedge.”
So why did Colin Higgins have so much trouble remembering his lines?
Home says that “Colin told me the trouble he had filming was that he couldn’t remember his line, so the line he ending up saying was much shorter than the original. I know exactly what he meant — I’m sure you know that sci-fi lines (dialogue) are notoriously difficult to learn because they often don’t make sense. For an actor to be convincing, he needs to understand the words he’s saying, and in film, where there is often no rehearsal, an actor has to say lines he didn’t rehearse and which haven’t been explained to him. So I can understand and sympathize with Colin. He said it was because of this trouble remembering his line that he was sacked.” [Source: Starwars.com May 2, 2013]
Harrison Ford could probably sympathize as he once memorably said about the clunky dialogue in A New Hope, “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it.”
Higgins’ identity in Star Wars history was almost entirely forgotten and lost until Pablo Hidalgo did some impressive detective work and managed to track him down. You can read the full story HERE, but the short version is that Pablo Hidalgo found some of the original daily production reports from 1976 for Star Wars and narrowed them down to the specific days when the briefing room scene was filmed.
Higgins had an extensive acting career as he appeared in numerous British television series and an occasional movie listed in the IMDB database. His appearance at Star Wars Celebration IV in Los Angeles in 2007, where fans could meet him and get his autograph, was reportedly his first and last appearance at any Celebration convention.
Sadly, he passed away sometime in December, 2012, though details of his passing have not yet surfaced.
Denis Lawson is the actor most fans credit with being Wedge Antilles. He performed all the scenes filmed in the X-wing cockpit in A New Hope as well as The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. [Trivia Notes: Denis Lawson is the maternal uncle of Ewan McGregor, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy. Lawson declined to reprise his role as Wedge in The Force Awakens because, he said, he would be “bored”.]
American voice actor David Ankrum provides the voice of Wedge Antilles, dubbing over the lines of both Colin Higgins and Denis Lawson in A New Hope. But according to Wikipedia, an unknown voice actor dubbed Wedge’s lines in The Empire Strikes Back while in Return of the Jedi, Denis Lawson masks his Scottish accent with his own imitation of an American accent.
David Ankrum lent his voice again as Wedge in Rogue One. While Wedge is not seen on screen, his voice is briefly heard over the intercom in the Rebel base on Yavin IV.
Wedge Antilles’ Escape from the Empire
Bodhi Rook (played by 34-year-old English actor Riz Ahmed) is the defector and cargo pilot who leads the Rebels to Galen Erso’s hideout on Eadu. He is also the first and only character in Star Wars history to originate the name of the movie during the movie. (Rebel Controller: “What’s your call sign?” Bodhi Rook: “It’s Rogue. Rogue One.”)
The second defector from the Empire is Wedge Antilles.
While never addressed in the Original Trilogy or in Rogue One (we only hear his voice briefly on the intercom), Wedge’s background has been rewritten for the animated Star Wars Rebels.
Voiced by Nathan Kress, the animated Wedge mentions in the Star Wars Rebels clip below that he was “flying cargo ships” before being recruited to work for the Empire. Under the old canon, Wedge went straight from running cargo to joining the Rebellion. Under the new canon of Star Wars Rebels, he previously believed in the Empire’s goals. However, he grew disenchanted and decided to defect to the Rebellion along with some other TIE Fighter pilots, assisted by Sabine Wren.
The episode is called “The Antilles Extraction” (Season 3, ep. 3). The animated version of Wedge in Rebels is drawn to resemble Dennis Lawson from the Original Trilogy, and he speaks with an American accent provided by voice actor Nathan Kress.
So Wedge Antilles has now been retconned and has an official backstory. As an ancillary character, he is still something of an enigma and the reason why fans look forward to seeing more of him in future installments.