USA TODAY - For more than 36 years, Star Wars has been a part of Anthony Daniels' life. Still, it wasn't until recently that he understood the significance of May the 4th for Jedi junkies everywhere.
"Somebody said, 'What are you doing on May 4?' I said, 'It's a Saturday. I'm not doing anything,' " says the English actor who played the popular protocol droid C-3PO in all six Star Wars movies.
He was quickly schooled on the fact that it's also Star Wars Day - on May 4 because it rhymes with "May the Force be with you," the mantra of George Lucas' lightsaber-wielding contingent - and a time when fans watch the films again, have parties, maybe get that Rebel Alliance tattoo they've always wanted and immerse themselves in a galaxy far, far away, but also for old cast members to relish their own memories about the films.
Daniels has even been roped into the celebration himself, doing a signing at the comic-book shop Retro Rebel in Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of Shakespeare. "That's the kind of career I thought I might be heading for until I met George," the actor says.
There is one date that Daniels knows very well, however: May 25. This year, the date marks the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi, the finale of Lucas' first trilogy - originally titled Revenge of the Jedi - that featured Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) taking his last step to becoming a Jedi knight, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) falling in love amid their fight against the Empire, the destruction of yet another Imperial Death Star and the redemption of über-villain Darth Vader.
The only guy worse than Vader in Star Wars lore is Emperor Palpatine, the cloaked, twisted monster of a man who ruled the universe. Although he looked like he was about 120, the Emperor was played in Return of the Jedi by Scottish-born actor Ian McDiarmid, even though he was only 37 at the time.
The yellow contact lenses and prosthetic mask he wore helped - the hood was essential, too, both for the character and McDiarmid's career, since he was able to keep his hair long for the London play he was doing at night when not filming.
But to really get into the mind-set of being the worst villain of the Star Wars saga, he tapped into his time playing Satan in a radio version of John Milton's Paradise Lost.
"That character is the master of evil, the snake in the Garden of Eden, so I had a useful precedent," says McDiarmid, 68, who starred in the Star Wars prequels as the younger Palpatine. "This character was solidly evil - it wasn't as if he had a difficult childhood. He just seemed to have come from whatever ghastly womb he was ejected from, born and bred evil."
Darth Vader saved his son, Luke, from the clutches of the Emperor, and swashbuckling rogue Lando Calrissian proved himself a hero in the third Star Wars, too, after having handed Han Solo over to Vader in the previous movie, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back.
It at least helped his reputation when dropping by his daughter's elementary school. Before Jedi, "I would have all of these kids run up to me and tell me that I betrayed Han Solo and I found myself having to explain Lando's actions. Oh, boy," recalls Williams, 76.
When he and the rest of the cast filmed scenes set on the planet Tattooine in Yuma, Ariz., Lucas hid the production from curious, pre-Internet fans by using the working title Blue Harvest for the movie, "but everybody knew exactly what we were doing," Williams recalls.
"They seemed to be on top of everything. I always got the feeling that they knew more than the actors."
Six different stuntmen in America played the infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett falling to his death in the Sarlacc Pit, but it was the main man in the mask and jet pack, British actor Jeremy Bulloch, in the scenes set in Jabba the Hutt's palace as the Mandalorian fan favorite.
Bulloch, 68, first played Fett in Empire, and never had any problem getting into character with his iconic yet top-heavy costume.
"I'd just lean into the bar at Jabba's palace with a cup of tea before they started filming," he says, "and I was acting drinking a cup of tea as Boba Fett. I suddenly thought, 'Help, it's taken over!' "
Daniels' lovably annoying C-3PO was a major part of the Jabba scenes, from getting slathered with Jabba slime - auto-shop gunk that "totally bleached the gold color and ruined the costume" - to befriending the three puppeteers who brought the slug-like gangster to life.
"I loved the fact that Jabba was actually pinned to the set and couldn't wander off to makeup or the bathroom or whatever," Daniels, 67, jokes.
Return of the Jedi is Daniels' favorite of the Star Wars movies, and the one he has the most memories of, many of them having to do with the furry Ewoks - or, as he likes to call them, "one of the greatest merchandising events of all time."
When Lucas and director Richard Marquand filmed the Endor scenes in California's Redwood National Park, Daniels often fell over the actors playing Ewoks because he could only see straight ahead and had no peripheral vision in his C-3PO outfit.
"I had to ask them to make sure they did what we had rehearsed when I didn't have the costume on so I would remember where they were because they didn't always see me coming," Daniels says.
Asked if he'd be up for playing the droid on the big screen one more time in J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII, Daniels' answer is immediate: "Well, let me think about that. Yes."
Bulloch, whose acting résumé includes two James Bond films and 1970s Doctor Whoepisodes, also wouldn't mind bringing Boba Fett back from the dead for a cameo. "Maybe he just got out of the Sarlacc Pit. He's disheveled, he's been there a long time and he just gives his advice to younger bounty hunters."
In the meantime, Daniels is planning on continuing his role as a part of the Star Warsfamily, starring in LEGO Star Wars animation projects and hosting Star Wars in Concert shows, for an upcoming fourth generation of fans.
"As they grow up, they're going to go on seeing things I'm involved in," he says. "It's a terrific pension plan."