Charlie Ross was in the middle of an ordinary childhood, growing up in British Columbia, when Star Wars encased his life like Han Solo was encased in carbonite.
"You remember when they first came out, there was no geeky stigma attached to the movies, everybody just loved them," he says, on the phone from his home in Victoria. "I lived in a farm outside of Prince George. Brutal winters, and it was miles away from neighbours and friends. I was stuck watching whatever videos we had. Star Wars was something I had recorded off of television, and I wound up watching it a stupid amount of times." According to his website, "a stupid amount" is more than 400. "I just have an ability to retain weird little details that would basically make me a dork."
Being a Star Wars dork in 2009 is inescapable. The films have had such a far-reaching influence they've spawned cultural subgenres and offshoots. Witness the role Star Wars has in almost every Kevin Smith movie---most recently Zach and Miri Make A Porno and the ingenious porn version the characters dream up, Star Whores---and the Star Wars-centred plot of the recent comedy Fanboys. Animated TV shows The Family Guy and Robot Chicken have hugely popular homage/satire episodes, now packaged and available on DVD. Charlie Ross' theatrical recreation/gentle satire fits comfortably into this crowd.
"I'm sure that I'm definitely part of it," says Ross. "It's weird because I'm one of those slightly-better-than-the-Star Wars-kids guys that somehow snuck through the cracks and got a positive notice from Lucasfilm. I really don't think I'm anything special at all, it's really just a good idea that came at the right time."
What he does is simple or, at least, simple to explain. Without props or sets, he recreates the three original Star Wars movies on stage, reduced to 20 minutes each. Sound effects, Wookie noises, music, dialogue, character: Ross does it all.
His show, One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, directed by TJ Dawe, is coming to Eastern Front's SuperNova Theatre Festival---held this year at Neptune's Studio Theatre--and has been performed all over the world since 2002, from London to Dubai to George Lucas-endorsed Star Wars conventions. When it appeared off-Broadway, Ross's success prompted a licensing agreement. He's now officially part of the Star Wars canon.
Ross' Halifax connection runs deeper than this show. He lived here from 1999 through 2002, and conceived of One-Man Star Wars while he acted in theatre, doing work that included stints at Two Planks and a Passion and Neptune.
"There's so much stuff that happens there," says Ross. "And because of this feast or famine part of my career, I decided I needed to make something of my own. To have something I can run on my own steam, it's fantastic. It's not typical theatre, some people might say it isn't even proper theatre, but that's fine.
"Halifax was so welcoming, but the work, there wasn't a lot of it. To come back... anybody who is as an actor in Halifax has to become a cockroach, to survive the nuclear winter of Canadian arts. That hardiness has made this show succeed over the years, because I refuse to die out."
One-Man Star Wars had its premiere in Toronto---the first film only---as part of a workshop of radio plays for CBC performed before a live audience. "I did it for this group of people and it did better than anything else I did that evening. The reaction was so positive, and it was a very diverse audience, they weren't there just to see the Star Wars thing...this show weirdly resonates."
He has gone on to do other shows, including a One-Man Lord of the Rings, but his Star Wars continues to draw audiences. There is one character from the first film---since the prequels known by many as Episode IV: A New Hope---that audiences won't be seeing in Ross's show.
"I don't do Greedo, and I'll tell you the reason," he says. "I didn't want to get into the whole 'who shot first?' thing. You wouldn't think it was such a big deal, but it's probably the number one thing I get asked: 'In your opinion, who shot first?' I just want to be Switzerland in this whole thing."
Eastern Front Theatre SuperNova Theatre Festival runs May 7-17 at Neptune's Studio Theatre, 1693 Argyle.
One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, May 14-15, 7pm; May 16, 8:30pm; May 17, 3pm, $15-$20 at the Neptune box office, 429-7070, easternfront.ns.ca.