Uncle Owen, R.I.P.
To Phil Brown, it seemed “a very unimportant role.” But in Star Wars lore, it was anything but.
Brown, who died last week at age 89, was being remembered by Jedi faithful as Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen from the original Star Wars movie.
In George Lucas’ 1977 space saga, farmer Owen Lars and his dying-for-adventure nephew, played by Mark Hamill, come into possession of two junked droids: R2-D2 and C-3PO, setting in motion the ragtag Rebellion’s overthrow of the evil Empire, not to mention a six-picture, mega-billion-dollar franchise.
The find also led to the eventual off-screen slaughter of Owen and wife Beru at the gloved hands of droid-seeking Imperial Stormtroopers, but nothing’s perfect.
Shelagh Fraser, who played Aunt Beru to Brown’s Uncle Owen, died in 2000.
Brown was plagued by various heart ailments in recent years. In an undated post on his official Website, the actor noted his retirement from the convention scene.
“Meeting my fans personally has been endlessly rewarding for my wife Ginny and me,” Brown wrote. “I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all for your support of my career, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind thoughts and warm wishes.”
Brown succumbed to pneumonia last Thursday at the motion picture retirement home in Woodland Hills, California, the Associated Press reported.
Born April 30, 1916, in Massachusetts, Brown’s pre-Star Wars career was far removed from the blighted lands of Tatooine. Per his official biography, he danced on Broadway in the 1930s, courted (but never won) the likes of Claudette Colbert and Hedy Lamarr in Hollywood movies of the 1940s, and directed Dorothy Dandridge in a 1951 feature about the Harlem Globetrotters, simply titled The Harlem Globetrotters.
The Communist witch hunt of the 1950s ensnared Brown, who himself denied ever being a member of the party. For 40 years, from 1952-92, the once-blacklisted Brown lived and worked out of London.
By the time Lucas was in London casting Star Wars, Brown wasn’t looking at Uncle Owen as a life-changing opportunity. “This [part], what seemed to be a very unimportant role, occurred at the end of my acting career,” Brown once told TheForce.Net.
In the interview, Brown said he suspected Lucas selected him for Owen “because of my resemblance to Alec Guinness, a contemporary and an old friend of mine.” In Star Wars, Guinness played Luke’s Force-full mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
In the Star Wars prequels, the role of the younger Obi-Wan went to Ewan McGregor. Similarly, Uncle Owen got a new look in the newer movies, with Australian actor Joel Edgerton inheriting the role.
Brown told TheForce.Net that he wished Edgerton luck “in having as many devoted followers as I have had.”
Brown’s post-Star Wars credits included a bit in the 1980 TV miniseries, The Martian Chronicles.
Uncle Owen, R.I.P.