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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Charles Ross brings the intergalactic battles of "Star Wars" to life this weekend at the Marcus Center.

Explore a galaxy far, far away with "One-Man Star Wars Trilogy"


As kids, almost everyone remembers reenacting their favorite parts of George Lucas' famed sci-fi franchise. It's pretty much a universal childhood tradition to jump around in front of the television, shouting lines from "The Empire Strikes Back" and flailing their arms around, attempting to simulate an intense lightsaber fight.

For Charles Ross, however, growing up from these imaginary intergalactic battles is out of the question. Instead, he harnessed his passion for "Star Wars" and turned it into "One-Man Star Wars Trilogy," which comes to the Marcus Center's Vogel Hall for a two-day, three-show engagement beginning tonight.

The stage show, a truncated solo rendition of Lucas' original trilogy, transformed Ross from a simple fan into a Lucasfilm-approved franchise ambassador. The idea came to the Canadian actor early in his acting career during a conversation with friends over beer and Frisbee.

"TJ Dawe – who eventually became my director – and I were talking, and we realized we knew a helluva lot about 'Star Wars,' probably more than any human should," Ross said.

The two friends didn't know what to do with their massive "Star Wars" knowledge at the time. They were both touring with fringe festivals, working to get their acting careers off the ground. However, after noticing the success of small, one-man shows on the fringe theater circuits, Dawe convinced Ross to write a one-man show of his own based on the sci-fi classics. An extended period of time living on a farm in northern British Columbia helped further his "Star Wars" research.

"We only had three movies," Ross recalled. "We had 'The Blue Lagoon,' we had the first 'Star Wars' and we had a television miniseries missing the last 20 minutes of the last episode, so I ended up watching 'Star Wars' a lot."

What originally started as a five-minute condensed version of the film wound up about 25 minutes long. Ross performed the play for a few audiences and figured that he could add the other installments of the original trilogy to the production. He tweaked his script and began performing the show on the fringe festival circuit, where it slowly became popular enough for Lucasfilm to take notice.

"I didn't really ask for permission in the beginning," Ross said. "I really didn't think it would ever grow to the point that they would care."

Luckily, when the production company eventually did contact Ross in late 2003, they seemed pretty pleased with what the stage actor was doing with the material. He sent them a copy of his script and a video of his performance; in response, the company sent Ross off to Comic-Con to see the show done live.

"I ended up hosting the fan film awards there. No one had any idea who the hell I was," Ross said. "At the end of the awards thing, I just broke out into my one-man 'Star Wars' thing, and they were quite happy."

Thanks to his performance, Ross' show got the Lucasfilm stamp of approval, as well as the support of about "99.999 percent" of "Star Wars" fans. He still hasn't been able to meet the king of "Star Wars" himself, George Lucas, but Ross likes to think that the franchise's mastermind would appreciate his take.

"I think he'd be kind of chuffed," Ross said. "He'd probably find it funny since it's taking all of the tech out of something that's massively high tech and breaking it down to just the story."

Since those early days on the fringe circuit and at Comic-Con, Ross has taken his "One-Man Star Wars Trilogy" across the globe, single-handedly acting, singing and fighting out the original trilogy's epic tale to legions of "Star Wars" fans. He doesn't take all of the credit for the show's popularity. The actor mostly thanks the film's massive brand and unique culture for driving most of his success

"It's one of those weird things that only 'Star Wars' could spawn," Ross said. "There's not a lot of other franchises that could spawn, like, a one-man 'Dirty Dancing.'"

Ross has added a few things to the "One-Man Star Wars Trilogy" over the years. He hasn't added the complete events of the much maligned prequels, but the actor does make a few references to Episodes I, II and III over the course of the show. He may have to make a few more tweaks to the script now that Disney has acquired Lucasfilm and has announced plans for Episode VII in 2015, news that excites Ross as a fan.

"I'm really curious to see where they go. There's obviously a lot of source material to work with," Ross said. "As far as the Disney aspect of it, they've been telling us stories extremely well for how many decades? Why would we think that those people were incapable of being stewards of an unbelievable franchise?"

When it comes to a director for the new episodes, Ross mentioned "Star Trek" helmer J.J. Abrams and "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski as potential options. He also noted that Disney "would have to be the stupidest people on the planet" not to talk to fanboy favorite Joss Whedon.

No matter the decision, though, the charm and allure of "Star Wars" will still live on.

"It's a universal story," Ross noted. "Luke suddenly discovers that he has this hidden power, and he's whisked away into the center of this galactic revolution where he's the central figure. I think anybody would love to think that their humdrum life might one day be completely changed, and we discover we are far bigger than we think we are."

It's that optimism and hope that has dreamers, young and old, jumping around in front of the television – or on a stage – fighting to save a galaxy far, far away ...


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