A relatively long time ago in a galaxy that’s exactly this one, Charles Ross had an idea: To combine the first three “Star Wars” movies — now known as chapters 4, 5 and 6 — into one propless, set- and scenery-bereft, costumeless one-man show.
The Force, or maybe just luck, was with him. So, armored in nothing more than elbow and knee pads, Ross travels the country, flinging himself about on stage like a malfunctioning droid, using his voice, expressions and body to portray Luke, Leia, Han, Darth Vader and other characters from the three-Star Wars saga, all in 60 minutes.
It is, Ross admits, “a very strange show to be doing for as long as I have, which is 16 years.”
Ross brings his one-man production of “Stars Wars” to Las Vegas this weekend for shows at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Clark County Library’s Main Theater, 1401 E. Flamingo Road, and at 3 p.m. Sunday at Windmill Library, 7060 W. Windmill Lane. Both are free.
Ross, 42, figures he was about 3 when the first “Star Wars” was unleashed.
“I was not really savvy enough at the time to figure out what it was,” he said. “But by the time I got to be about 4, ‘Star Wars’ was the biggest thing in the world.”
Actually, his first memory of the saga was the toys that went along with it. “I saw my friends had action figures before I’d even seen the film, so it was kind of in reverse. We were playing with something but hadn’t actually seen what the source material was that created this thing.”
Finally, when Ross was 5, his father took him to a double feature of “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back.”
“He had to explain to me after it was all done that these films weren’t finished,” he says. “I was completely bummed out. Luke had no hand, the Empire appears to have won, and Han Solo was a Popsicle or something.”
But, he continues, “the movie had a trajectory that you felt you were being launched into space with Luke. Except for maybe Superman flying into the sky, this was every boy’s and girl’s dream, to be taken away from the humdrum of today and just whisked into adventure.”
In 1994, Ross toured with a small company on the fringe festival circuit and noticed that “people who have solo shows seem to have a whole hell of a lot of freedom because they could do the show they wanted, and even with sort of modest audiences, they could make a living.”
He began creating the show — with permission he obtained from Lucasfilm Ltd. — hewing to the fringe festival standard of a one-hour maximum run time. He imagined himself trying to tell the three-film saga to a group of people who’d never seen them while, at the same time, trying to make jokes within the script for people who have.
“I discovered there were huge swaths of the film that actually didn’t forward the story,” Ross says. “They’re fun, they’re adventure, but they’re just filler. So I ended up cutting out that stuff.”
So, Greedo and Han shooting each other is gone, while Luke’s training with Yoda on Dagobah is condensed. Meanwhile, producing the show wasn’t difficult because it was so minimalist.
“In fact, the great thing about there being no costumes, no set, no props means that I have everything in my body,” Ross said. “I don’t actually have to emit lasers out of my fingers or have danishes on the side of my head. I just make the shape out of my hands and people just follow along. It’s remarkable, (using) human imagination and memory to fill in the blanks.”
Actually, he says, “I think, having done this for years, that if I had tried to do this show as a prop show with a hundred costumes, it actually would be less, let’s say, impressive.”
Maybe that’s because it reminds Ross of being a kid and playing with those “Star Wars” toys before he ever saw the movie, using his imagination to create his own story.
“So this is almost like being the kid who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s,” Ross says, being watched by audiences who “are kind of able to recognize themselves in what I’m doing.”
Contact John Przybys at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.
‘ “Star Wars” does all the work’
One-performer shows have fascinated playgoers for decades, whether it’s Hal Holbrook doing Mark Twain or Chazz Palminteri in his autobiographical play “A Bronx Tale.”
Charles Ross, who takes on an entire movie trilogy in his one-man show, says carrying the whole show on his back isn’t as imposing as it might appear.
“I’ve never found it difficult to do a solo thing. I’ve actually found it remarkably easy, because you don’t have to compromise with anybody else,” he says with a laugh. “You only have to please yourself, so to speak.”
And if audiences take a few minutes to warm up to the concept, that’s no problem, either. Ross spent seven summers performing shows in “this very remote gold mining town in northern British Columbia, Canada, and we had to do interpretations, where we take history and sort of have to make it come alive. And, sometimes, we were dealing with extremely dry material.
“So try to imagine trying to delight and keep people interested for a 45-minute solo show about early court history and judicial history in the gold rush era,” he says. “Believe me, if you can make that interesting, you can sure as hell make ‘Star Wars’ interesting. ‘Star Wars’ does all the work for you.”