Fellow Geeks and Star Wars Fans-
We lost another fan favorite. British actor Ian Liston has passed away a few days ago. He played Wes Janson in The Empire Strikes Back, who served as Wedge’s tail gunner during the snowspeeder scene. Ian also played a second, lesser-known role that makes for an interesting story.
Ian spent most of his career as a TV and theater actor, but dabbled in films as well. Obviously we know about his time in Star Wars, but he also appears in A Bridge Too Far, as well as an episode of Doctor Who. Not only that, but he also founded the Hiss and Boo Theater Company which has been running since 1977.
Wes Janson, while a minor character in the film, plays an important role in the X-Wing novels as well as several comics. His signature white-and-red checkered helmet and sly grin make appearances though all stories involving Rogue Squadron. Not only that, but he’s made an appearance as an action figure, as well as several games.
Even from his short time on screen, Mr. Liston was able to convey a strong sense of Wes’s personality. His lively and energetic performance evolved into one of the more memorable Rogue Squadron members in the Expanded Universe. Known as somewhat of a joker, the character is famous for the sarcastic line “Yub yub, Commander” describing a fake ewok pilot (it’s a long story).
Ian was always accessible to fans, attending events and doing interviews with publications with that same grin on his face.
His journey to and through Star Wars is pretty cool and had a lot of cool coincidences. After graduating college, he managed to a get an entry level job at Elstree Studios for a short time, the same place he would be performing on a blue screen in Empire Strikes Back. He knew Kenny Baker (RIP, Kenny) and worked with him on occasion.
Originally, Ian was slated for one of the AT-AT drivers, which he performed and completed. Then, as he was getting ready to wrap out, he gets offered the job for one of the tail gunners on a Snowspeeder as the original actor fell ill. Considering his face had been under a helmet this whole time, as well as looming unemployment, he agreed and climbed into the cockpit with that red checkered helmet. Interestingly enough, he spent almost zero time with Dennis Lawson, the actor who played Wedge. The way the scenes were filmed, both actors were not required to on camera at the same time; if someone was visible, it was strictly a body double.
When the Ian saw the film cut together, he was charmed to see him shooting at himself as both Imperial and Rebel. Very few actors have the honor of playing characters on both sides, let alone in the same scene. I’m going to geek-uut for a moment, but if this were the game Team Fortress 2, Ian’s accomplishment would definitely by a sought-after achievement.
Well, it’s unfortunate I have to keep writing so many of these. Mr. Liston, thank you so much for your contribution to our favorite universe, as long ago and far away as it may be. May the force be with you.
Ian Liston’s IMDB page
Wookieepedia entry for Wes Janson
A great resource dedicated to both the man and character, wesjanson.co.uk