The Y-wing pilot known as “Gold Leader” never became a Star Wars fan favorite when he first appeared in 1977, but 40 years later, he’s finally made a triumphant comeback.
Jon “Dutch” Vander, the pilot known as “Gold Leader,” was played by actor Angus MacInnes. His fate in the battle over the Death Star meant that he couldn’t return for the subsequent sequels, but thanks to the narrative timeline in Lucasfilm’s new spin-off, he was brought back via both archive footage and new dialogue for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It was a special moment for MacInnes, though he’s had plenty of other big moments in between his trips to the galaxy far, far away. His credits have included roles in a variety of films over the years, from the cult comedy classic Strange Brew to the award-winning Captain Philips.
Inverse recently got in touch with MacInnes, who shared his reflections on Carrie Fisher, his legacy as a brave outer space fighter pilot, and how it felt to return to the Y-wing cockpit in Rogue One.
Your character’s name in Star Wars is Jon Vander, nicknamed “Dutch.” Did you have any idea this was the character’s name when you filmed in 1976?
I didn’t know my character name until I was doing a fan event and someone came up to me and said, ‘Hi, ‘Dutch, how ‘ya doin?’ I looked at him for a long moment and then said, quietly, ‘Dutch?’ He looked as blank as I did then he said, “Yeah, thats your name. ‘Dutch Vander.’”
I was perplexed and utterly lost but he was kind enough to explain — as to a child — that my character’s name was in fact Jon “Dutch” Vander, Gold Leader. I was immensely pleased at hearing this news. The character I always thought of simply as Gold Leader suddenly had a name! An identity! Now I own it! It’s mine! All mine! Ha ha ha!
Okay, but, how did he get the nickname Dutch?
This has puzzled me as much as I assume it has others. How come, in a galaxy far far way, we suddenly got Dutchmen? Well, there is an answer. It turns out its a variation on a local Tatooine dialect word “duquke,” meaning someone who is extremely brave, smart, and handsome but has been bent out of shape by alien vocal chords. Anybody with a better idea, do let me know.
Gold Leader was back for Rogue One. Did anyone involved with the production approach you about this? Did you record any new dialogue?
Well, yeah … Yes. They asked if I was interested and offered a bunch of money and, after grabbing the cash, I re-voiced the dialogue. That was a fairly odd experience. Sadly, with Carrie’s exit, I’m the only actor “resurrected” in Rogue One who is still here.
How did you feel about Rogue One?
I was deeply impressed. I know that people will niggle with this or that but really, the film captures the tone and feel of Star Wars and carries it out seamlessly. I imagine it’s already being screened as a double bill somewhere. I could watch that. Except for part when Gold Leader gets killed. That’s when I shut my eyes.
What does it feel like to be part of such a huge pop culture event?
I have seen firsthand what Star Wars has generated and I am constantly amazed. When I go to a Comic-Con or other Star Wars event, I meet and speak with wonderful people who are clearly mad as hatters and happy as pigs in poop to be part of this marvelous universe. The Force is clearly with them and in them. I have watched so many of them give their time and energy and money unstintingly for charity and many other good causes. They may live in another universe but they are the best citizens you could ask for.
What were your thoughts on hearing of Carrie Fisher’s passing?
When it was reported Carrie had a heart attack flying home from London I was, like most, concerned but not overly. After all, she was only 60, and that is not old, even for a massive heart attack. However, I too didn’t have all the facts, and though I still don’t, it is clear that she didn’t have the strength to pull out of it. It’s tragic, but Carrie has left a legacy that is funny, wise, and instructive. We can all learn from her.
Since 1977, have you had any contact with any of the other actors from Star Wars? If so, who? And what were those interactions like?
Events like Comic-Con are wonderful for what I long ago called the “Star Wars Alumni”: those of us who have contributed to this magical world. They give us the opportunity to meet up again, tell our lies and war stories and get to know each other better. Sadly, as with Carrie, many have left the stage, my good friends Richard LeParmentier (Admiral Motti) and Bill Hootkins (Porkins/Red-6) among them. Boy, do I miss their fun and craziness. But the magic of movies means they are Immortal, never gone, never forgotten but always missed.
From starring in Judge Dredd to Hellboy to your role as Tostig on Vikings, you’ve had a varied and impressive career in film. Other than your involvement in Star Wars, what would you say has been the most career-defining moment for you?
Career-defining moments are rarely epiphanies. They are more like smaller moments that build up to form a whole. There are clear moments in my career when I’ve watched someone do something and thought: “Ah, so thats it.” I was fortunate because the first film I did was Rollerball, directed by Norman Jewison. Norman was a master filmmaker and though I had a very small role in that film I spent every minute I could on set, whether I was called or not. I sat there watching, listening, pestering the crew with questions and trying to stay out of the way. I was learning my craft.
There have been many memorable high points when the learning went off the charts; with Louis Malle on Atlantic City and the freedom he allowed, perhaps demanded; Peter Weir teaching me about attention to the smallest detail; the needful ruthlessness of Guillermo del Toro on Hellboy. Once you stop asking why, once you stop probing the reality of what you are doing, once you stop learning as an artist, you are dead.
Favorite anecdotes from working on the film Strange Brew?
Strange Brew is part of the above. I learned something from Max von Sydow on that film that has served like armor since. I watched him do a scene over and over again and every time he did it exactly the same way, over and over again. I was stupefied. So I watched him do it over and over again, and I learned. He taught me how do do something extremely technical but to keep the performance honest. Of course, that’s a fairly tall order in a film as off-the-wall as Strange Brew is, but hey, we tried …
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.