Kevin Thompson— Munchkins and Ewoks

Actor Kevin Thompson displays some of his memorabilia at his home in Saugus on Friday, November 1, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal
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The final installment of the “Star Wars” film saga, “The Rise of Skywalker,” opened in theaters Dec. 20. The events in the movie, which happen in a galaxy, far, far away, wrap up the nine-part movie franchise which began in 1977 with “Star Wars: A New Hope.”

For Kevin Thompson of Santa Clarita, the new film is a reminder of his work as an actor, and a stuntman, on the third “Star Wars” film released in 1983, “Return of The Jedi.”

Southern California native

Thompson was born in Pasadena and grew up in San Gabriel. 

“I discovered acting when I was attending San Gabriel High School,” he said. “I really enjoyed being in the productions. My drama teacher would put on huge shows,” he said.

In his senior year, Thompson played the role of Smee in an elaborate production of “Peter Pan.”

“It was a fun role. We had a 40-foot pirate ship where we had a sword fight and three working cannons,” he said. “We ‘flew’ four people in the show.”

Thompson also became interested in making movies in high school.

“We had a teacher who taught a film class, he had two 16mm cameras and two Super 8 cameras,” he said. “He gave us free rein. If you had a story and a good idea, he would give you the camera and tell you to ‘go for it.’” 

Actor Kevin Thompson points to his character, “Chubbray” on the box of the catapult toy from Return of the Jedi at his home in Saugus on Friday, November 1, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Becoming an ewok

Thompson attended Pasadena City College and Los Angeles Valley College, where he majored in cinematography and drama. 

His first film appearance was in “Under the Rainbow,” (1981) the story of the little people who appeared as munchkins in the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz.” 

“I joined the film doing stunts, it was my first professional film role,” Thompson said.

In the movie he can be seen doing pratfalls and swinging from a chandelier. 

Thompson was next hired for a speaking role in the film “Blade Runner” (1982).

At the time of his audition for “Return of the Jedi,” Thompson was a member of The Hollywood Shorties ­— softball and basketball teams of little people.  

“I was 22 and was very in shape. I was a gymnast and wrestler in high school,” Thompson said. “I was agile and they were looking for stunt people. They were also very interested in me because I was a street mime.”

The first time Thompson appears in “Return of the Jedi” he does a long swing on a rope into the Ewok village.

“Every time you see an Ewok swinging on a rope, that is me,” he said. “I also did the swing off the speeder bike, I swing into the storm troopers, I chop the ropes and blow the horn, a lot of the action scenes.”

Scenes were filmed in a Northern California redwood grove near the town of Smith’s River, about an hour and half north of Eureka.

Thompson said he often was dressed in the awkward Ewok costume 40 feet off the ground in the trees.

“Imagine you are in an Ewok outfit with an inch of foam padding in a fur coat with a latex mask, latex feet and latex hands and the head fogs up and you can’t see anything. It was very hot in the costume,” he said. “Then imagine you are 40 feet up on the lowest branch of a redwood tree.”

Thompson said they put five different Ewok heads on him during the film so he could play multiple Ewok characters. 

In addition to “Return of the Jedi,” Thompson appeared in two Ewok movies, “Ewok Adventure” and “Ewoks Battle for Endor.”

Actor Kevin Thompson displays his certificate from the Royal Society of Ewoks and a photo of him as “Chubbray from Return of the Jedi at his home in Saugus on Friday, November 1, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Other credits

Thompson has an extensive list of credits. A few of his television and film credits include: “Married with Children,” “Growing Pains,” “Boy Meets World,” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” “Bob Newhart,” “Ally McBeal,” “Charmed,” “Malcolm In The Middle,” “Dexter,” “The Neighbors,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Weird Science” (1985), “Amazing Stories” (1985), “Twilight Zone” (1986), “Looney Tunes Back in Action” (2003) and “Mirror Mirror” (2012).

“I have been very lucky, working very steadily for almost 40 years,” Thompson said. 

Actor Kevin Thompson , right, gets a kiss from wife Tracey of 32 years in the kitchen of their home in Saugus on Friday, November 1, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Fast forward

Thompson and his wife, Tracey, have been married 32 years. They moved to Santa Clarita in 1989. The couple met through mutual friends, and have one son, Wyatt.

Thompson said his favorite role was a job that allowed him a chance to act with his wife. The couple auditioned separately, but were hired to work on the same episode of “The Neighbors,” an NBC sitcom that ran 2012-2014. 

Currently, Thompson works on the set of “A Man with a Plan,” on CBS, as a dialogue coach and set double.

“I am fortunate that instead of waiting tables when I am not acting, I can work behind the scenes,” he said. 

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