In a fascinating blend of rock ‘n’ roll and science fiction, Freddie Mercury’s onstage antics with Darth Vader became an iconic moment in Queen’s live performances. However, this unique stunt eventually caught the attention of George Lucas, leading to its abrupt end.
The Stunt’s Conception
During Queen’s US tours in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Freddie Mercury, known for his love of theatrical stunts, sought creative ways to make grand stage entrances. Before Walt Versen became the band’s Head of Security, guards would often carry Mercury onto the stage, sometimes dressed as Superman or Santa Claus.
Enter Darth Vader
When Walt Versen joined Queen’s security team, he suggested an alternative to the Superman routine. As “Star Wars” was gaining immense popularity at the time, with “The Empire Strikes Back” released in 1980, Versen proposed using Darth Vader for Mercury’s stage entrance. Freddie Mercury loved the idea, and Versen quickly sourced a Darth Vader costume. This led to a memorable moment where Freddie sang “We Will Rock You” from the shoulders of Darth Vader, played by Versen himself.
George Lucas’s Intervention
The Darth Vader stunt was performed about a dozen times during the tour, delighting fans and adding a unique twist to Queen’s concerts. However, this innovative blend of rock and fantasy was halted when George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars,” sent a cease and desist letter to the band. The letter effectively ended the stunt, as Lucas did not approve of his character’s portrayal in the band’s performances.
Walt Versen’s Recollections
Walt Versen, who recently promoted Queen Rock Montreal in IMAX, reminisced about his time with Freddie Mercury and Queen. He shared fond memories of working with Mercury and highlighted the spirit of Freddie’s character, as represented in the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie. According to Versen, Freddie was a “quiet, shy, thoughtful, introspective guy” who loved show business and spectacle.
Legacy of the Stunt
Though it was a brief chapter in Queen’s history, Freddie Mercury riding on the shoulders of Darth Vader has become one of the band’s most iconic visual moments. This story not only reflects Freddie Mercury’s inventive approach to live performances but also the inevitable clash when two cultural phenomena – rock music and a cinematic universe – intersect in unexpected ways.
Queen Rock Montreal is currently screening in IMAX theaters worldwide, offering fans a glimpse into the band’s storied history and legendary performances.