He was the man who could have been Solo.
I have always been intrigued by BoShek. When Ben Kenobi enters the cantina on Mos Eisley looking for a pilot to take himself, the boy and two droids to Alderaan, his first choice is a smuggler sporting arched eyebrows, killer muttonchops, and a black and white space suit more akin to an astronaut than a fighter pilot. While we cannot hear their dialogue, it is obvious that Kenobi asks him for a ride to Alderaan–and for whatever reason, the space pilot says no.
Was his ship out of commission? Did he have another charter later that day?
Whatever the reason, BoShek turns down the offer, but smoothly motions over his shoulder to the furry beast behind him, in my mind saying something to the effect of “Sorry, I can’t help you. But why don’t you give him a try?”
That furry beast, Chewbacca, then brings Kenobi and Skywalker to the table, Han Solo sits down, the rest is history…and BoShek faded forever into the darkness of the Mos Eisley bar.
So as I sat with my daughter in the Anaheim Convention center listening to Tom Spina and Pablo Hidalga’s fantastic panel “Secrets of the Mos Eisley Cantina,” I was shocked to discover that we had no idea who the actor was who played BoShek.
What? BoShek even has his own action figure. But we don’t know the name of actor who played him?
If these two Star Wars scholars—Spina, of Tom Spina Designs, an incredible designer who had recently recreated the Cantina scene for a Volkswagen commercial, and Hidalgo, Creative Executive at Lucasfilm—did not know who BoShek was, it was pretty safe to say the internet didn’t either. But the crowd can be very powerful when tapped.
I make my living as an investigative journalist. I write and produce true crime stories for places like Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Magazine, and I am on the Warner Bros. syndicated show Crime Watch Daily. Many of the stories I tell are of the unsolved murder and missing persons variety. I am also one of the country’s experts on citizen detectives—individuals who team up online to solve crimes. The last time I was at a conference, I was presenting a panel called “Citizen Dicks: Solving Murders With Social Media.”
So as I sat with my daughter listening to Spina and Hidalgo’s panel, I felt I had found my sense of purpose in the Star Wars universe. Since Star Wars has neither had a journalist nor a detective onscreen, this could be my best chance to make a contribution.
I was going to find BoShek.
I wrote to Tom Spina out of the blue, telling him that he inspired my quest.
“Here’s a recent example of my work: The story of how Facebook detectives tracked down a person who was videotaping himself killing kittens and posting on the web–and how the police did little until his next video, which depicted him killing a person.”
Thankfully, Tom put aside the fact that a stranger sent him a story about dead kittens and wrote me back.
“As for the mystery of BoShek, we don’t have much,” Tom wrote. “He appears on the right of the screen cap below which I’ve been told is from the UK series “the New Avengers” but I don’t know the episode and he’s said to be uncredited.” This info came from Lee Allum, a UK autograph hunter who had tracked down Alfie Curtis, the man who played Dr. Cornelius “He doesn’t like you” Evazan.
I stared at the photo of an actor playing a Russian thug. It certainly looked like him. Tom sent some of the random names that appeared in the production notes:
“Bob Watson (appeared in a Dr. Who, I’ve watched the ep and he’s said to be 1 of the four guards, but none seem to match our spacer) Reg Thomason (appears at the end of the film as a rebel, too old to be our guy anyway) Basil Tomlin (haven’t found a pic of him).”
He also mentioned Anthony Lang, who is often credited as being BoShek, but is clearly not the guy we are looking for.
“Sure would be neat if someone could turn him up,” wrote Tom, ending the email.
“Alright Tom, I’m on this,” I wrote back. “I normally have to track down people who have killed people and don’t want to be found, so this is a whole different ball of wax (unless this guy killed someone, of course).”
I tracked down The New Avengers episode and searched for any clues. It was part one of “K is For Kill: The Tiger Awakens.” The episode had a French director and a French casting director (an outfit called MaMade). Could BoShek be French?. They shot the show in both France and Canada, but this episode was in France. I contacted people who worked for MaMade. No luck.
The journey started taking me the back alleys of the internet, talking with a handful of players, like Laurie Goode, stormtrooper who famously smacks his head in the Death Star. He directed me to collector Dave Oldbury, who has helped identify some of the patrons in the past. Dave led me to Greg Rudevics (who makes Kenny Baker custom figures). We teamed up, with Greg contacting a casting director for The New Avengers (but she only booked the shows shot in Canada). I found a still from The New Avengers episode, and Greg and I went over it inch by inch to see if it might be shot in France or England. Greg ordered the episode on VHS and took screen shots.
I contacted the Casting Directors Guild in the UK and corresponded with a delightfully pleasant English Woman. Nothing.
I ran genealogy searches on the three names from the production notes Tom gave me. I sent out-of-the-blue emails to relatives of Basil Tomlin and Reg Thomason. I didn’t hear anything back.
Could BoShek have been one of the Uglies, the famous troupe of characters that were brought in to fill the Cantina. I contacted Pam Rose, who played long-legged Cantina patron Leesub Sirln (who also has an action figure). I had hoped maybe she talked to him, maybe he hit on her? Did he have a French accent? “It was 40 years ago!” she said playfully to me.
I started a thread in britmovie.co, and one on Rebelscum.com under the subject line:
“I’m on the search to track down the actor who played BoShek. I have spotted him in an episode of “the New Avengers” shot in France (playing a Russian soldier), but wondering if anyone here has any leads.”
Some people suggested an actor named Guy Standaven, who had been in hundreds of roles. But he was not our guy.
My place in the Star Wars universe was fading. I had cast my net out there, and worked leads. But there were true bad guys to catch, and my search slowed to a crawl. I would check back every month to see if anything new had developed. It turned from an active investigation into a “Wanted Poster” scenario. The posts were out there on the internet. If someone did search for BoShek they would find me–and if they had any information, hopefully contact me.
And this morning someone did.
“Hi, I wanted to let you know that it was my grandfather who played the part of boShek,” the email began. “As a family we have always known he played the part. However we have only just found out that they made a toy of him.
Sadly he is dead now but we are trying to get his name put on to the credits as I believe others have taken credit for it. If you are genuinely interested I could try and dig out some pictures of him to prove I’m not pulling your leg.
I immediately emailed Barry back, and he gave me his mother’s mail. Sylvia Holt replied.
“My Dad Mr Frances, Alfred, Basil Tomlin played the part of Boshek. Everyone new my Dad as Tom. Unfortunately my Dad passed away over 11 years ago now but it would be nice if we could get his name reconised as his claim to fame was his part as Boshek and a storm trooper in the first Star Wars film.”
And as proof, she sent me this photo.
After searching for months, I found myself gazing into the dark eyes of BoShek, sporting an incredibly spiffy shirt and those killer sideburns.
Hello Mr Frances, Alfred, Basil Tomlin, it’s nice to finally meet you.
Mr. Tomlin’s family is gathering more photos and information for me, which I will share as soon as I receive them. And I am talking with Tom Spina to try and get Tomlin the recognition he deserves within the Star Wars universe.
Now I have to go chase some bad guys. (Although we still don’t know who played Walrus Man. Hmmm…)