“Retreat, all craft prepare to retreat,” says Erik Bauersfeld, chuckling as he reads a now-famous line from the original “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi” script.

Bauersfeld, the man who voiced both Admiral Ackbar and Bib Fortuna in “Return of the Jedi,” has been an essential figure at Berkeley’s own KPFA radio station for the past 31 years. How did we nerds at the Clog not know about this until now?

Luckily, he was open to meeting with us.

As we sat, anxiously awaiting his arrival, we began to wonder what the Admiral would look like in the flesh. Would he be mightily imposing? Would he intimidate the bejeezus out of us with his deep and booming voice? Was this all a trap?

Turns out, Bauersfeld is one of the nicest and most intelligent old men we’ve ever met. We wish he were our grandpa. Even at the ripe age of 89, with a stooped back and balding head, Bauersfeld’s blue eyes remain sharp and keen, and his conversation is peppered with witty observations and insightful remarks.

Bauersfeld says he first fell in love with radio at the age of three. One day, while with his grandparents in their Brooklyn, New York apartment, they turned on a crystal set and he was “overwhelmed. The shock value was enormous — I couldn’t believe it.” After fighting in the war, Bauersfeld took advantage of the G.I. Bill to move out to California and settle into a life in the arts. After attending UC Berkeley and teaching for some time at the San Francisco Art Institute, Bauersfeld discovered KPFA radio, which he described as “a wonder — even better than New York at its best.”

Bauersfeld claims that radio at its best had a great range; they read and performed everything from scary stories to Shakespeare to Henry James.

But now, said Bauersfeld, “the station has changed to a point where I’m not interested anymore. It’s become too politicized.” Instead, he is pursuing his own project: developing a website that will showcase archives of his past work as well as future undertakings. He aims to preserve radio the way he knew it best. “All the good things in the world came to me through people in sound and radio,” Bauersfeld muses.

Speaking of all the good things, we finally arrive at the Star Wars discussion, or what Bauersfeld refers to as the “Jedi movie.”

How did he get the job? He simply happened to be in the right place at the right time.

His good friend Randy Thom was working for Lucasfilm at the time, and while the two were sitting in the studio producing a radio play, Ben Burtt, sound designer for “Star Wars” walked in and asked if he would voice characters for the movie he was working on. Bauersfeld, who had a half-hour to spare, assented to Burtt’s request and did an audition tape. Director George Lucas liked his voices for both the Admiral and Fortuna, and the next thing Bauersfeld knew, he was sitting in the studio recording booth.

“I honestly don’t remember how I did [the voice], and if you asked me to do it now, I wouldn’t be able to do it for you,” Bauersfeld said. “I was given a picture of Admiral Ackbar, and after looking at him for a few minutes, I just knew what he sounded like. It came automatically.”

The same was true with Bib Fortuna. In the movies, Fortuna speaks a different language, Huttese, which Bauersfeld says he received very little direction on. After getting a few instructions from Burtt, he just went for it. The entire recording process took less than an hour.

When the movie first premiered, Bauersfeld didn’t receive any screen credit. But after it was finally revealed that he had voiced the Admiral (and Fortuna), the fan response was overwhelming. “It’s quite complimentary, actually,”  Bauersfeld remarks. He never watched the movies after the initial release, and finds the whole thing a little comical — he personally doesn’t understand the fan craze over Star Wars. But he does appreciate all the fan interest.

Bauersfeld’s next big project is to travel to Taos, New Mexico to capture sound recordings of the wonderful artists there. For now though, he’s enjoying his life in the Bay, responding to fan letters and working on improvements to his website.

Bauersfeld’s parting advice to Cal students: “The world is open to anyone, but they’ve got to take a first step.”

Indeed. May the Force be with us all.

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