PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) – As Star Wars fans marked the nerdy “May the Fourth Be With You” holiday with a flurry of memes and social media posts Friday, KPIX 5 found a local lawman with a special connection to the film series.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – or, more specifically Marin County circa 1982 – the man who would eventually become Palo Alto’s chief of police for a brief time wore a very different uniform.
Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen told KPIX 5 the story.
“It was right after high school. I was an aspiring actor. I had an opportunity to respond to an extra call for that particular movie,” remembered Jonsen.
“That particular movie” as he so humbly put it, was Return of the Jedi, the third film in the Star Wars trilogy. At the time, it was the most eagerly anticipated movie in the galaxy.
“It was phenomenal. The scene that I’m in is the one where the storm troopers are being chased by Luke,” said Jonsen. “And it was like being on a regular motorcycle. It just wasn’t moving.”
For a few, glorious weeks that summer, Jonsen brushed shoulders with legendary director George Lucas and actor Mark Hamill, the actor who played the heroic young Jedi.
“As a young adult, I was definitely intimidated,” said the chief. “But he was unbelievable. He encouraged us and treated us with dignity and respect.”
The Chief says — with a fair amount self-depreciating humor — that he held onto his dream of a career in the film industry until the moment they slapped a storm trooper helmet on his head.
It was then he realized maybe he wasn’t destined to the second coming of Harrison Ford.
“At 19, when they put a helmet over your face, it’s kind of an indicator that maybe you need a new profession,” said Jonsen.
He did not portray just any storm trooper in the film. Jonsen played the minion of the Empire who Luke ran into a tree during the exciting and iconic speeder bike chase through the heavily wooded forest on the planet Endor.
The chief tweeted about his experience as his way of celebrating May the Fourth.
So after a brief dalliance with the dark side, the man who would become Chief Robert Jonsen returned to the light. He chose a career in public service, a decision for which the galaxy — especially the corner of it in Palo Alto — would be forever grateful.