As the foundational classic films and film franchises that defined a generation of fans continue to grow older, those same fans have increasingly had to cope with the actors, writers, filmmakers, and other creators who brought some of their most cherished memories to life proving unfortunately all too mortal. Stars become too old to continue playing their iconic roles, director’s retire when they can no longer face the intense work of running a feature film set, writers hang up their pens and eventually everybody passes on.
Born in 1922, Bauersfeld spent the majority of his professional life as a radio producer for KPFA 94.1 FM, a listener-funded progressive talk and music station in Berkley, California. He worked there for over 31 years, producing and appearing in programs for the literature and drama department while also picking up side work as a voice actor for feature films, television, and video games.
It was his role at KPFA that eventually led him to become the voice of Star Wars‘ Admiral Ackbar. While working on a Star Wars-themed radio project with Lucasfilm, Bauersfeld was approached by legendary sound designer Ben Burtt, who asked him to read for the part of Ackbar. According to the film’s production lore, Bauersfeld looked at a photo of Ackbar, an alien whose head vaguely resembles that of a catfish, and instantly decided on the voice he would use. Bauersfeld’s version was the one ultimately used for the character, whose signature line “It’s a trap!” has become among the most memorable and oft-quoted pieces of dialogue in the history of the franchise.
During the same period, he created and provided the voice of Bib Fortuna, Jabba the Hutt’s majordomo, in the same film. Despite these iconic contributions (and the immediate popularity of both characters with Star Wars fans) Bauersfeld received no onscreen credit for his voice work upon the film’s original release — though inquisitive fans discovered the truth soon after. Of note, prior to having been approached on Jedi by Burtt, Bauersfeld had read for the role of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back prior to the role ultimately going to puppeteer Frank Oz.
While he continued to respond to autograph requests from fans with personally typewritten notes late into his life, Bauersfeld himself maintained only a passing familiarity with Star Wars after his initial contribution. He wasn’t readily aware of not being credited (unsurprising, as his lines were added late into the production) did not see the original film and only saw Jedi once upon its opening in 1983 — he even claimed not to have remembered how he originally read Ackbar’s lines. He had continued working well into 2015, reprising Ackbar’s voice for a cameo in The Force Awakens and performing extra vocals for Crimson Peak.
Bauersfeld died on Sunday, with his manager confirming his passing one day later. A cause of death was not given.
R.I.P. Erik Bauersfeld: June 28, 1922 – April 3, 2016