The central characters of the original Star Wars trilogy–Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Darth Vader, and Chewbacca–are the icons of the entire franchise. Still, some of the instantly recognizable supporting characters, including Grand Moff Tarkin, Wedge Antilles, Emperor Palpatine, Lando Calrissian, and bounty hunters Boba Fett and Boushh, have acquired their own cult following. Diehard fans often honor them by wearing imitations of their elaborate costumes at Star Wars conventions all over the globe.
One such character is Jek Tono Porkins, a slightly overweight X-wing pilot who appears only briefly in Star Wars: A New Hope, the first installment of the franchise. He was a member of Red Squadron along with Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles, and Biggs Darklighter. The Red Squadron was a celebrated squadron of volunteer X-wing pilots who were responsible for the first destruction of the Death Star, the infamous imperial superweapon. Porkins was killed while providing cover fire for the fighters who were trying to hit the station’s exhaust vent.
William Hootkins, the actor who portrayed Jek Porkins, died in 2005 at the age of 57. He was mainly a supporting actor who was best known for portraying characters in a number of successful Hollywood films, including Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Flash Gordon, and Batman. Before studying astrophysics and later oriental studies at Princeton, he developed a passion for acting while attending the same high school drama group as Tommy Lee Jones, at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas. According to Hootkins, Tommy Lee Jones was much more attractive than him and won lead roles while Hootkins always ended up portraying supporting characters.
It is Hootkins’ childhood in Dallas that is quite interesting. Namely, at one point in December of 1963, at the age of 15, he found himself in an unenviable position: being questioned by the FBI regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. JFK was fatally shot on November 22, 1963, while waving at the citizens of Dallas from the open presidential limousine. Although the facts have never been proven beyond doubt, an investigation conducted by the government and its agencies resulted in claiming Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole perpetrator of the crime.
At one point during his life, Oswald defected to the Soviet Union. After becoming disillusioned with life in the U.S.S.R., he returned to the United States in 1962 along with his Russian wife, Marina, and their infant daughter. At the time when the assassination occurred, they were separated and Marina was staying at a house owned by Ruth Paine, a woman teaching the Russian language who had been a close friend of the Oswalds ever since they left the Soviet Union. The investigation launched by the government discovered that Oswald actually hid his rifle, a Carcano Model 1891/38 that was found to be the murder weapon, in Paine’s garage.
It was eventually concluded that Paine and her husband had no clue that Oswald used the garage of their home as a hiding spot for the weapon, but in December 1963, at the time when the investigation was in its full swing and the details of Oswald’s plan were still unknown, the FBI suspected that Paine and her husband may have been Oswald’s co-conspirators. Therefore, all people who came into contact with Paine became suspects and one of those people was none other than the unsuspecting 15-year-old William Hootkins.
During 1962 and 1963, Paine was Hootkins’ private teacher of Russian. In fact, Hootkins was her only student. They met regularly at her house and Hootkins likely met Lee Harvey and Marina Oswald a number of times, especially during the time when Marina was living at Paine’s house. Because of this, the future X-wing pilot was seen as a potential conspirator who might have contributed to one of the most infamous crimes in American history.
Thankfully, his name was quickly cleared and he returned to his normal life and on the road to an acting career. But for him, the 1960s were a memorable decade not just because of the constant social and political turmoil that shook the entire world, but also because a coincidence briefly made him a suspect in the investigation of JFK’s assassination.