June 30, 2003 and the NBL was in the midst of another off season following the Sydney Kings winning the 2003 title. While some players decide to play in state league or other competitions where they could hone their skills, others look for unique travel opportunities or take some time to let their bodies recover.
This off season presented a different opportunity for a select few (tall) NBL players. On this day the filming for Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith had started with George Lucas choosing Fox Studios in Sydney as one of the key locations for the film. This featured scenes which included a Wookie Army, and as such required some tall actors. For NBL players, David Stiff, Julian Khazzouh, Michael Kingma and the Hawks own Axel Dench, this meant the opportunity of a life time. To make it even more special, only 10 men were chosen to appear in Wookie suits for the main Wookie Army Scene, with actors repositioned multiple times then combined with computer generated graphics to make it appear to be many more.
Dench played the Wookie MeruMeru in the film, which was the 6th film in the iconic franchise to be made. Appearing as the Chief Wookie in the army, he may well find his wookie likeness being a collectors item in the form of the action figures made for the movie. Going on to earn over $380 million at the box office, the film was definitely a smash hit.
Axel came to the Hawks following a successful collegiate career at Gonzaga University between 1997-2000 where he was a member of the schools team to reach the Elite Eight in the 1999 NCAA Tournament.
Joining the Hawks for the 2001 NBL Season, he appeared in 34 games averaging 13 points and 6 rebounds per contest. He was named NBL Rookie of the Year, and of course was a key member in our Championship run.
Standing at 6’11, he was definitely a presence on court but with an accurate 3 point shot he was able to stretch the floor and give his teammates room to work down low. During his time with the club, he connected on 147 3pt attempts while shooting at over 42%. His Hawks career spanned from 2001-2004 and in his four years with the club he appeared in 120 games, despite missing half of the 2002 season with injury. Each of the four years he wore the Hawks colours we were able to make the playoffs, including semi final appearances in 03 & 04.
Playing in a total of 184 NBL games, as well as being selected for National team duties, Dench should be known for his on court abilities as much as his big screen fame. After finishing his NBL career in 2008, he is back playing in the Victorian Big V league where he recently notched up his 100th game for the McKinnon Cougars.