Bob Anderson, the master fencer who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy’s iconic fight scenes, passed away just hours after midnight on New Year’s Day, the British Academy of Fencing reports. He was 89 years old.
A Hollywood fencing choreographer IMDB calls “arguably the most legendary of sword-fight trainers/choreographers,” Anderson stepped into the menacing mask and long black cape of the dark lord of the Sith after David Prowse, the 6’6″ weightlifter who normally played him, couldn’t master the swordplay.
A World War II veteran of the Royal Marines and a 1952 Olympic fencer, Anderson was already 56 when filming of “The Empire Strikes Back” began. He had to wear lifts to make up for the six inches in height Prowse had on him. Still, none of that stopped the Englishman from delivering some of the most epic fight scenes in Hollywood history.
The father-son lightsaber duels of “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” are a far cry from the fancy-dancy, computer-generated whirling, twirling and sparkling of director George Lucas‘s most recent toy commercials — Anderson’s expert moves brought tense drama and awesome force to the screen.
What red-blooded American boy can forget the dark lord masterfully cutting off young Luke Skywalker’s hand, moments before dropping that emotional “I-am-your-father” doozie on his head?
Or the delicate taunting turned raging bashing of the final battle in the emperor’s throne room?
And even though Sir Alec Guinness’s legendary acting as Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi had all of us nerds yell out, “No!” when we first saw him struck down (to “become more powerful than you can ever imagine”), there’s no arguing that the lightsaber fight scenes got way more awesome after Anderson stepped into the role.
Anderson’s part as Vader was originally kept a secret, but in 1983, ABC News reports, Skywalker actor Mark Hamill broke the news, telling Starlog magazine, “It was always supposed to be a secret, but I finally told George [Lucas] I didn’t think it was fair any more. Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition. It’s ridiculous to preserve the myth that it’s all done by one man.”
The revelation brought the actors associated with the original portrayal (read: the good one) of sci-fi’s most famous villain to four, including Sebastian Shaw, who played the unmasked Vader, and James Earl Jones, who voiced the menacing growl.
Star Wars was not Anderson’s only contribution to the “movies men love” hall of fame — he also trained the cast of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, a number of classic James Bond movies, “The Guns of the Navarone” and “The Princess Bride,” among others.
The BBC reports that he is survived by his wife, Pearl, and three children.