Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Darth Vader strikes back at George Lucas

Twenty years ago, I interviewed Dave Prowse, who played the body of Darth Vader in the three original Star Wars movies.
To a newspaper cadet who had grown up on Star Wars (it was the first movie I had seen), this was an absolute thrill - not least because he demonstrated on me the classic scene where he picks up a Rebel officer and holds him two foot off the ground. Luckily he didn't do it by my neck! More on that later ...
But one of the things that surprised me was the way he spoke about Lucas, and what Lucas had done to the films after the actors had walked off the set.
Bear in mind this was in 1991, long before The Phantom Menace hit the screens and introduced Star Wars fans to a character hated more than Vader and the Emperor combined - Jar Jar Binks.
This week, George Lucas released all six of his Star Wars movies in Blu-ray - and the controversy reminded me vividly of what Dave Prowse was saying, 20 years ago.
For those who haven't been following it, or have been living underground in a small farming settlement on Tatooine, Lucas has taken the opportunity of fiddling with the movies for Blu-ray. Now, he's done this before - the Special Edition films tidied up many of the - admittedly - primitive special effects and sound, as well as reinstating scenes that had been cut from the original for budget and/or technology reasons (such as Han Solo meeting Jabba the Hutt in A New Hope).
But, to many fans, Lucas has gone too far now.
His biggest ``crime'' is to play with the climax of the original trilogy - some could say the climax to the entire saga.
Luke Skywalker, having defeated his father (Vader) refuses to take his place and turn to the dark side. The Emperor is shooting lightning bolts into the hapless Luke while Vader watches. Finally he can take no more and silently changes back to his former self, to Anakin Skywalker, destroys the Emperor, saves Luke - and sacrifices himself in the process.
In the new version, Vader now screams ``Nooooo!' as he acts, infuriating fans across the world.
But, 20 years ago, he had already infuriated Darth Vader.
Dave Prowse was out in Australia for a convention and visited Woy Woy to thank one of the organisers. I went to a small, fibro-style home to meet this giant of a man. He was struggling with arthritis (well, he was about 56 then) but a massive presence.
He told me Lucas spotted him in A Clockwork Orange and offered him a choice - either Chewbacca or Darth Vader. He said he chose Vader because ``everyone remembers the baddie''.
Obviously he and the other actors had no idea how big Star Wars was going to be - but he said he also had a huge shock when he watched the film for the first time. Having spoken all the lines himself, he told me he was surprised - and disappointed - to hear not his Bristol accent but the dulcet tones of James Earl Jones.
Frankly, this was a great choice by Lucas as Prowse's voice is not a patch on Jones - but Prowse was most disappointed that Lucas never told him, that the first time he learned of it was at the premiere.
Of course Lucas may have a different recollection of this; I haven't interviewed him.
Prowse was most proud of his work in The Empire Strikes Back, with what he called ``the thinking man's Vader'' but, by the time Return Of The Jedi came around, he had fallen out with Lucas.
He admits he was not happy on the set and he was deeply saddened he never got to show his face as Darth Vader, not even as the ``scarred'' Darth Vader in Return Of The Jedi. This role went to Sebastian Shaw - although Shaw was later edited out of the sequence where Anakin Skywalker appears as a Jedi spirit with Yoda and Ben Kenobi. Hayden Christensen was morphed into this - although why Anakin would be a young spirit when Kenobi stayed as Alec Guinness and not Ewan McGregor made no sense ...
Prowse was certainly a charming man to interview, dropping such tidbits as how he was Christopher Reeve's personal trainer for the original Superman, helping the skinny Reeve stack on 5kg of muscle for the role.
Still, he's huge and if I was Lucas, perhaps I wouldn't tell him bad news personally!
He also demonstrated the famous scene from A New Hope where he lifts up a Rebel officer by the throat. It was done in two parts - he held the actor around the throat while the man stood on a chair. For the second part he simply lifted the man in the air by his shoulders. To demonstrate this, he simply reached out, clamped his massive hands around my upper arms and lifted me a foot off the ground. Back then I was about 80kg but I might as well have been a feather.
As I hung there, feet dangling, it was a perfect moment.
Now I hear about the changes to the pivotal Vader moment and feel sad. Sad for Prowse, sad for such a wonderful character and sad for every child that watches the `new' print and misses out on a little bit of movie magic.

1 comment:

  1. being a star wars fan it really does sadden me what Lucas has done to the films since technology has become better, i do own my copies on blu ray but I'm not allowed to watch them yet (x'mas pressie) fortunately a few years back the released the trilogy on DVD and with it came the Original Theatrical Movie (the copies that hit cinemas (in the 70's and 80's) i was so happy i had to buy them as growing up as a kid these we're what was on tv.. i pull them out once every couple of months and give them a watch. and my children sit down and watch them with me.

    that would have been so cool to have been lifted off the ground by Vader

    Matt Wood
    (aka Darth Crofil)