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David Prowse (1935-2020)

Star Wars fans woke up to some sad news, as actor and former bodybuilder David Prowse has passed away. The British character actor died at the age of 83, and if you’re at all a lover of the Star Wars Saga, you know who he played. Prowse of course played Darth Vader, providing the screen presence and size needed to instantly make Vader into an iconic villain. Even without the voice, which was memorable dubbed over his by James Earl Jones (an iconic performance on its own), Prowse made the character imposing and a part of cinematic history. He will be missed, not just by fans, but by all in the film world.

Here’s some of the obituary for Prowse from The Guardian:

Cinema audiences were introduced to the terrifying Darth Vader when he appeared through the smoky residue of a laser battle at the beginning of Star Wars (1977). First came the silhouette of his swishing cape and flared helmet, then in closeup the chilling details of his mask – the blank, fly-like eyes, the grille redolent of a mouth with gritted teeth.

Ralph McQuarrie drew the original sketches of the character and the costume designer John Mollo made them a frightening reality, but it was the British actor and former weightlifter David Prowse who was inside the suit and behind the mask. Prowse, who has died aged 85, was the one responsible for Vader’s imposing physicality and distinctive sweeping movements, curiously graceful for one so large (the actor stood 6ft 7in and weighed 19st at the time).

It was one of the peculiarities of his particular species of fame that while he played arguably the most memorable character in one of the biggest movies of all time, he could still walk down most streets without fear of being recognised.

Even his voice would not have given him away: though he spoke Vader’s lines during filming, and was assured by the writer-director George Lucas that he would be required later for the dubbing sessions, it was the American actor James Earl Jones who delivered the character’s dialogue in the finished film. It was decided that Prowse’s thick West Country burr, which earned him the nickname “Darth Farmer” from other cast members, would not have struck quite the right note of menace for an intergalactic villain.

Nor did he get to supply Vader’s menacing heavy breathing (that was the sound designer Ben Burtt, using scuba-diving apparatus). And though he performed his share of the light-sabre duels in the first picture, they were mostly handed over to the stunt department for the sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). When Vader was unmasked in the latter film, moments before his death, it was the actor Sebastian Shaw, rather than Prowse, whose face was shown, and who got to speak the character’s final words. To add insult to anonymity, this death scene was concealed from Prowse, who claimed not to have been shown script pages during shooting.

Such slights were in keeping with his general frustrations about the role. “As Darth Vader, you always feel as if fame and fortune’s coming towards you, but, just as it’s going to hit, it passes you by,” he lamented. “Sometimes in the cinema, I want to yell out: ‘Hey, that’s me up there, that’s me you’re all watching.’”

British actors Peter Cushing, David Prowse and American Actress Carrie Fisher with director, screenwriter and producer George Lucas on the set of his movie Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Rest in Peace David Prowse…

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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