For my article this week, I would like to pay a belated tribute to a man who was lost to us early this year. This man is responsible for many classic moments in cinema, and it can be said without exaggeration, that he changed the face of movies in a significant way. I speak, of course, of the late great Bob Anderson. “Who is this Bob Anderson?” you ask, “Why have I never heard of him?” Bob Anderson was the sword master for many of cinema’s classic fights. Beginning in 1953, he choreographed everything from Moonraker to The Lord of the Rings to the Princess Bride duel that I mentioned in my last article. His most famous moment, however came when he stepped into the shoes of one of the great classic villains, Darth Vader.
Bob Anderson was the choreographer for all of the original Star Wars fights. Every single lightsaber swing bore his signature. While David Prowse played the body of Vader through most of the series, Anderson stepped in for the lightsaber duels in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Both of these fights were extremely grueling, especially in the Vader costume, so it made more sense to put Anderson in the suit because he was more skilled with the weapon.
If you watch the fight from A New Hope and compare it to the fights in either of the two later films, you can see the difference in body language between the two actors. The original fight is quite blocky with both performers slightly unsure of their body movements. While it works in the scene as Obi-Wan Kenobi is quite old at this point and Darth Vader is, for all intensive purposes, a robot, when compared with later scenes it stands out as being stocky and uncoordinated.
In comparison, the lightsaber fight in The Empire Strikes Back benefits from Bob Anderson’s technique. Instead of the blocky and stiff style that Vader was using in A New Hope, he switches to a much more fluid one handed style. He keeps the blade inside of his body line for the most part and allows Luke Skywalker to expend his energy in wild attacks. Only after seeing that Luke has tired himself out does Vader go on the attack. Many of his successful techniques come from small wrist movements which allow him to control the other blade, disarming Skywalker in the beginning of the fight and ultimately performing a literal disarm at the end. All of these moves are executed with an ease of movement that lets the viewer know that Vader is the superior swordsman. Without Anderson’s expertise with the weapon or his ease of movement, the story could have easily become muddied, and the fight would not have stood the test of time nearly as well.
Bob Anderson was one of the many unsung heroes in Hollywood. Without these men and women, the movies that we know and love would never get made, and yet they don’t receive even half of the publicity that the actors and the directors receive. They do it for the love of their craft and nothing else. So here’s to you Bob Anderson! May the force be with you!
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