Star Wars actor David Prowse has passed away at the age of 85. Forever immortalised as iconic villain Darth Vader, he was remembered by series veteran Mark Hamill as someone who remained steadfastly loyal to the Star Wars fan base.
So sad to hear David Prowse has passed. He was a kind man & much more than Darth Vader. Actor-Husband-Father-Member of the Order of the British Empire-3 time British Weightlifting Champion & Safety Icon the Green Cross Code Man. He loved his fans as much as they loved him. #RIP pic.twitter.com/VbDrGu6iBz— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) November 29, 2020
Born in Bristol, Prowse went on to compete in the Mr. Universe competition where he mingled with a pre-fame Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1975, he was the embodiment of the UK's Green Cross Code man, the role, he said, of which he was most proud. But it was Darth Vader for which he'll be most remembered.
Despite being dubbed by James Earl Jones, Prowse's towering height gave physicality and presence to the tormented Vader. Here are his best moments from the Star Wars saga.
1. Darth Vader's entrance
Talk about making a bold first impression. The first Star Wars movie to be released (but chronologically in the middle) unleashed the armoured Vader upon the world. It would be many decades before his tormented Anakin Skywalker backstory would be filled in, but Prowse's imposing build makes a simple hand-on-the-hips gesture into something truly intimidating. At the time, audiences immediately got a handle on this character despite knowing nothing about him. Now, that's impressive physical acting. Credit must also go to production designer John Barry and costumer John Mollo who worked together to give Vader his unmistakable appearance.
2. Looking for the Death Star plans
James Earl Jones's voice booms while Prowse lifts and chokes a hapless Rebel soldier off his feet in one of A New Hope's most memorable moments. This establishes very early on that Vader is not just for show.
3. Lack of faith
Once again, Earl Jones gets the eminently quotable lines ("I find your lack of faith disturbing"), but Prowse shows a wonderful ability to give Vader a complex physical life. Force-choking a back-talking Imperial officer, Vader again demonstrates that he only has to use minute physical gestures to make everyone afraid. Once again, we must applaud Prowse's timing and attention to detail – it's for good reason that Vader remains one of the all-time great cinema villains.
4. Duelling with Obi-Wan Kenobi
The long-awaited lightsaber showdown with Alec Guinness's Obi-Wan is much less showy than the series' later battles. However, it demonstrates the cautious ebb and parry between these two longstanding enemies – one can sense the weight of history that exists between Vader and Obi-Wan, which will eventually be teased out during the saga's machinations. Once again, Prowse's presence says so much, even when Vader isn't speaking.
1. Darth Vader lands on Hoth
The Star Wars saga delivered what is arguably its final instalment in The Empire Strikes Back. Taking over from George Lucas, director Irvin Kershner upgrades the story's emotional impact and mines rich character depth, both in terms of script and design. The moment where Vader joins his Imperial forces on the ice-blasted planet of Hoth, promising to further knock the Rebel Alliance into a cocked hat, does a wonderful job off-setting his malevolent black armour against the stark purity of the surroundings. John Williams' immediately recognisable 'Imperial March', introduced for the first time in this movie, ably supports Prowse's looming frame.
2. Surprising Han Solo
How threatening can the act of standing up behind a table be? Prowse makes it look effortless during Empire's shocking betrayal sequence, in which Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is sold out by Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). Once again, we must credit not just the performances but also the production design: the deceptively benign interiors of Bespin Cloud City, designed by Norman Reynolds, serve to make the sudden intrusion of the helmeted, costumed Vader all the more shocking.
3. Waiting for Luke Skywalker
Once again, the scariest thing about Vader is his stillness. One of the most chilling moments in Empire reinforces Luke Skywalker's reckoning: Vader waiting for him om Bespin, silhouetted against blue hues and clouds of steam. It's moments like this that make us appreciate George Lucas' eye for casting people based on their physical appearance. Although Lucas didn't use Prowse's voice for Vader, he clearly understood the humble Brit's capacity to sell the character's physicality.
4. "I am your father"
It's possibly the most famous twist in film history, and James Earl Jones's booming delivery is what lingers in the mind. Even so, let's give Prowse credit for that reaching out gesture, fully articulating the weight of Vader's words. Originally, the scene was meant to play with the line "Obi-Wan killed your father", but George Lucas and Irvin Kershner changed it midway through production, later swearing Mark Hamill to secrecy. One assumes that Prowse delivered the line on-set as it was originally intended, and was probably as shocked as anyone when he watched the movie for the first time.
1. Vader arrives on the new Death Star
It may not be the most popular Star Wars movie, but Return of the Jedi sure has the best Vader entrance from the original trilogy. To those brilliantly portentous strains of John Williams' 'Imperial March', a low-angled shot of the Imperial shuttle ramp lowering initiates the arrival of the dreaded Vader, accompanied by wafts of steam. It's a brilliant example of show don't tell storytelling, further exemplified by the nervous swallowing of Commander Tiann Jerjerrod (Michael Pennington). Only Vader's arrival in 2016's Rogue One is capable of running this sequence close.
2. Reconciling with Luke
We've mentioned that Return of the Jedi doesn't get the love that A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back both enjoy. However, strip away the Ewok/Endor scenes and what remains is a powerfully emotional story of father/son reconciliation, Vader struggling with his attempts to convert son Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side. The moment where the two men reunite on Endor, prior to Luke's removal to the Death Star, not only showcases superb line reading from James Earl Jones but subtle mannerisms from Prowse that suggest emotional agony beneath the helmet.
3. Saving his son from the Emperor
Vader redeems a lifetime of evil with the act of saving Luke from the ruthless Emperor Palpatine (David Prowse). No dialogue is needed in the moment where Palpatine is torturing Luke with lightning – the shots of an impassive Vader looking on silently convey so much information. He then picks up his former master and plunges him into the core of the Death Star, initiating a tear-jerking finale where Vader is finally unmasked. (A third actor, Sebastian Shaw, plays the newly revealed Anakin Skywalker.) It takes real skill to emote beneath layers of complex costume design, and we'll forever remember David Prowse for giving Darth Vader a voice even when he wasn't speaking.
What's your favourite David Prowse/Darth Vader moment? Join us on Twitter @Cineworld as we remember this Star Wars icon.