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Vader! You Seek Vader!

Posted on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020

Dave!David Prowse, the actor who embodied Darth Vader died this past Saturday.

A case can be made for Darth Vader being the best movie villain of all time. All you have to do is Google "Best Movie Villains of All Time" and you'll find that a lot of people believe this to be true (No. 2 is Hannibal Lecter, but I digress). He was menacing, powerful, and the best possible kind of cinema evil. And though he ended up having a bit of a redemption moment in Return of the Jedi (and was completely neutered in the awful prequel trilogy), he will always be remembered by me as The Only Villain That Matters.

David Prowse was half of the Vader equation.

But because James Earl Jones's voice is such a touchstone for the character, the contribution Prowse made is often overlooked. And that's a real shame. Last night I rewatched the Original Star Wars Trilogy and paid careful attention to how Prowse played the character. His every gesture oozed power. Yet it was never overplayed. At no moment did you get the feeling that Darth Vader was a man trapped in a suit. He was the suit. And that was true from the minute Vader first appeared walking through that smoke...

Darth Vader appears!

Darth Vader appears!

Darth Vader looking menacing!

Even when he's just standing there next to Grand Moff Tarkin saying nothing, there's a menace to him. And though it would be easy to say "that's just the badass costume," it's what lead up to him just standing there that is actually what's working. And that was all Prowse. Just look at the way he's pitched forward, looking like he'll choke a bitch at any second...

Darth Vader looking menacing!

Which, of course he does. He's Darth Vader!

The lightsaber duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi is a bit tame. Darth Vader looks practically timid throughout everything, and I remember being a bit disappointed that we didn't get something more. But still, my young mind was suitably blown as I watching things go down...

Darth Vader looking menacing!

Darth Vader looking menacing!

Vader next appears in the battle on The Death Star in his cool custom T.I.E. fighter (of which I had a model when I was a kid)...

Empire space ships in the trench at the end of Star Wars!

Darth Vader inside his custom TIE fighter!

Interesting to note that in one scene where Vader is under red lights, the dark red lenses in his mask show Prowse inside. To my knowledge, it's the only time you ever see his face... well, part of his face... on screen...

David Prowse behind the eye lenses of the Darth Vader helmet!

The movie ends with Darth Vader being knocked into space. When I was a kid I had a T-Shirt that I ordered out of a magazine which proclaimed "VADER LIVES!"

Vader's TIE fighter spins off into space!

Which, of course, he did in the sequel.

And this time we got a tantalizing glimpse at what's under that dark helmet...

The back of Vader's scarred head revealed!

In The Empire Strikes Back, the best of all Star Wars movies, Prowse provided two moments so iconic that my brain still fails to fully process them. The first is when he is revealed to be the dinner host at Cloud City...

Han Solo fires at Darth Vader!

Darth Vader deflects the photon blast!

"We would be honored if you would join us"...

Darth Vader invites our heroes to dinner!

What's always been interesting to me is that Vader begins and ends this scene... seated. I've never understood director Irvin Kershner's thinking behind that. There was no reason for it, and I think it diminished his power. It would have been far smarter to just have him standing the entire time. The more times I see him sitting down, the weirder it looks to me...

Darth Vader invites our heroes to dinner!

And the second iconic scene is, of course, that pivotal moment in cinematic history which follows a pretty cool lightsaber duel. Far more exciting than the one we got in Star Wars...

Darth Vader stands menacingly in the shadows while luke approaches to battle!

And here we go. If you watch Vader as he's confronting Luke here, you can really see how important Prowse was to making the moment so mind-blowing. He is physical, but restrained, which is far more menacing than had he been all over the place...

Darth Vader clenches his fist!

Then Darth Vader drops the bomb...

Darth Vader leans forward!

Admit it, I didn't need to type a thing. You saw this and immediately heard "Luke, I am your father!" (even though the line was actually just "No, I am your father!"...

Luke screams NOOOOOO!

Now, this was before the internet. I stood in line to see Empire on opening night. I knew absolutely nothing about the movie except what I had seen in commercials. There were no spoilers to be had. I walked out of the theater putting the pieces of my brain back into my 14-year-old skull. It was such an amazing moment, and it wasn't thanks to the heroes. It was thanks to Darth Vader...

Darth Vader doesn't think Luke understand the POWER of The Dark Side!

Return of The Jedi was, for the most part, a disappointment to me. It jettisoned all the things that made Empire so great and replaced them with burp jokes and Ewoks so George Lucas could make billions of dollars selling toys. The only thing I like about the movie are what happens in-between the idiocy. That speeder-bike chase. That space battle. The Emperor revealed. And, oh yeah, that final duel...

Darth Vader waits for Luke, his saber glowing!

Darth Vader attacks!

Darth Vader and Luke battling it out!

What's so incredibly sad is that the evil Emperor Palpatine overshadowed Darth Vader in this movie. He was the evil this time. He was the memorable villain this time. He stole the movie this time. Vader was conflicted and embattled, and Luke handed him his ass. Happy Father's Day...

Darth Vader gets a beat-down from Luke Skywalker! Happy Father's Day!

We did get one final cool moment with Darth Vader. Though I never really had a chance to study it until I bought Return of the Jedi on LaserDisc. They animated a skeleton as the emperor's force-lightening struck Vader's armor. I think they enhanced it for the Special Editions, because I don't remember it being this detailed through...

Darth Vader's glowing skeleton!

Just look at the mechanical parts in there!

Darth Vader's glowing skeleton!

Buh bye...

Darth Vader's glowing skeleton!

Darth Vader's glowing skeleton!

I think I remember reading an interview with Irvin Kershner (who directed the far, far superior The Empire Strikes Back) that he thought it was a mistake to show Vader's face at the end. I agree 1000%. I didn't mind that Vader had found redemption... even though it seemed a little silly that he could walk back from all those murders he's responsible for... but I did mind them ruining a huge part of the mystique which made Vader so compelling...

Darth Vader's beautiful black visage is stripped away to reveal a crusty old white man!

I still think it's unfair that Prowse didn't get to play crusty old Anakin Skywalker in this scene. Lucasfilm kinda owed it to him, didn't they?

And that was the end of it. SPOILER ALERT! Vader dies and Luke lights him on fire in a funeral pyre. Thankfully with his mask on...

Darth Vader's funeral pyre!

Darth Vader is on fire!

And that was the end of it. Vader was done.

Until he wasn't, of course.

In later years, Prowse had a falling out with LucasFilm. He claimed that they owed him money that was never paid. This did not go over very well, and LucasFilm were total assholes who them prohibited him from appearing at conventions, which was his primary source of income. Be that as it may, David Prowse left a legacy which will live long past his death, and LucasFilm can't ever take that away from him.

Thank you, sir, for filling my childhood with wonder and giving the world a villain that will quite probably never be eclipsed.

Even when Darth Vader is played by other actors.

Out of the trilogy of trilogie films, I only like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. The rest are just weak retreads with no added value. I do like the spin-offs Rogue One and Solo, however, as they seemed more invested in finding those things which made Star Wars so frickin' amazing. A mantle that has now been picked up with The Mandalorian TV show.

Interesting to note that it's in Rogue One where we finally... finally... get to see Darth Vader unleashed. The final scene of that movie leads to the very first scene of Star Wars, and it's glorious. No, David Prowse isn't inside the Vader suit, but he's got his stamp all over this terrifying moment as Darth Vader mows through the Rebel soldiers in an attempt to get those Death Star plans.

The sequence begins in an eerie nod to the original very first scene Darth Vader appears. But instead of him stepping out of white smoke, this time it's red...

Darth Vader appears, red lightsaber glowing!

Rebel soldiers firing at Vader in vain!

Darth Vader easily deflects the blaster fire!

In a genius move, the Rebel soldiers are shown to be horrified at Vader's power as he easily cuts a path through them...

A Rebel soldier screaming!

Darth Vader showing no mercy!

And here's The Force being used as you dreamed Vader would wield it. No stupid-ass senseless hand-gestures with no consequences like the idiotic prequel battle on Geonosis... Vader is brutal and ruthless with it. Disarming his opponents and crushing them...

Darth Vader crushes a Rebel scum on the ceiling!

Darth Vader shoves a Rebel out of his way!

Darth Vader using The Force like a Boss!

Darth Vader destorying his enemies!

Darth Vader embattled as the door closes!

Finally. Finally we get to see Darth Vader exactly how you want to see him. Overwhelmingly ruthless and powerful. And that final Vader scene. Perfection...

Darth Vader destorying his enemies!

Darth Vader destorying his enemies!

Rest In Peace, sir. You'll always be Darth Vader to me.

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Categories: Movies 2020Click To It: Permalink
   

Comments

  1. martymankins says:

    A great and detailed tribute to David Prowse.

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