Olympic fencer and movie sword master Bob Anderson appeared in some of film’s most famous dueling scenes — though few viewers knew it.
Anderson, who has died at age 89, donned Darth Vader’s black helmet and fought light saber battles in two of the three original Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Anderson, who worked with actors from Errol Flynn to Antonio Banderas during five decades as a sword master, fight director and stunt performer, died early on New Year’s Day at an English hospital, the British Academy of Fencing said on Monday.
Vader, the intergalactic arch-villain, was voiced by James Earl Jones and played by 1.98m former weightlifter David Prowse, but Anderson stepped in during the key fight scenes.
“David Prowse wasn’t very good with a sword and Bob couldn’t get him to do the moves,” said Anderson’s former assistant Leon Hill. “Fortunately Bob could just don the costume and do it himself.”
Few knew of Anderson’s role until Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, said in a 1983 interview “Bob Anderson was the man who actually did Vader’s fighting.”
“It was always supposed to be a secret, but I finally told [director] George [Lucas] I didn’t think it was fair anymore,” Hamill told Starlog magazine. “Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition. It’s ridiculous to preserve the myth that it’s all done by one man.”
Robert James Gilbert Anderson was born in Hampshire, England, in 1922, and was drawn to fencing from an early age.
“I never took up the sword,” he said in an interview for the 2009 documentary Reclaiming the Blade. “I think the sword took me up.”
Anderson joined the Royal Marines before World War II, teaching fencing aboard warships and winning several combined services titles in the sport. He represented Britain at the 1952 Olympics and the 1950 and 1953 world championships.In the 1950s, Anderson became coach of Britain’s national fencing team, a post he held until the late 1970s.
His first film work was staging fights and coaching Flynn on The Master of Ballantrae in 1952. He went on to become one of the most sought after stunt performers, fight choreographers and sword masters, working on movies such as From Russia With Love, The Princess Bride, The Mask of Zorro and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.