Legendary swordsman who dueled onscreen as Darth Vader dead at 89

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Dec 16, 2012

Bob Anderson, the legendary swordsman who choreographed some of the most famous battles in film history and even donned the Darth Vader costume to duel Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker, died Sunday in England at the age of 89.

Anderson's stellar career as swordsman to the stars began in the early 1950s, when he served as fight choreographer and stunt double to Errol Flynn on Master of Ballantrae. Anderson had already distinguished himself as a champion swordsman during interservice fencing competitions while serving in the Royal Marines in the 1940s, but it was in Hollywood that he became a legend.

In a career that spanned nearly six decades, Anderson taught swordplay to everyone from Sean Connery to Cary Elwes to Viggo Mortensen. His fight choreography can be seen in everything from Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon to Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride. Though his work was largely behind the scenes, he did land one notable (but uncredited) on-screen part: that of Darth Vader during the lightsaber duels in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

David Prowse normally filled the Vader suit, but he wasn't very good with his blade, and Anderson stepped into the role for the final two films to make the duels with Skywalker really pop. He was never officially credited, and his contribution went unrecognized until Hamill himself outed Anderson in an interview.

"I finally told George I didn't think it was fair anymore," Hamill to the sci-fi magazine Starlog. "Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition."

Though his list of contributions to some of our favorite films seems nearly endless, Anderson's crowning achievement may well be his work as fight choreographer and swordmaster on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you've ever seen any of the hours upon hours of behind-the-scenes material for the trilogy, you've likely noticed Anderson whipping the on-set warriors—including Mortensen, the trilogy's most prominent swordsman—into shape.

On Sunday night, Jackson posted a tribute to Anderson on his official Facebook page.

"It is a rare, even within the film industry, that you get to work with a legend which was why I was thrilled when Bob Anderson agreed to come on board The Lord of the Rings as our sword-master," he said. "In fact, it took a while for it to sink in that I was going to get to work with the same man who had helped create some of cinema's greatest fight sequences—from Star Wars to The Princess Bride. Bob was a brilliant swordsman and a gifted teacher; I will remember him as a wonderfully patient man, possessed of a terrific sense of humour. It was a privilege to have known him."

(via New York Times)