Friday, August 4, 2017

I Am Your Father

Year 9, Day 216 - 8/4/17 - Movie #2,705

BEFORE: Another documentary about "Star Wars" today - with both David Prowse and Jeremy Bulloch carrying over.  Tomorrow I can move on to another geek-centric subject.  But since we've got a new "Star Wars" coming out in December - for me that's just 90 movies away - it's a fine time to explore the complexities of the behind-the-scenes stuff.

THE PLOT: David Prowse is an eighty-year-old actor who has lived behind Darth Vader's mask. A group of Star Wars fans find out why he has been apparently forgotten by Lucasfilm during the last thirty years, and decide to give him back the glory he never had.

AFTER: This is a more in-depth profile of David Prowse than the one that was offered up in "Elstree 1976".  While it seems like Prowse's wife wants nothing to do with his time spent as the man in the Vader suit, at least his children were willing to be interviewed - despite the ribbing they took at school when they were kids, about being the children of Darth Vader.  But quite honestly, Prowse comes off as a very sweet man, like a gentle giant, and the best comparison is fellow actor and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, also interviewed here.  Just because Lou played the Hulk, that doesn't make him an angry or mean person, and if you meet him you may realize he's a very nice guy.

We found out last night that Prowse was previously a body-building champion, who couldn't progress further in competitions because of his "ugly feet".  But doesn't everyone have ugly feet?  He also appeared as the super-hero "Green Cross Code Man" in a public-service campaign to teach kids in the U.K. the right way to cross the streets, and for having a hand in saving so many lives, he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen.

Supposedly, two things have kept Prowse on the "naughty list" where Lucasfilm is concerned, and for these reasons he has never been invited to the official Star Wars Celebrations, or any Lucasfilm events since the wrap party for "Return of the Jedi".  First, he allegedly said to an audience back in 1978 (long before anyone knew there would be a sequel to "A New Hope") that he hoped there would be a sequel, in which it could be revealed that Darth Vader was Luke's long-lost father.  Now, maybe this becomes one of those "chicken and egg" things, where no one knows if Prowse thought of this first, or Lucas had been planning this all along, or which occurrence preceded the other.  My theory is that both parties came up with this idea independently - "Vader" is very close to the German word for "father", so it's almost like this notion was hiding in plain sight all along.

The other thing that happened, shortly after Prowse found out that another actor (Sebastian Shaw) would be playing Vader in the scene where his helmet would be removed and his face revealed in "Return of the Jedi", was that someone revealed to the press a year before the film's release that Vader would die in that film.  Lucasfilm must have assumed that Prowse leaked the spoiler to the Daily Mail, but Prowse has denied that, and the reporters at the newspaper back up his claim.  So probably this was done by another actor or a crew member, and Prowse took the fall for it.

To be fair, Prowse did not react well when he learned another actor was hired for the big reveal, and also reportedly was not treated well by the director of "Return of the Jedi", Richard Marquand, who wouldn't even speak to him directly.  (Maybe Marquand was afraid of him, Vader did represent an imposing figure...)  So here we have another "chicken vs. egg" contoversy - hiring another actor to play Vader without telling Prowse was sort of a dickish move, but his bad reaction to it only serves to justify not telling him in the first place.  These are the tough decisions that film directors and producers need to make.  Robert Watts, producer of "Return of the Jedi", did seem genuinely shocked in this film when told that Prowse was almost certainly not the leaker who spoke to the Daily Mail.

Now, when it comes down to the question of "Who Is Darth Vader", this becomes rather difficult to answer.  Sure, Prowse played him physically in three movies, but as I mentioned last night, the helmet made the dialogue recording on the set difficult, so the plan was always to re-record the voice later, and Prowse's voice was deemed to be inferior to the one supplied by James Earl Jones.  (Ironically, in the 40 years since "A New Hope" Prowse's voice has come to greatly resemble Jones's, when played back-to-back they're nearly identical, even though one man is British and the other American.)  James Earl Jones makes little claim to the character, referring to himself as merely a "special effect", and dutifully acknowledging the physical acting and stunts performed by Prowse.

But when you get right down to it, the role of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker is a composite - made up of at least 5 actors: Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, Dave Prowse, James Earl Jones, Sebastian Shaw, plus Spencer Wilding and Daniel Naprous in "Rogue One", plus who knows how many additional stunt-men over the years.  And then the various voice-over portrayals in animation, by actors like Mat Lucas and Matt Lanter - and the infamous scuba-tank breathing of Ben Burtt - the character has now become bigger than the original three films, and bigger than any one actor.  So at the end of the day, the character belongs only to Lucasfilm/Disney, and they get the final say in who plays the character and how the character gets used.

Which brings me to this film's conceit - the director of this documentary wants to re-stage the climactic reveal scene from "Return of the Jedi", with Prowse in the costume, instead of Sebastian Shaw.  That's all well and good if Prowse is looking for some kind of closure, but come ON, haven't we seen enough re-edits and revamped versions of the "Star Wars" films?  We've been given not only Lucas' Special Editions, but also remakes from fans who thought there were too many effects, not enough effects, too much racist dialogue, etc.  Stop the madness!  And calling Lucasfilm to ask permission?  Dude, you KNEW they were going to say no, you're as bad as Michael Moore trying to sandbag an interview subject by standing in his office, when you know the security guards are going to escort you out.

The compromise is that the scene from "Jedi" is re-staged with Prowse, only the resulting footage can't appear in this documentary, so really, there's no payoff to this bit, except for perhaps some personal satisfaction.  Still, for a "Star Wars" fanatic, it's great to learn more about the man behind the mask, and why he's barely been a presence at major conventions over the years.  I'm forced to take a point off my score, however, since the director so blatantly inserted himself into the interview process, and then had the nerve to think he could film a scene from "Jedi" better than the original, which again, we NEVER GET TO SEE.

Also starring Kenny Baker (last seen in "The Elephant Man"), Ben Burtt, Lou Ferrigno (last heard in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Gary Kurtz, Robert Watts, Marcos Cabota, with narration by Colm Meaney (last heard in "Norm of the North").

RATING: 4 out of 10 signed 8 x 10 photos

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