Darth Vader Got Replaced In Empire Strikes Back Thanks To Lightsabers

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

Even though James Earl Jones famously provided the voice of the frightening character, David Prowse was the man inside the Darth Vader suit for most of the original Star Wars films.

As a tall bodybuilder, he had the physique necessary to make the Dark Lord of the Sith intimidating, something that was on full display in his onscreen duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi. In later duels, though, the Darth Vader actor was replaced by a stuntman for one surprising reason: he just kept breaking the fragile blades the actors used during these fights.

Darth Vader Vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi

To understand how and why the original Darth Vader actor was replaced for future fights, we need to focus on that original duel with Obi-Wan.

After the frenzied fights in the Prequel Trilogy, many fans later commented on how slow that fight in A New Hope really was.

In turn, George Lucas later claimed he deliberately had these two fighting with less flashy samurai-inspired moves because he wanted this to be a realistic battle between old men.

In retrospect, that slow duel had an unintentional effect that nobody could really appreciate at the time. Darth Vader actor Prowse didn’t have to be replaced for that fight because he didn’t end up breaking the blade he was using. That changed for the next film, however, when Vader’s opponent was the younger Luke Skywalker.

Needed To Be Faster And More Intense

During the filming of A New Hope, the lightsaber props had very thin, white rods that were later brought to life via rotoscope animation; those rods were very fragile, but that wasn’t a big deal during the slow duel between Vader and Kenobi.

For The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas wanted the duel between Vader and Luke to be “faster and more intense,” and the lightsaber blades used for filming were replaced with carbon rods.

These rods were a little easier to hold and use (great news for the actors), but they still broke very easily, something that David Prowse discovered the hard way.

Kept Breaking The Blades

Star Wars Darth Vader Darth Vader replaced

The original Darth Vader actor had to be replaced for the dueling scenes in The Empire Strikes Back by Bob Anderson because Prowse kept breaking the carbon blades during duels.

Anderson was actually a great choice as a replacement because he was a veteran stunt performer: he had previously performed in the classic war film Guns of the Navarone and the equally classic James Bond movie (my personal favorite) From Russia With Love. He was also an expert swordsman who had trained in his craft just as diligently as a Jedi.

Stunt Work In Star Wars

Darth Vader replaced

For example, after serving in World War Two, Anderson became a competitive fencer who went on to represent Great Britain during the 1952 Summer Olympic Games.

After retiring from competitive fencing, he went on to become the President of the British Academy of Fencing.

He later had other gigs (including serving as the director of the Canadian Fencing Association), but movie buffs mostly know Anderson for his extensive stunt work in the second two Star Wars films.

Back In Return Of The Jedi

Darth Vader replaced

After he did such a great job on The Empire Strikes Back, Anderson continued to serve as Prowse’s stunt double in Return of the Jedi.

At first, George Lucas kept the fact that Darth Vader was replaced as a secret, but Mark Hamill later told the world what an amazing job Anderson did.

As for Anderson, he would later serve as a fight choreographer and fencing coach for Count Dooku actor Christopher Lee on another famous trilogy: The Lord of the Rings.

Darth Vader Was Generation-Defining

Darth Vader replaced

I imagine broken swords weren’t as big a deal on that set.

After all, renewed shall be the blade that was broken…and when it comes to a sword master like Anderson, it’s fair to say that the crownless again became king as he offered his talents to another generation-defining series of films.