There has been a great Disturbance in the Force
When I sat in the Cinema in 1978 I along with the rest of the world had never seen anything the like of Star Wars. Two scenes everyone always remembers are the Star Destroyer flying overhead and our first glimpse of Darth Vader. Striding through the smoke and stepping over the bodies has there ever been a better entrance or introduction of a character? No words need to be said because long before you see the details of what he is wearing you see his bulk and feel his presence. This impact is all Dave Prowse’s physicality and movement all of which gave us the knowledge of what Darth Vader was about before we heard the voice or even knew his name. Even if you look at the scene at the end of Rogue one with Darth Vader it still doesn’t have the dread or menace that was brought with his first appearance in the franchise.
Dave Prowse played the physical form of Darth Vader, depending where and what you read Lucas either had always decided to get another voice, or only decided later. Dave Prowse’s expansive Bristolian Accent (which I’ve heard some U.S writers call Welsh!) was as we all know replaced with James Earl Jones. The physicality Prowse brought to Vader though most definitely imbued Vader with the menace and Gravitas needed.
Pre Star Wars (yes there was such a time) Dave Prowse was a body builder and a weightlifter, in 1962 he won the British Heavyweight Weightlifting Championship. He also represented England in the 1962 Commonwealth Games and his experience enabled him to go on and train Christopher Reeve for 1978’s Superman and also Cary Elwes for The Princess Bride.
His first film role was as Frankenstein’s creation in Casino Royale (1967), he then did other various roles including the Strong Man in Hammer films Vampire Circus (1971). He went on and played a bodyguard (Julian) in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), which is where George Lucas first saw him. In the U.K. he was known for the role the Green Cross Code Man, a Superhero that promoted road safety that ran from 1971 for 20 years. In some strange irony the first two adverts on TV his voice was dubbed because of his accent, later ones though appeared with his voice. Prowse always stated that The Green Cross Code man was what he was most proud of out of all the things he had done.
Other roles he appeared in after Star Wars included Hotblack Desiato’s Bodyguard in the TV adaptation of The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and the Dark Knight in Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky (1977). His relationship with George Lucas and Lucasfilm was strained post Star Wars, he though was always welcoming to fans and a firm favourite among them.
He suffered Arthritis from the age of 13 and found that weightlifting and bodybuilding helped to relieve the symptoms which unfortunately returned in 1990. Throughout his life he had hip replacements (that needed to be revised numerous times), his ankle fused and his right arm was paralysed after he was diagnosed with Septic Arthritis that nearly killed him. He used his profile to raise large amounts of money for Arthritis and many other Charities.
His legacy as the Green Cross Code man who helped generations of Children to safely cross the road and as the Evil presence that stalked the world of Star Wars is there for us all to see. A Sad fair-well to Bristol’s finest.