I Am Your Father
Written and Directed by Toni Bestard & Marcos Cabota
I am young enough that while Star Wars is ever-present in my memory (I have no recollection of the first time I watched any of the original trilogy) I do not recall learning of the deaths of those legendary performers who lent so much class and prestige to what was supposedly trashy sci-fi nonsense – Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. In my experience, Star Wars exists as this kind of tribute to the last performances of these great actors, but their passing wasn’t something I was ever aware of enough to mourn.
For more reasons than my fondness for those original movies, the news of the death of David Prowse is something I feel keenly.
Passing yesterday after struggling with illness, David Prowse leaves behind a legacy that few could hope to match in their lives.
He was the Green Cross Code Man, protecting British children and families by enforcing proper street safety:
He was the man who transformed Christopher Reeve from 98 pound (admittedly tall) weakling into Superman:
and appeared as Frankenstein’s Monster, villains in Dr. Who and the BBC adaptation of A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as…someone’s bodyguard.
Of course, I’m not going to steer clear of his most famous role: Darth Vader. While much of the iconic villain was contributed by James Earl Jones as the voice of the evil space wizard, it cannot be overstated how important was Prowse’s physcial performace as the character. His every step radiated threat and menace, and his stature intimidated my younger self even through the television screen.
In thinking how I could honour his passing, I figured I’d recommend a beautiful moment in the big man’s life, as captured by the touching 2015 Spanish documentary I Am Your Father.
Being encased in the Vader costume for three movies, one might think that the incredible moment when young Luke Skywalker looks at his fathers real face in his final moments would be almost a reward to the performer who has worked so hard for so many years. As any Star Wars fan will tell you, for that heart breaking scene where Luke meets Anakin, only to be forced to say goodbye in the same moment, it was not Prowse beneath that mask, but a newly recruited actor, Sebastian Shaw.
Spanish documentarian and filmmaker Toni Bestard was long bothered by this fact. He was unable to understand what possible reason there could have been for withholding such a powerful moment from a hard working actor.
So he made a documentary about it.
The joy of this brief feature is in meeting the gentle giant who brought to life this fearsome villain, and observing the grace with which he faced his difficult relationship with the original Star Wars films, the Lucasfilm company and their head man, George Lucas.
The film’s denoument involves a painstaking recreation of that unmasking scene from Return of the Jedi, filmed some 30 years after the films release, this time with Prowse finally able to perform the role of the loving father, saying goodbye with gratitude.
While entrenched in Star Wars fandom, the film rises above the usual geek trappings of rabid devotion to a property or repeating the cycle of talking about what we love the best about being a fan. Instead it grapples with the difficult reality of accepting that these films were made by people who sometimes couldn’t get along with each other, and sometimes did wrong by one another. It examines the effect on the life of a performer, who has only ever wanted to do his best in whatever role he is invited to play, and do the best he can for his family. It asks whether we as fans are content to consume and demand, or whether there may be an opportunity, from time to time, to give something back.
In saying farewell to this performer, I can think of no better tribute than to know what he went through for the sake of our entertainment.
God bless David.