FilmEdge returns from our holiday break to share sad news with fans of cinematic fights in action films: athlete, stunt man and fencing expert Bob Anderson, fight choreographer in both the STAR WARS and LORD OF THE RINGS sagas, has passed away at the age of 89.
Born September 15, 1922 in Hampshire, England, Anderson’s first recognition came as a competitive fencer in the UK, representing Great Britain in the 1950 and 1953 World Championships in sabre fighting, and as an Olympic athlete in the 1952 games where he finished fifth in the team event.
He soon applied his skills and training in the film industry, teaching Hollywood superstar Errol Flynn cinematic sword fighting for THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE in 1953. He followed this with a string of uncredited stunt work and battle choreography in such films as THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961), Sean Connery’s second James Bond mission FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), and the Bond spoof satire CASINO ROYALE in 1967, and as fencing coach on Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 period piece BARRY LYNDON.
Though he received no official production credit for his work, Anderson’s influence was undeniable in the climactic lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi in STAR WARS (1977). While his contribution to this next-generation sword fight was later acknowledged, George Lucas kept Anderson’s direct involvement secret as the stunt fighter behind Vader’s mask, stepping in for character actor David Prowse as the Sith Lord despite Anderson being six inches shorter than the 6′ 5″ bodybuilder.
Anderson’s blade fighting skills and action choreography also contributed to thrilling moments in later films including THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980), SUPERMAN II (1980), THE RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983), and the 1986 genre-bending action flick HIGHLANDER.
Returning to his classic fencing styles dating back to Errol Flynn’s era, Anderson also served as sword master to stars Carey Elwes, Mandy Patinkin and Christopher Guest in THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987). Anderson continued his consulting work in films and TV series through the 1990s before helping define the sword-swinging style of another landmark film franchise, Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. He served as sword master on all three films, also aiding the buccaneers in Disney’s THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL in 2003.
Bob Anderson’s lengthy career was explored in the 2009 documentary RECLAIMING THE BLADE, an examination of the history and legacy of Medieval and Renaissance blade weapons and those, like Anderson, who kept its traditions alive into the 21st century (watch the trailer). LORD OF THE RINGS stars Viggo Mortensen, Karl Urban and others pay tribute to Anderson’s own cinematic legacy in this documentary, narrated by John Rhys-Davies.
While not a famous man of filmmaking recognized on the street by fans, Bob Anderson’s invaluable work behind-the scenes and occasionally on the screen created cinematic history time and again across decades of genre and action films. The sword master’s invaluable skills and willingness to share them with other actors linked the golden age of swashbuckling Hollywood with the digital age of filmmaking today. You may not know Anderson’s face, but many of your favorite movies would look very different without his steel-wielding arms and keen mind for dramatic action.