Prequel Trilogy,  The Phantom Menace

Prequel trilogy stunt coordinator: ‘I just abandoned the original trilogy’s fighting style and went my own way with it’


From Vulture:

In the lead-up to Rian Johnson’s much-anticipated Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we look back at the first Jedi (narratively speaking) with a week of content about the much-beloved and never-disparaged prequel trilogy. 

The Star Wars prequel trilogy was, for better or worse, driven by a single man’s vision. George Lucas came up with the story. He directed all three of the installments. He had final say in every aspect of the mythology, from tie-ins to toys. That said, when he was preparing what is perhaps the trilogy’s most iconic scene, the three-way lightsaber battle that acts as the climax of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, he had a problem that he couldn’t solve on his own.

“George has never been in a fight in his life,” says the trilogy’s stunt coordinator, Nick Gillard, his English drawl rising into a chuckle. “So he didn’t bother, really, writing it. It would say something like, ‘A vicious lightsaber battle ensues — seven minutes,’ and you could fill in the gap there.” Gillard pauses for a beat. “But that’s much better for me.”

Operating with that kind of carte blanche, Gillard acted as choreographer and trainer for the tussle, as well as de facto writer and director for much of it. […]

It was a tall order from the very beginning: “They said, ‘George wants you to come up with a new kind of martial art.’” […]

As Lucas would put it in a behind-the-scenes documentary, he wanted moviegoers to see “a Jedi in his prime, fighting in the prime of the Jedi.” He turned to Gillard. “I thought I wanted a faster version of what the other movies were; a more energetic version; and that’s basically what he gave me,” Lucas said.

The style may have looked to Lucas like a hyperspace rendition of the original trilogy’s fights, but Gillard says he didn’t actually base the prequels’ lightsaber style on them. Indeed, he ignored them almost entirely. Those old fights had been largely based on fencing, and though Gillard had enjoyed them as a younger man, he felt that they were somewhat stale as of the late 1990s. “The world had moved on since then, and that wasn’t going to work,” he says. “I just abandoned it and went my own way with it.”

Gillard and his staff created a synthesized method of swordplay that was entirely their own. It was “an amalgamation of all sword fighting,” as he puts it, that drew heavily from kendo, but also dipped into an array of other styles of movement, including rapier, samurai, and even tennis and tree-chopping. He wanted it all to be extremely fast, so it could be realistic — or as realistic as a lightsaber fight can be. “I thought, Okay, if they’re going to use swords against laser guns, they’re going to have to be very, very fast with them. This thing’s going to have to move all around, otherwise it’s going to start to look really stupid and unbelievable,” he says.

This new lightsaber approach would also have to demonstrate that everyone who used it had a lethal degree of expertise. He compares it to chess — at any given second, the fighters had to hold their opponents in a position of check, where there was only one way to escape: “They can only parry there, they can only attack there. The moves are so natural or so correct, that’s the only place they can be.” […]

Nick Gillard then talks at great length about the making of The Phantom Menace‘s final lightsaber fight. Read the whole article at Vulture.

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