Attack of the Clones,  Prequel Trilogy,  Revenge of the Sith,  The Phantom Menace

The stunt coordinator of the Star Wars Prequels looks back on the lightsaber fights

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From Tatooine Times:

“The prequel trilogy was the quintessential for lightsaber duels. As the Jedi Order was at a prime level and comprised thousands of members—each one with unique traits—it was important for visual storytelling to reflect their mastery with the ancient weapons. Nick Gillard—stunt coordinator and swordmaster for The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and ultimately Revenge of the Sith—crafted a variety of styles to match the physicality of the actors portraying the legendary warriors without dictating any strict rules that are often common in swordsmanship.

“I wasn’t going to try and fit or force one style to everybody … it was determined by what shape they were, how they moved and their personality,” Gillard said.

Over the course of the three movies, Gillard established strong relationships with the actors, especially with Hayden Christensen, who played the part of Anakin Skywalker in the last two installments of the prequel trilogy. Gillard became a mentor and a friend to Christensen—just as Obi-Wan was to Anakin.

“Hayden is an incredible young man. We were together all the time, through thick and thin, anger and tears, tantrums and everything,” Gillard shared. “[Hayden] lives by a certain set of rules that he is comfortable with. He sees things very quickly, so you can’t make it easy for him.”

It’s a tough spot to be the main protagonist of such a big blockbuster movie—being so young. Hayden Christensen put his heart and soul in portraying Anakin, projecting real life emotional experiences onto the movie. The scene in Revenge of the Sith where Anakin is looking through the window, ruminating about the dark side within him as tears drop down his cheek is a statement of his emotional attachment to the role.

“I was with him after he did that scene. He gave it everything he had, as he does with all things … In real life he is a very inspiring young man,” Gillard said.

Gillard shed some light on the infamous two-finger guard stance Obi-Wan showcased in Revenge of the Sith—common in Tai Chi sword style—which became a staple of his character.

“We used to do it in rehearsal sometimes for a laugh. He did it during one take, and we were like ‘NO, they’ll never use that. Oh my God.’ (shakes his head and smiles).”

The intricacies of lightsaber choreography rehearsals leave no room for improvisation. It’s almost like a beautiful yet dangerous dance—where even the slightest loss of focus can lead to broken fingers.

“It has to be rehearsed. I’m sure some people think, ‘They’re not hitting with anything,’ but I can assure you if you get hit with one of those it will break your finger,” Gillard said. “[Ewan McGregor] broke my finger on Phantom … I think I might have broken his finger on Attack (laughs and smiles). Ewan hits so hard. He has to have a stronger lightsaber than everybody else.”

Revenge of the Sith has some of the most complex and advanced lightsaber fights of all Star Wars—some of them happening so fast that only the hardcore fans have meticulosly analyzed them frame by frame.

“There’s one move in that Dooku fight, which is our most complicated … no one ever mentions it! It’s called V3UBWT, which stands for vertical third up back with twist. Dooku does it when he has Anakin on one side and Obi on the other. It’s a beautiful move,” Gillard shared.

Some duel moments did not even make it outside the rehearsal sessions. One in particular, involved Anakin burning Count Dooku’s eyebrow with his lightsaber.

“I found it during my rehearsal [tapes]. They lock up; Hayden turns the lightsaber and touches it onto his eyebrow. It’s brilliant!”

We lost the burned eyebrow moment, but the script delivered nonetheless a traumatic ending for the Count.

“We wanted to chop his head off … that wasn’t in the script, but we thought it needed to be that brutal,” Gillard said. “Dooku technically should have known he was going to lose. I mean, we tried to show it through the fight that suddenly he’s thinking ‘Oh my god, this kid is something else, I’m in trouble’, but I don’t know if that came across.”

Probably one of the most crucial scenes of Revenge of the Sith is the reveal of Palpatine as the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. However, the final cut of that iconic scene was the most challenging for Nick Gillard and his stunt team. The lightsaber fight between Mace Windu and Sidious was originally going to be fully performed by Ian McDiarmid’s stunt double and Samuel L. Jackson—who had spent three weeks learning it. Gillard revealed that there was an idea of yet another fight before entering Palpatine’s office involving the Chancellor’s guards.

“I fought tooth and nail for them to go up against Mace and Fisto before they go in … Sadly it was a fight I lost early on.”

You can’t discuss Revenge of the Sith without mentioning the epic duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. This final battle has so much meaning, so much emotion. It is almost a mirror fight as Anakin is about to die, Vader to rise.

“When I started it out, I didn’t want there to actually be any hits at all. I wanted it to glide the whole time, where there wasn’t any time for them to move their sabers away from each other because they each knew what was coming next. You know, they’re reading these hits like in a chess match, three or four moves ahead. That’s how I saw it: someone fighting them self,” Gillard said. “Not only that but you’re talking about the light and the dark here. This is Anakin; this is where he is going to go. So he’s technically fighting his own personality. His bad side is about to kill his good side through this fight, which is represented by Obi. And for Obi, even though he’s been sent there to kill him, he doesn’t want to do that. This is his boy; he loves him. I saw Obi just trying to absorb it long enough for Anakin to calm down.”

Nick Gillard has made the mark on Star Wars—both in and out of the universe. Not only was he the stunt coordinator for Revenge of the Sith, but he also performed as Cin Drallig, a Jedi Master who perished by the hands of Darth Vader during the Jedi purge at the temple on Coruscant.

“He wasn’t called Cin Drallig; he was called The Troll in the script. George said ‘I want you to play that part of The Troll.’ Funnily enough they originally asked me to play Darth Maul as well (laughs). I didn’t have time to do either, so I said ‘Thank you, but I really don’t have time,’ because I’d have to go and get a costume and a wig fitting, this and that, and that eats into my rehearsal time. But he was insistent on it, so I said ‘Okay, I’ll do it if I can pick my own name.’ And he said ‘Alright.’ And so, I went for it. I wish I would have never told anybody because I think I could have gotten away with it for years. And I feel bad for George now, because he went ‘Oh, that’s quite a good name.’ That’s about how it happened,” Gillard said. “We went into Hayden’s garage the night before we were going to shoot the scene and made it so violent … It was horribly violent. You can’t see it, but [Anakin] stabs a little girl through her throat. It was so violent that they ended up shrinking it into a hologram (laughs). When we showed George he went, ‘Oh, dear.’” […]”

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