Jedi Swordplay

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May 21, 1998
"I hate stunts that look like stunts," says Episode I Stunt Coordinator Nick Gillard. Gillard strives for a no-nonsense, realistic look to the work he supervises, and Episode I will feature Gillard's elaborate Jedi swordplay choreography. The real-life Jedi Master has drawn upon his extensive knowledge of martial arts to create the moves of the Jedi, and has created fights which are more than just exciting to watch.

"Every parry is deliberate," Gillard says. "There is no pure cinema stuff, no meaningless flourishes. There are no moves that would actually leave the fighter open. In some cases the fights are going so fast that you can hardly see all this, but if you slow it down, you can see that every move is for real. Both Ewan and Liam got into this so deeply that they became literally as fast as our stunt guys. They were incredible."

Gillard was very concerned to avoid what he sees as common pitfalls in cinema swordplay. "In films the fighters always know where the next blow is coming from, and they often end up giving that away, anticipating the moves of their opponent," he says. Gillard worked intensely at avoiding any trace of telegraphing in his Jedi fights. "Every strike is at a target. And we all took a few knocks working it all out. There are no punches pulled in these fights." Presumably, this explains the stunt team's tendency to wreck a large number of lightsaber props during the course of filming.

For all the work that has gone into making these fights as complex as a chess game between masters, Gillard is most pleased about the way in which the lightsaber battles support the story. "It's all subtle, and I suppose no one will ever notice this sort of thing, but every fight has a story structure in it. Each confrontation is about the warriors learning what they are up against, learning about their opponents. And the moves of each character grow specifically from that character's nature, their position in relation to the light and dark sides of the force."

Battling against telegraphing anything, Gillard wrote the fights as real confrontations of near-equals. "This was meant to be like matching Porsche Turbos against each other," he says with a grin. "And no fight was written with an inevitable conclusion," he notes. "This makes an outcome all the more unexpected when it happens. Even for us watching the action on the stage."

"In this situation, it would be so easy to go overboard," Gillard reflects. "But this work shouts to be controlled, subtle. The Jedi are doing the moves they have to in order to survive. The realism in the fights tones the fighters down to a human level. Their moves are limited; they have Jedi powers but they are not super heroes with magic abilities. They are more like you. They could lose. And that makes you feel more for them, I hope."

Keywords: Stunts, Behind-the-Scenes

Filed under: The Movies, Episode I

Databank: Jedi Order, The
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