AUDIO BOOK
Straight From the Force's Mouth

Read by: Dave Prowse
Fantom Films
www.fantomfilms.co.uk
RRP: 12.99
ISBN 5 060112 910029
Available 16 August 2006


There are many people who would consider a career at the pinnacle of world-class sport enough. Similarly, there are many people who would consider a movie career working with some of the greatest performers and directors of the last 40 years as a full and privileged life. Not so Dave Prowse. As a world class weightlifter and the original Darth Vader, Dave has had the distinct honour of doing both in his storied career. Yet, it is his role as the Green Cross Code Man of which he is most proud. The campaign is credited with saving the lives of many young children during the 1970s and 1980s, and which ultimately earned Dave his MBE...

I want to start this review by admitting that when I heard that Dave Prowse's autobiography was being released on MP3 CD, with a running time of 540 minutes, I was scratching my head to think how he was going to fill the time with anecdotes on his work on the Hammer Horror movies, Star Wars and being the Green Cross Code Man. The man is most famous for being the bloke inside the costume of arguably cinema's most memorable villain, Darth Vader, but surely his life story wasn't that interesting that he could waffle on about it for more than an hour?

How wrong I was, thankfully. His work on Star Wars, while taking up quite a large section of the recording, represents only a small part of what is a varied and interesting career in body building, acting and employment as a personal fitness instructor.

This frank and very honest release is a welcome breath of fresh air. How many times have you picked up an autobiography that just sucks up to the Hollywood system? You won't find that here. Prowse admits he speaks as he finds - no creeping - and that's exactly what we get. He even admits his own faults and is not afraid to poke fun at himself. An example of which is the fantastically funny retelling of the tale of the Saudi Prince who decided to play a joke on Prowse after he had been dropping hints that it was his birthday.

Obviously, as this is being marketed to appeal to Star Wars fans, this recording starts off with Prowse's time on the original trilogy - how he got the role and what working on the set was like. He talks about his first meeting with George Lucas (who spent most of the audition asking what it was like working with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange) and the reason he chose to be Vader over Chewbacca (it's always the villains that are remembered - although the other more important reason was that being zipped up in a hot, furry costume in the middle of summer didn't seem very appealing).

It wasn't until he went for his first meeting with the costumers that he realised that Vader was a masked villain. Then he suddenly realised that the heat inside the costume was going to be at least as unpleasant as the Wookie outfit. Once the famous helmet was in place, the tinted eye glasses would mist up in second to make him virtually blind. And if that wasn't torture enough, it was decided to darken the eyes lenses even more and cover up the holes in the mask so that cinema goers wouldn't accidentally see anyone inside the mask - and just to make sure, his face was blacked up too. His tales of standing around for six hours in a 40lb Darth Vader sauna costume suddenly make you realise what torture the poor man had to endure to bring us the world's greatest villain.

He goes on to dispel the myth, he constantly hears from fans, that there was a battery operated fan in the helmet to keep him cool. He mentions that Anthony Daniels had it much worse - he wasn't the best loved actor on set and was occasionally left in his costume while the crew went for lunch.

But the highlight for me, being an old Star Wars fan as a kid, was the reading, word for word, of the diary he kept during The Empire Strikes Back. I'd heard the tale, churned out by Lucas, that Prowse had a bit of a loose tongue and this was why he wasn't told what the real ending to The Empire Strikes Back was to be. However, having heard Prowse's version of events, I feel bad for misjudging the guy all these years. It's quite obvious, due to the ridiculous veil of secrecy on the set, that Prowse could not possibly have gone to the press. Although I do remember reading a story at the time of Return of the Jedi where Prowse had revealed in a newspaper interview that the end of Jedi would see a lot of the cast killed off, apart from Darth Vader. This story isn't mentioned, so I am still none the wiser as to whether Prowse was the leak for this false story or not.

It was also enlightening to hear that Prowse didn't know that Vader was Luke's father - everyone else did - until he went to see the movie at the press previews. And I smiled to myself when Prowse revealed that Harrison Ford's biography apparently gives a false account of that movie screening - with Prowse hitting the director in the back and asking why he hadn't been told Vader was Luke's father. And while we are on the subject of Ford, Prowse also seemed annoyed that Ford had described him as: "The bodybuilder who played Vader". And, to be perfectly honest, I can see why Prowse was annoyed at this. Prowse could have been just as cutting in his autobiography and described Ford as "the failed carpenter who plays the same moody, silent types because in reality he's a pretty poor actor", but he's too mature to stoop that low.

What a lot of people don't remember is that at the time, after Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness, Prowse was the most experienced actor on the set of Star Wars. He's also right to condemn Lucas's lack of any acknowledgement in Prowse being instrumental in making a memorable screen villain lift off the page. While a lot of people will probably argue that anyone could have played Vader - it's just a big guy in a suit after all - I'd argue that that's not the case. Anthony Daniels has been employed for the latest Star Wars movies because he created the walk and subtle movements of C3PO. The same surely can be said of Prowse and his portrayal of Vader.

I'd always had issues with the the fact that Prowse ever for one second believed that his voice (with a heavy West County accent) was ever going to be Vader's. For year's I joked about this. That if Prowse had voiced Vader he would have sounded like Viz's Farmer Palmer, delivering lines like: "Oi! Gerr off my Death Star" or "Luke! I am you Father... and your brother!" I can say this now, without fear of being lynched as I am now a resident of the West Country and my grandfather, one of the most intelligent and funny men I've ever known, was also a Lincolnshire farmer. But again, Anthony Daniels provided the voice for C3PO and, hearing Prowse put on a gruff voice for Vader on this audio release, I don't see why he couldn't have provided Vader's voice.

I also found it unbelievable that Fox's official Vader personal appearances were not Prowse, but instead just a large guy in the costume (as apparently Prowse would have been too expensive). He is justifiably furious when he has to explain to fans that the Vader they have met in the past was not him. And that, having bought a scrawled autograph, they have been conned - especially when the publicity implies that fans will be meeting the actor who played Vader. This Vader, they claim, because of contractual problems is not allowed to speak or sign the name Dave Prowse on the photos they sell. Therefore millions of fans are being conned.

It was also amusing to hear that he has been asked to leave two events because he was there while a false Vader was somewhere else in the building signing autographs. And the Hollywood footprints of Vader are not Prowse's - even though they flew out Anthony Daniels to wear the C3PO costume and place his feet in the wet cement. He used to point out that a lot of the pictures that fans ask him to sign are not of him in the costume. But, due to the general disappointment of the fans, he's stopped doing this.

I was a little surprised to hear his stories about standing up for his rights when being short changed. At first I though: "Well, I hope you didn't jump in there without being totally certain." And then I though: "What a tight git". But it soon became clear that these weren't innocent mistakes and I thought: "Good for him." More people should act like this, instead of being too timid to complain and then spending months moaning about it.

Other highlights include him talking about the two actors he's enjoyed working with above all others (Peter Cushing and Roger Moore); his time at Harrods when he sold a bow and arrow to Richard Greene (the actor who portrayed Robin Hood); his close call with the Harrods IRA bomb; his brush with the Krays; and his time working with both Stanley Kubrick and Russ Meyer (the later of whom he had two of his worst movie making experiences with Black Snake and Who Killed Bambi?).

There are also a lengthy series of chapters about his weightlifting career - which starts from his very first interest in body building. I have to admit that while I didn't think I'd really find this side of his career to be of much interest, I found his retelling of events to be quite entertaining - especially his romantic encounter while away at a competition and his retelling of a tale where he had to lift a dead body from a local lake where he worked.

But it is Prowse's 14 year long portrayal of the Green Cross Code man that shines through as his proudest role. And so it should too, as he has saved thousands of children's lives with his numerous TV ads and poster campaigns.

I mentioned earlier that Vader would never have had a West Country accent, so how does his voice come across on this audio? Well, in all honesty his voice is monotonous (but then so are most talking books these days) and his delivery and pronunciation could have been better in places, but then he's not a voice actor and it's the content of his stories that matter. To be honest that's all that you should focus on if you want to hear these stories in the actor's own words. Besides how do you think anyone would fair having to read 540 minutes of a book?

Despite my earlier reservations on the length of this release I could have listen to much, much more. A joy from beginning to end. After listening to this audio I have a new-found respect for the man who breathed life into the world's most memorable villain. Everyone that has ever seen a Star Wars movie should buy this. It will probably be the best £13 you've spent in a long time.

Darren Rea

This MP3-CD can be purchased for £12.99 from www.fantomfilms.co.uk
Dave Prowse will also have copies for sale at signing events and on his website:
www.darthvader-starwars.co.uk

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