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Creating the Lightsaber Battles in ROTS Game

Posted By Joshua on May 4, 2005

CREATING THE ULTIMATE
JEDI ACTION EXPERIENCE

The synergy between movies and games grows more pronounced every year, and no company better exemplifies this than LucasArts. With Lucasfilm as its parent company, LucasArts is uniquely positioned among other game publishers to partner with its film counterpart. So when production began on the Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith videogame for PS2 and Xbox, the developers spent a lot of time on the film’s movie set in Sydney, Australia. There, and later on at Skywalker Ranch, they worked with Stunt Coordinator Nick Gillard, who helped ensure the game accurately delivered on its promise of being “the ultimate Jedi action experience.”

It’s an exceptional move. Never before has a videogame based on a movie taken its swordplay seriously enough to enlist the very specialist responsible for choreographing the duels of the film. And these just aren’t any ol’ swords—these are lightsabers. And Gillard isn’t just any ol’ swordsman—he’s the lightsaber expert. Having coordinated every lightsaber battle since Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace, he’s the closest thing to an actual Jedi Knight you’ll ever meet.

Of course, playing as Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the videogame, you’ll meet some pretty incredible Jedi—and Gillard’s work with LucasArts and the development team from The Collective ensured they meet your expectations. The Collective considers Gillard’s January 2004 sessions—one day of which even involved Anakin Skywalker himself, star student Hayden Christensen—to be one of the true highlights of developing the game. “From the beginning, Nick showed us the basics of Jedi combat: the stances, attacks, defenses and philosophies,” comments Lead Combat Scripter Anthony Doe. “It was a kind of modern-day Jedi training.”

“It was amazing and inspirational,” adds LucasArts Associate Producer Justin Lambros. “Nick’s knowledge of all the characters and how they use their lightsabers in combat was an incredibly useful base to start customizing the game’s combat system.”

The game includes every move you’ll see Anakin and Obi-Wan execute in the movie—and then some. The ability to go beyond the restraints of a film particularly excited Gillard. “The glory of doing the game is that there are lots of moves that don’t work on the movie,” he says. “They might be too complicated, or they might be too dangerous and get rejected for the film. We can now put those into the game. You can be so much more extreme.”

And if anyone knows the definition of “extreme,” it’s Gillard. At age 12, he had had enough of military school and quite literally left to join the circus. By 16, his profound skill as a horse-trick rider at Great Britain’s world-famous Moscow State Circus earned him his first stunt work for a film with The Thief of Baghdad. That was only the beginning, as Gillard would go on to earn acclaim for such death-defying stunts as a 200-foot power boat jump over two bridges in the film Amsterdammed and being on fire without breathing for more than two minutes in Alien 3 (one of more than 100 times he’s been set ablaze). Other blockbusters featuring Gillard include Interview with the Vampire, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and GoldenEye, and you may have seen his sword mastery in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Three Musketeers, 1492: Conquest of Paradise and Henry V.

If you’ve somehow missed Gillard in any of his films, just check out the Revenge of the Sith videogame, which actually features a lengthy scene in which you fight against him. Gillard’s character, Cin Drallig (read it backwards), appears for seconds in the movie in hologram form, but he plays a much larger role in the game (one of many instances in which the game expands the story beyond that on the silver screen). “I’m really excited to see how I look in the game,” Gillard enthuses. “I’m going to try my damndest to make him a character that nobody can actually beat. I think he could certainly take out Anakin without any trouble at all!”

Well…maybe not. After all, Anakin is the most powerful Jedi alive, something you’ll experience yourself when the game presents exciting one-on-one duels between the future Darth Vader and the likes of Gillard’s character, Count Dooku and, yes, even Obi-Wan Kenobi. Gillard’s involvement was especially helpful in making these duels some of the most exhilarating examples of swordplay ever depicted in a videogame. “Nick Gillard’s time with the animators helped us know both philosophically and physically how it feels to be in a lightsaber fight,” explains Lambros. “The animators worked with the actual lightsaber props from the movies so they’ll know how it feels when a block is right, when they’re open to attack and when they’re not.”

The lightsabers came courtesy of Gillard, who wowed members of The Collective by handing them the actual props for Anakin, Obi-Wan and his own character. Now they could feel for themselves what it’s like to truly hold the weapon of a Jedi. The team even dueled with the props. “We had a group of animators and combat scripters squaring off against one another, practicing the moves Nick taught us,” says Lambros. “Also, we would set up elaborate situations against multiple enemies, and Nick would show us how he takes them down with a variety of moves. So, we were able to not only hold the sabers and take each other on, but we also had plenty of instruction from Nick on how it’s really done in the films.”

Certain swordsmen particularly impressed Gillard. “A couple of animators made their own lightsaber fights, which were just amazing,” he says. “I mean, I watched these guys and thought, ‘You know, I could use these guys in the film!’”

Gillard did have Christensen and Ewan McGregor for the film, though—not too shabby—and perhaps no duel better illustrates the intense physicality of a lightsaber battle than their climactic confrontation: student Anakin versus teacher Obi-Wan. “The fight with Anakin and Obi-Wan at the end of the movie is an incredibly long fight—I think it’ll be the longest fight in cinema history,” asserts Gillard. “I expect the fight in the game to be exactly the same. The moves are going to be the same. The emotion is going to be the same. You should know you’re playing as either of them—it’s going to be that different. They both have very different moves and very different emotions.”






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