Actor and expert swordsman Richard Bonehill, best known for several uncredited roles in the Star Wars sequels, has died. He was 67.
The news was initially reported by the Twitter account of England’s Truro Fencing Club, which Bonehill was the president of until his death. He was also the club’s head coach for 12 years, and he helped train three of the country’s fencers that competed in the London Olympics. In addition to helping England’s fencing community, Bonehill was able to transition his sword-fighting expertise into several acting and stuntman roles in TV shows and movies. His IMDB page is full of roles with names like “Gladiator,” “Swordsman,” and “Hyperion III Guard”—that last one is from Doctor Who—and that’s not counting all of the times he’s credited as “sword master” in shows like The Avengers, Bleak House, and a pre-Cumberbatch Holmes TV movie titled Sherlock.
Ironically, though, his most famous roles never gave him the chance to pick up a sword—or, in their case, a lightsaber. Bonehill popped up in a ton of places in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, but while he never played a Jedi master, he did manage to fight on both sides of the fictional conflict. He played Rebel soldiers, Stormtroopers, Tauntaun wranglers, Snowtroopers, and a couple of masked aliens, including three-eyed Jabba The Hutt goon Ree-Yees. He even played Nien Nunb, the lovable co-pilot who helped Lando Calrissian destroy the second Death Star in Return Of The Jedi. As far as some Star Wars fans can figure, though, Bonehill only played Nien Nunb in the scenes where you see his whole body, as his face was actually a puppet in that climactic battle scene.
In a 2006 interview, a fan asked Bonehill who his favorite character to play was, and rather than focus on the elaborate mythology of Star Wars, Bonehill went with practicality: “At the time, my favorite part was that of a Rebel Soldier, purely because it was the most comfortable costume to wear. The masked aliens…were the most uncomfortable.” He added, though, that he came around to the Stormtroopers in later years, since they’ve become, as he says, “an iconic symbol.” For a guy whose film work wasn’t especially high-profile, he can actually count a lot of iconic symbols to his name.