Count Dooku's 'Brutal' Fate In Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith Wasn't Written In The Script

"Revenge of the Sith" is the most violent "Star Wars" movie, and you can pinpoint the moment that portends the mood change. The movie opens with some fun swashbuckling as Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) try to rescue the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). The two Jedi wind up facing off against the Sith Lord Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). 

After Anakin literally disarms the Count, he stands over him with his own Lightsaber in one hand and Dooku's in the other. At Palpatine's urging, he decapitates his defeated foe. There may only be two Sith, at any time and Anakin just cleared a spot for himself on the roster. As the film goes on and he becomes Darth Vader, he doles out many more brutal deaths.

According to Nick Gillard, lead stunt coordinator of the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy, Dooku's death was devised during choreography, not scripting.

'It needed to be brutal'

Speaking to "Star Wars" fan site The Tattooine Times, Gillard called the Anakin & Obi-Wan vs Dooku duel "our most complicated [lightsaber fight]." It makes sense why they wanted to give it such a memorable ending. Gillard recounted:

"We wanted to chop [Dooku's] head off ... that wasn't in the script, but we thought it needed to be that brutal. 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."

Gillard isn't just being edgy here; Dooku's death is not supposed to feel victorious. It's the film's first taste of Anakin giving into his rage, the first scene where we see him set foot on the path to becoming Darth Vader. It's all but said that Anakin specifically chose to cut off Dooku's arms because the Count robbed him of his own right hand in "Attack of the Clones." Such a vengeful act is not the Jedi way, and Anakin expresses regret once Dooku's head hits the floor. Unfortunately, Palpatine is there to transmute Anakin's guilt into triumph.

Now, "Revenge of the Sith: Illustrated Screenplay: Star Wars: Episode III" does describe Dooku as being decapitated by Anakin. However, that book also acknowledges the script was often rewritten. If Gillard's recollection is correct, it's possible that George Lucas added the nature of Dooku's death to the shooting script.

Said script declares, "Anakin cuts off Count Dooku's head." Since scripts are ultimately blueprints, you have to be economical about detail — directors and actors can add depth later. "Revenge of the Sith" had someone who was more than capable of doing so in Sir Christopher Lee.

Dooku's feelings

I find that in the film, Anakin and Dooku's duel is too fast-paced to reflect Gillard's characterization of it. Due to Lee's advanced age, Dooku was portrayed in part with CGI and stuntmen, so most of the fight is captured via inexpressive wide-shots. In the few close-ups, though, Lee is characteristically great, especially his stunned horror when Dooku realizes he's about to die.

For the most compelling version of Anakin and Dooku's fight, I would point to the excellent "Revenge of the Sith" novelization written by Matthew Stover. Stover writes primarily from his character's subjective head spaces. As a result, the duel plays out like Gillard intended it; Dooku starts overconfident then slowly realizes that Anakin is overpowering him:

"They allowed the Force to direct them; Dooku directed the Force. He drew their strikes to his parries, and drove his own ripostes with thrusts of dark power that subtly altered the Jedi's balance and disrupted their timing [...] He dusted himself off and fixed a supercilious gaze on Skywalker, who now stood upon the balcony looking down at him — and Dooku couldn't hold the stare; he found this reversal of their original positions oddly unsettling."

Then there's Stover's depiction of Dooku's death, a masterful passage among a sea of them:

"As he looks up into the eyes of Anakin Skywalker for the final time, Count Dooku knows that he has been deceived not just today, but for many, many years [...] He has existed only for this. This. To be the victim of Anakin Skywalker's first cold-blooded murder. First but not, he knows, the last. Then the blades crossed at his throat uncross like scissors [...] And all of him becomes nothing at all."

The final testament to Christopher Lee's talent? He captured these emotions with a single expression.