‘Return of the Jedi’: 25 Things You Didn’t Know About the Original ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy Finale
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… well, OK, 30 years ago (on May 25, 1983) in our own galaxy, came the theatrical release of “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.” The installment triumphantly wrapped up the “Star Wars” saga for all time. Or so we thought.
Little did we know that the movie’s cuddly-but-ferocious Ewoks would soon spawn a cottage industry of spinoffs, or that we’d be getting a trilogy of “Star Wars” prequels in another 16 years, and “Jedi” sequels another 15 years after that (“Episode VII” is due in 2014). Nor did we know, at the time, how close “Jedi” came to being an art-house film (judging by the directors whom “Star Wars” guru George Lucas initially asked to take the helm), or how close we came to losing Han Solo (Harrison Ford), or many of the other secrets of “jedi,” which you can read below.
1. David Lynch and David Cronenberg both turned down the job of directing “Jedi.” Instead, Lynch would go on to make his own sci-fi epic, 1984′s “Dune,” while Cronenberg would make the hit horror films “The Dead Zone” (1983) and “The Fly” (1986).
2. Welsh filmmaker Richard Marquand had previously directed the 1981 World War II spy thriller “Eye of the Needle.” It was that film that brought him to the attention of George Lucas and ultimately earned him the directing job on “Jedi.”
3. Lawrence Kasdan had worked for Lucas as the co-screenwriter of “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” before Lucas hired him a third time as his collaborator on the “Jedi” screenplay. Somewhere in there, Kasdan found time to write and direct his first solo feature, the 1981 thriller “Body Heat,” the movie that made Kathleen Turner a star.
4. Warwick Davis, then 11, made his debut as Ewok guide Wicket, after his grandmother learned of an open casting call for dwarfs in London. Davis was initially cast as an extra. Wicket was initially a role for Kenny Baker, who already had an established role as R2-D2 (he would inhabit the little droid in all six “Star Wars” features to date), but Baker fell ill, and Lucas gave his part to Davis. Baker ended up playing another Ewok in addition to R2-D2.
5. Lucas was on the set most of the time, often as a second-unit director (that is, shooting scenery, stunt sequences, and other footage not involving the primary cast). Marquand joked, “It is rather like trying to direct “King Lear” – with Shakespeare in the next room!”
6. Unlike the other principal “Star Wars” cast members, Harrison Ford hadn’t contracted to do a second sequel, and it wasn’t initially clear whether he’d return for “Jedi.”
7. Ford suggested that Han Solo be killed off early, through self-sacrifice. Kasdan thought that was a good idea, one that would increase suspense, but Lucas said no.
8. Also, Yoda wasn’t supposed to be in the movie, but Marquand insisted on a return to Dagobah so that Yoda could confirm that Darth Vader wasn’t just playing mind games with Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back” and was really his father.
9. Other rejected script ideas: the climactic battle would have taken place on a planet of Wookiees instead of Ewoks (like Wookiees, but shorter!), and Obi-Wan Kenobi would have returned from his ghostly existence to corporeal form, rather than remaining a ghostly presence within the Force.
10. Actually filmed, but left on the cutting room floor, were a sequence of the heroes getting caught in a sandstorm as they tried to leave Tatooine, a scene among imperial officers on the Death Star during the final battle, and a scene of Darth Vader communicating with Luke via the Force before Luke enters Jabba’s palace. These scenes finally saw the light of day on the 2011 Blu-ray release.
11. While shooting on location, “Jedi” used the fake working title “Blue Harvest.” That was to keep plot spoilers from leaking, and to prevent local vendors from price-gouging the filmmakers.
12. To shoot the forest chase, Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown walked through the California’s Jebediah Smith Redwood State Park, shooting at less than one frame per second. Sped up to the standard 24 frames per second, the resulting footage made it look like speeding through the dense woods at 120 mph. (The speeders were superimposed later.)
13. Other scenes set on the forest moon of Endor were shot practically in Lucas’s backyard, in the redwood forest near Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California.
14. In late 1982, a teaser trailer and posters referred to the film as “Revenge of the Jedi.” (The poster also incorrectly depicted Luke with a red-beamed lightsaber and Darth Vader with a blue one, instead of the other way around.) After Lucas decided that “Revenge” was inappropriate, changed the title to “Return,” and sold the 6,800 remaindered posters to fans. Today, of course, they’re collector’s items.
15. “Jedi” ends with a sequence of Ewoks marking their victory over the empire by dancing and singing. The tune they sing is known as “Ewok Celebration.” “Star Wars” instrumental composer John Williams wrote the music. The “yub-yub” lyrics were written by his son, Joseph Williams, who was then the lead singer of Toto. A version of the song performed by electronic artist Meco hit No. 60 on the Billboard chart.
16. Lucas’s digital re-tinkering with “Return of the Jedi” in subsequent re-releases on home video altered some memorable scenes. There were more alien musicians playing in Jabba’s lair, the Sarlaac (the pit monster on Tatooine) acquired a beak, and the fall of the Empire was marked by a montage of various alien worlds celebrating. Most notoriously, the ghost of Anakin Skywalker was changed from the broken old man seen beneath Darth Vader’s helmet (played by Sebastian Shaw) to the young Hayden Christensen, who played the pre-Vader Anakin in Episodes II and III.
17. The film was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Art Direction, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound. It won a special prize out of competition for its visual effects.
18. As with the first two “Star Wars” films, a radio version eventually aired on NPR. The 1986 radio play featured Anthony Daniels reprising his role as C-3PO, but other characters were played by new actors. Among them were John Lithgow as Yoda, Brock Peters (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) as Darth Vader, Ed Begley Jr. as Boba Fett, and Ed Asner as Jabba the Hutt.
19. “Jedi” cost $32.5 million to make, a large budget for a 1983 movie. It grossed $252.6 million domestically in its initial release, and another $57 million on subsequent releases. Its worldwide gross over the years totals $475.1 million.
20. Marquand followed up “Jedi” with the hit courtroom thriller “Jagged Edge” (1985), starring Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges. He made one more movie, 1987 drama “Hearts of Fire,” featuring a rare acting performance by Bob Dylan, but he suffered a stroke and heart attack, and died before it was released. He was 49.
21. Four months after “Jedi” came the release of Lawrence Kasdan’s second writing/directing effort, “The Big Chill,” a movie considered a cinema landmark despite its lack of Ewoks and space battles. He went on to make such celebrated movies as “The Accidental Tourist” and “The Bodyguard” (a script finally shot 20 years after he first tried to sell it). His most recent movie was 2012′s “Darling Companion,” with Kevin Kline and Diane Keaton.
22. Lucas oversaw two Ewok-themed spinoff projects, both of which debuted as made-for-TV movies. In 1984′s “The Ewok Adventure” (a.k.a. “Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure”), the fuzzy folk rescue a family of shipwrecked space travelers. In 1985′s “Ewoks: The Battle for Endor” (a.k.a. “Star Wars: Ewok Adventures – The Battle for Endor”) the orphaned girl from the previous movie joins the wee warriors in defending their moon against alien invaders. Both take place during the time between Episodes V and VI and are therefore technically “Jedi” prequels. Warwick Davis has said a third Ewok movie was planned but never filmed.
23. The Ewoks also got their own animated TV series, “Star Wars: Ewoks,” which aired 35 episodes from 1985 to ’86. It also took place during the interval between “Empire” and “Jedi.”
24. Lucas and Davis reteamed yet again for the Lucas-produced fantasy film “Willow” (1988), in which Davis had the role of the title hero and acted with his face visible for the first time. Davis would go on to star in the title role in the “Leprechaun” horror series and play cameos in the three “Star Wars” prequel films. Davis would spoof himself and his “Jedi”-derived fame in 2012 as the star of the Ricky Gervais-penned mockumentary series “Life’s Too Short.”
25. The title of 2005′s “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” was a wink to fans who recalled the original title of “Return of the Jedi.”