Max Evry October 7, 2013
J.W. Rinzler’s previous two massive, copiously illustrated books on the making of “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back” have proved to be definitive documents recounting the creative process on the greatest cinematic trilogy ever conceived. Fresh off the shelves is Rinzler’s “The Making of ‘Return of the Jedi'” just in time for that 1983 classic’s 30th anniversary, and even though “Episode VI” is often seen as the weakest by Original Trilogy (OT) fans, its troubled conception and ultimate birth as a flawed special effects masterpiece makes for damn good reading.
Arguably the best in Rinzler’s trilogy of behind-the-scenes tomes, it gives us a detailed look at the evolving story, exciting deleted elements that could find their way into 2015’s “Episode VII,” as well as lots and lots of good old fashioned American dirt. Grab a towel and dig in to our custom-made guide through the mudslinging and ultimate triumph the 350-page book has to offer in ten bite-sized morsels.
1.) LUCAS’S LIST
Perhaps the biggest casting decision for the third chapter in the “Star Wars” saga revolved around who would actually make this frickin’ thing. With “The Empire Strikes Back” helmer Irvin Kershner out of the frame (due to both lack of interest and a Director’s Guild scuffle) producer Howard Kazanjian came up with two-dozen potential non-DGA names to take on this cultural behemoth:
Richard Attenborough, Bruce Beresford, John Boorman, John Carpenter, Roger Christian, David Cronenberg, Joe Dante, Desmond Davies, Richard Donner, William Fraker, Stephen Frears, Lewis Gilbert, Terry Gilliam, John Hough, Hugh Hudson, Jeremy Kagan, Richard Lester, David Lynch, Robert L. Markowitz, Mike Newell, Alan Parker, Tony Scott, Peter Weir and Peter Yates.
Steven Spielberg is mentioned as having been oft-rumored, but nowhere does he appear to have actually been considered for the gig, especially since he would have been full-tilt boogie on “E.T.” at the same time as the “Jedi” shoot. Of those names Donner seems to be the most obvious choice, already proving adept with both special effects and sentiment in “Superman.” However, Donner, Boorman, Yates and Lynch would all later falter at their own stabs at the fantasy genre with “Ladyhawke,” “Excalibur,” “Krull” and “Dune,” while Newell would ultimately helm the monstrously successful fourth “Harry Potter” flick, albeit over two decades later. While tantalizing, the idea of iconoclasts like Carpenter, Cronenberg or especially Gilliam seems like pie in the sky in retrospect.
Ultimately story writer/executive producer George Lucas didn’t want a maverick visionary, he wanted a good little foot soldier to do his bidding. He found that in the form of Welsh director Richard Marquand, whose thriller “Eye of the Needle” had just wrapped, but that was only after his first choice passed on the gig: David Lynch.
“George called me up on Saturday and said, ‘I want to go with David,'” says Kazanjian. “So I called David Lynch and he was thrilled- but within three days he declined. Not long afterward David announced he was going to do ‘Dune’. So obviously he was being simultaneously romanced by [Dino] DeLaurentiis. Richard doesn’t even know this story. Nobody knows that story. I mean they were that close.”
2.) REVENGE OF THE STORY CHANGES
More than any other movie in the original trilogy, “Jedi” went through radical changes including the elimination of two major environments, including a grass planet called Sicemon that resembles Naboo of “The Phantom Menace.”
The biggest loss was the Emperor’s Lava Lair inside a gothic castle on the industrial planet Had Abaddon (which later morphed into Coruscant). Ralph McQuarrie did 14 gorgeous paintings of the environment, which were later used as inspiration for the prequels. Originally the Imperial planet would be the focus of the climactic aerial battle, with the rebels confiscating the new Death Star (at one point two Death Stars!) and using it to blow up Had Abaddon. Kasdan preferred this to simply turning the finale into a repeat of the original’s Death Star run, but practicality forced Lucas’s hand: Had Abaddon would have been mad expensive to build.
In fact, Kasdan was pretty non-plussed by a lot of Lucas’s demands, insisting that someone important like Han Solo had to die, that Darth Vader should be revealed as a horribly disfigured freak and that the film had a “wimpy ending.” He had to practically twist Lucas’s arm just to kill off Yoda.
Ben and Yoda emerged from the netherworld to help Luke take on the Emperor, that being the titular “Revenge of the Jedi” in the deleted title. Ben has clouded the Emperor’s vision, hence his line in the original before getting cut down by Vader: “I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”
Initially Vader was less a servile tool of the Emperor and more of a badasss who doesn’t fear death, as in a scene where he strangles Admiral Jerjerrod, declaring “I think not, your importance has been greatly exaggerated,” before snapping his neck.
Thus, we essentially got a shiny Turtle Waxed remake of “Star Wars” that went from space to Tattooine to a Death Star climax, the only new addition being the forest moon of Endor. Ultimately that “edge” Kasdan had been chasing was swept aside in favor of an “uplifting” finale, or as Wayne Campbell would say, “The mega-happy ending.”
Also -and this shouldn’t strike anyone as a revelation- everyone (EVERYONE) hated Ewoks except for George Lucas.
3.) WACKY CASTING!
By this time most of the main hero cast was solid, though a few Imperial parts had some interesting choices nearly-cast. Future “Iron Man 3” villain Ben Kingsley auditioned for the Emperor but was deemed “too English,” a fact made all the more intriguing now that he’s supposedly auditioned for “Episode VII.”
Others up for the wrinkled old baddie were “Poirot” star David Suchet and even famed British director Lindsay Anderson, who was directing Mark Hamill in the cult film “Britannia Hospital” at the time. Ultimately 75-year-old Alan Webb was given the part, although the veteran thesp soon became ill and never made it in for a fitting. Marquand decided to go with his original idea of casting a younger man who could withstand the rigors of make-up, thus the role was Ian McDiarmid’s forevermore.
Meanwhile, the character of Admiral Jerjerrod played by Michael Pennington was nearly taken by a pre-“Die Hard” Alan Rickman, who got his franchise payday much later as the secret hero of the “Harry Potter” movies.
4.) THE ‘COOPERATIVE RELATIONSHIP’
When Richard Marquand told his son James he was A) directing the new “Star Wars” movie and B) going to have a baby with his second wife Carol, James completely ignored the news about his new sibling. Thus was the initial excitement of such a huge career coup, though it later became evident that even though he was “director” of “Revenge of the Jedi,” George Lucas was El Capitan.
The two of them worked in tandem on set, much like the working arrangement Steven Spielberg had on “Poltergeist” with Tobe Hooper, but unlike Spielberg’s ghost directing the “Star Wars” creator had little enthusiasm for being there, preferring to spend time with newly adopted daughter Amanda. In fact, Marquand requested his boss’s presence, with the Welshman working closely with the actors while shot composition and technical details were Lucas’s department.
Lucas clearly wanted more control, determined not to let production run wildly overbudget like it had on “Empire,” while Marquand is revealed to have been in way over his head, as in story conferences where he mostly just tells Lucas and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan how great their ideas are and occasionally tosses one in himself. Still, the former documentary filmmaker had a political background (he had marched with Martin Luther King in the ’60s) and understood the serious tone demanded by the story, referring to Ewoks as “the Vietcong.”
Editor Alan Hume remarks, “Although I always make it my business to work for the director rather than the producer, on this occasion the producer- even Richard would agree with this- was very much ‘part director.’
Co-producer Robert Watts adds, “I can remember Richard was ducking and diving, if you see what I mean, trying to take in what George said and make it sound like it was his idea as well.”
After shooting was complete, Marquand spoke of a sort of post-traumatic state where he would “wake up screaming or go for walks at three o’clock in the morning.”
5.) HORNY LITTLE PEOPLE AND ‘COCA-COLA’
In the search for dozens upon dozens of little people to play Ewoks, the “Jedi” production sure got its hands full, as early signs pointed to the whole lot of them being massive horndog party animals.
“We only got four or five applicants from the Job Center,” says assistant production manager Pat Carr. “Then some reporter from the Sun newspaper put the story on page three under the picture of a nude, and suddenly we had phone calls from all over the country.”
Production designer Norman Reynolds commented on how the crew made sure they “knocked on the door and coughed loudly” before entering a room where their diminutive cast might be going at it like jackrabbits. “They’d never been in an environment where they were surrounded by other little people.”
Meanwhile promiscuous little people weren’t the only ones burning the candle at both ends. Carrie Fisher was “at a very low ebb” according to several crew people. “Carrie Fisher was looking terrible and she wasn’t really performing well at first,” Kazanjian says. “Carrie would be in the makeup department at 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning drinking a Coca-Cola. So I got the word to talk to her.”
Whatever “Coca-Cola” might be a euphemism for, editor Sean Barton confirms that “Everybody knows they were all off the wall at that point, a lot of drink and drugs and partying.”
Fisher recalls, “I remember the last night of the shoot, I woke up [the following morning] and one of the crew members had drunk a bottle of NyQuil and had passed out on my floor and had a green mouth. We had fun. People had fun.”
6.) THE ACTORS STRIKE BACK
Mark Hamill bluntly concurs: “I thought the script was a letdown after the first two and Harrison wanted a heroic death and really didn’t want to do the script that was written… You find yourself giving an impassioned speech to a big lobster in a flight suit. Only later do you see how silly it looks.”
The disgruntled Luke Skywalker performer goes on to explain how Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford had six more weeks off than he did, proof of their diminished importance in this third chapter. Harrison Ford apparently didn’t get on like a house on fire with Richard Marquand either, which Fisher attributes to the director’s sucking up to the actor while casually dismissing her and Hamill.
“There was a shot where I had to shoot a gun and run up a hill, and I was never good at that stuff. I was trying to do it, running and shooting, and I messed something up, or I don’t know what happened- and [Marquand] went, ‘Darling, you’re f**king up my shot,’ and I burst into tears.” Not coincidentally, a similar scene would play out between Meryl Streep and Gene Hackman in the opening of “Postcards From the Edge,” written by Carrie Fisher.
7.) SAD LUCAS
“I’m not having fun,” Lucas said. “I smile a lot because if I don’t everyone gets depressed. But I’d rather be home in bed watching television… I’m only doing this because I started it and now I have to finish it. The next trilogy will be all someone else’s vision.”
One common thread that links all three of Rinzler’s “Making of” tomes is the perpetual sour mood of George Lucas. On “Star Wars” he was pissed about all the compromises he had to make to get the film made, and on “Empire” he was peeved about going way over budget and nearly bankrupting himself. On “Jedi” this manifested in genuine depression, which sprang from a resentment towards the very creation responsible for his rise to power. Also, his wife Marcia asked him for a divorce.
“I was destroyed because I had no idea, it just came out of the blue,” Lucas said of the abrupt end of his 14-year marriage. “I tried to hold myself together emotionally and still do the movie, but it was very, very hard. I was so, so depressed.”
Marcia Lucas was still working on “Jedi” in an editorial capacity (she had won an Oscar for editing “Star Wars”), and often expressed a deep anxiety about the film getting done on time. At one point George Lucas gets into a row with her, defending another editor’s work over hers. Harsh!
Even before all this happened Lucas had discussed potentially selling off all the “Star Wars” assets to 20th Century Fox just so he could be rid of the burden, a sentiment that foreshadowed the $4-billion-dollar Disney deal three decades later. Just when there was light at the end of the tunnel on “Jedi,” Lucas found himself on a plane to help Spielberg with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” in England.
“Nothing is free,” Lucas states bleakly. “No matter how or where, there’s a price for everything… the price, unfortunately, isn’t in money. It’s in your soul.”
“He’s trapped in a lot of ways,” says ILM’s Ken Ralston.
8.) INSANE LUNATIC MANIACS (ILM)
The post-production process at Industrial Light and Magic on “Return of the Jedi” represents the gold-standard pinnacle of the bygone analog effects era. It would have been hard on any company, even one with as many geniuses as this one (Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, Richard Edlund, Phil Tippett… even an 18-year-old David Fincher!), but coming off the tail-end of effects for “Poltergeist,” “E.T.” and “Star Trek II” meant everyone was ALREADY burnt the f**k out.
On November 22nd, Lucas dropped a morale-devastating bomb on the company in what came to be known as “Black Friday,” when certain subplot cuts (including the Death Star targeting Endor and Imperial countermeasures flooding the superstructure ducts of the battle station) caused nearly 100 FINISHED effects shots to be scrapped. Ken Ralston and company all went out and “got loaded” after the axe fell, and Kazanjian was left speechless at the quarter-million-dollars worth of work chucked. While some of the live-action elements of this material wound up on the Blu-ray archives, none of these effects have ever seen the light of day.
Steam was let off in a variety of ways, including some hilarious storyboards drawn by Joe Johnston showing Admiral Ackbar in a lobster bib or an Imperial trooper blowing the head of an Ewok.
“‘Jedi’ almost killed everybody, every department,” admits Lucas.
9.) THE DEATH OF MARQUAND
After the major career jumpstart of directing “Return of the Jedi,” one of the biggest moneymakers in Hollywood history, Richard Marquand would make three more films, one a solid hit (“Jagged Edge”) and two losers (“Until September” and “Hearts of Fire”).
At the time of his death in 1987 at the relatively young age of 49, Marquand was going through stress of being investigated for tax fraud, coming off a nightmarish production of “Hearts of Fire” with Bob Dylan, and was walking with a cane due to deep vein thrombosis. While driving his daughter home from the airport, he suffered a terrible stroke, which paralyzed his entire left side, leading to a clot in his brain and lung as well as an embolism. George Lucas attended his funeral.
He never lived to see the “Star Wars” prequels (perhaps for the best), though he expressed an interest in taking a crack at them once they got going:
“One, two and three are going to be very interesting, if [George Lucas] is ever able to start writing,” Marquand would say during an interview. “Steven Spielberg and I would like to. It’s a very interesting part of the saga, the early days. The youth of Ben Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker is really important. It’s a very different world. Technology is different, means of communication are different. Sentiments are different. But it will take a long time, I’m afraid so. It’s just a fact we will have to face. Good things come in threes, and all good things come to an end. That’s just one of the realities of life. Your kids may see it.”
10.) THINGS THAT COULD WIND UP IN THE SEQUELS
Sicemon taxis, lifted by giant turtle-like bugs, are just one of many interesting ideas left on the cutting room floor of “Episode VI” that could be picked up off said floor by J.J. Abrams for 2015’s “Episode VII.”
It would be hard to imagine the new sequel trilogy without a token appearance by those lovably hateable Ewoks… or giant Ewok mounts called the Yuzzum. One design for Yuzzum later transformed into the big-toothed orange singer in Jabba’s Palace included in the “ROTJ” Special Edition, so we guess he’s invited too. Another creature dropped from that vile gangster’s dungeon was a being made entirely out of light that was supposed to romp around C-3PO.
Then there are aspects of The Force that have yet to be explored, some of which may turn out to be more controversial than Midi-chlorians: Ben and Yoda can go in and out of the netherworld. That’s right, they could come back in-the-flesh for the new films, or at least as Force ghosts. So can Hayden Christensen as Anakin if we’re to believe his appearance in current cuts of “Jedi.”
An aerial battle over Coruscant and an eventual destruction/”going dark” of the planet-sized city seems like a natural place for the destruction-happy J.J. Abrams to go.
As for abandoned plans for Episodes X through XII, who knows…
“George says the other trilogies are different than this one,” says a hopeful Hamill. “The fourth trilogy, which he had and then dropped, was really surreal, more like the last 10 minutes of ‘2001’ or something.”
Categories: FeaturesTags: Carrie Fisher, George lucas, Harrison ford, J.j. abrams, J.W. Rinzler, Mark Hamill, Return of the Jedi, Richard Marquand, Star wars, Star Wars: Episode VII, The Making of Return of the Jedi