Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)


Introduction

Return of the Jedi (also known as Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi) is a 1983 American epic space opera film directed by Richard Marquand.

The screenplay is by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas from a story by Lucas, who was also the executive producer.

It is the third instalment in the Star Wars original trilogy, the third film to be produced, the sixth film in the “Star Wars saga” and the first film to use THX technology. It takes place one year after The Empire Strikes Back (1980). The film stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew and Frank Oz.

In the film, the Galactic Empire, under the direction of the ruthless Emperor, is constructing a second Death Star in order to crush the Rebel Alliance once and for all. Since the Emperor plans to personally oversee the final stages of its construction, the Rebel Fleet launches a full-scale attack on the Death Star in order to prevent its completion and kill the Emperor, effectively bringing an end to his hold over the galaxy. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker, now a Jedi Knight, struggles to bring his father Darth Vader back to the light side of the Force.

Outline

C-3PO and R2-D2 are sent to crime lord Jabba the Hutt’s palace on Tatooine in a trade bargain made by Luke Skywalker to rescue Han Solo. Disguised as a bounty hunter, Princess Leia infiltrates the palace under the pretence of collecting the bounty on Chewbacca and unfreezes Han, but is caught and enslaved. Luke soon arrives to bargain for his friends’ release, but Jabba drops him through a trapdoor to be executed by a rancor. After Luke kills the rancor, Jabba sentences him, Han, and Chewbacca to death by being fed to the Sarlacc, a huge, carnivorous plant-like desert beast. Having hidden his new lightsaber inside R2-D2, Luke frees himself and battles Jabba’s guards while Leia uses her chains to strangle Jabba to death. As the others rendezvous with the Rebel Alliance, Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his training with Yoda, whom he finds is dying. Yoda confirms that Darth Vader, once known as Anakin Skywalker, is Luke’s father, and becomes one with the Force. The Force ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi reveals that Leia is Luke’s twin sister, and tells Luke that he must face Vader again to finish his training and defeat the Empire.

The Rebel Alliance learns that the Empire has been constructing a second Death Star under the supervision of the Emperor himself. As the station is protected by an energy shield, Han leads a strike team to destroy the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor; doing so would allow a squadron of starfighters to destroy the Death Star. Luke and Leia accompany the strike team to Endor in a stolen Imperial shuttle. Luke and his companions encounter a tribe of Ewoks and, after an initial conflict, gain their trust. Later, Luke tells Leia that she is his sister, Vader is their father, and that he must confront him. Surrendering to Imperial troops, he is brought before Vader, and fails to convince his father to reject the dark side of the Force.

Vader takes Luke to the Death Star to meet the Emperor, intending to turn him to the dark side. The Emperor reveals that the Imperial forces are prepared for a Rebel assault on the shield generator and that the Rebel Fleet will fall into a trap. On the forest moon of Endor, Han’s team is captured by Imperial forces, but a counterattack by the Ewoks allow the Rebels to infiltrate the shield generator. Meanwhile, Lando Calrissian in the Millennium Falcon and Admiral Ackbar lead the rebel assault on the second Death Star only to find that the Death Star’s shield is still active, and the Imperial fleet waits for them.

The Emperor reveals to Luke that the Death Star is fully operational and orders the firing of its massive superlaser, destroying one of the Rebel starships. The Emperor tempts Luke to give in to his anger. Luke attacks him, but Vader intervenes and the two engage in another lightsaber duel. Vader senses that Luke has a sister and threatens to turn her to the dark side. Enraged, Luke severs Vader’s prosthetic hand. The Emperor entreats Luke to kill Vader and take his place, but Luke refuses, declaring himself a Jedi like his father before him. Furious, the Emperor tortures Luke with Force lightning. Unwilling to let his son die, Vader throws the Emperor down a reactor shaft to his death but is mortally electrocuted in the process. At his father’s last request, Luke removes Vader’s mask, and the redeemed Anakin Skywalker dies in his son’s arms.

After the strike team destroys the shield generator, Lando leads a group of Rebel fighters into the Death Star’s core. While the Rebel fleet destroys the Super Star Destroyer Executor, Lando and X-wing fighter pilot Wedge Antilles destroy the Death Star’s main reactor. As the Falcon escapes the Death Star’s superstructure and Luke escapes on a shuttle with his father’s body, the station explodes. On the Forest Moon of Endor, Leia reveals to Han that Luke is her brother, and she and Han kiss. Luke cremates his father’s body on a pyre before reuniting with his friends. As the Rebels and the galaxy celebrate the fall of the Empire, Luke sees the spirits of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Anakin watching over him.

Casting

  • Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker:
    • One of the last living Jedi knights, trained by Obi-Wan and Yoda; Leia’s twin brother, Han’s friend and Darth Vader’s son who is also a skilled X-wing fighter pilot in the Rebellion.
  • Harrison Ford as Han Solo:
    • A rogue smuggler aiding the Rebellion against the Empire, Luke’s friend, and Leia’s love interest.
  • Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa:
    • The former princess of the destroyed planet Alderaan, who is part of the Rebellion, Luke’s twin sister, and Han’s love interest.
  • Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian:
    • The former Baron Administrator of Cloud City and one of Han’s friends who aids the Rebellion.
  • Anthony Daniels as C-3PO:
    • A humanoid protocol droid in the service of the Rebellion.
  • Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca:
    • A Wookiee who is Han’s longtime friend and part of the Rebellion.
  • Kenny Baker as:
    • R2-D2, an astromech droid, friend of Luke, and longtime companion of C-3PO.
    • Paploo, an Ewok who distracts Scout troopers by hijacking a speeder bike.
  • Ian McDiarmid as The Emperor:
    • The evil founding supreme ruler of the Galactic Empire and Vader’s Sith master.
  • Frank Oz as Yoda:
    • The wise, centuries-old Jedi Master, who lives on Dagobah and trained Luke.
  • David Prowse as Darth Vader:
    • A powerful Sith lord and the second in command of the Galactic Empire; Luke and Leia’s father.
    • James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader.
  • Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker:
    • After defeating the Emperor, Vader asks Luke to take off his mask so he can see his son clearly before he dies.
    • Originally, Shaw also appeared as Anakin’s Force ghost.
    • Hayden Christensen as Anakin’s Force ghost.
    • In the 2004 DVD release of the original trilogy, the actor who portrayed Anakin in the second and third prequel films replaces Shaw as the character’s Force ghost; this change was intended to bring Return of the Jedi into continuity with the larger saga.
  • Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi:
    • A deceased Jedi Master, who continues to teach Luke after death as a Force ghost.

Denis Lawson reprises his role as Wedge Antilles and Kenneth Colley and Jeremy Bulloch reprise their roles as Admiral Piett and Boba Fett from The Empire Strikes Back respectively. Michael Pennington portrays Moff Jerjerrod, the commander of the second Death Star. Warwick Davis appears as Wicket W. Warrick, an Ewok who leads Leia and eventually her friends to the Ewok tribe. Baker was originally cast as Wicket, but was replaced by Davis after falling ill with food poisoning on the morning of the shoot. Davis had no previous acting experience and was cast only after his grandmother had discovered an open call for dwarfs for the new Star Wars film. Caroline Blakiston portrays Mon Mothma, a co-founder and leader of the Rebel Alliance. Michael Carter played Jabba’s aide, Bib Fortuna (voiced by Erik Bauersfeld), while Femi Taylor and Claire Davenport appeared as Jabba’s original slave dancers.

To portray the numerous alien species featured in the film a multitude of puppeteers, voice actors, and stunt performers were employed. Admiral Ackbar was performed by puppeteer Tim Rose, with his voice provided by Erik Bauersfeld. Nien Nunb was portrayed by Richard Bonehill in costume for full body shots, while he was otherwise a puppet operated by Mike Quinn and his voice was provided by Kipsang Rotich. Rose also operated Salacious Crumb, whose voice was provided by Mark Dodson. Quinn also played Ree-Yees and Wol Cabbashite. Sy Snootles was a marionette operated by Rose and Quinn, while her voice was provided by Annie Arbogast. Others included Simon J. Williamson as Max Rebo, a Gamorrean Guard and a Mon Calamari; Deep Roy as Droopy McCool; Ailsa Berk as Amanaman; Paul Springer as Ree-Yees, Gamorrean Guard and a Mon Calamari; Hugh Spight as a Gamorrean Guard, Elom and a Mon Calamari; Swee Lim as Attark the Hoover; Richard Robinson as a Yuzzum; Gerald Home as Tessek and the Mon Calamari officer; Phil Herbert as Hermi Odle; Tik and Tok (Tim Dry and Sean Crawford) as Whiphid and Yak-Face; Phil Tippett as the Rancor with Michael McCormick.

Jabba the Hutt was operated by Toby Philpott, David Barclay and Mike Edmonds (who also portrays the Ewok Logray) operated the tail. Larry Ward portrays the Huttese language voice with Quinn, among other roles, controlling the eyes.

Development

As with the previous film, Lucas personally financed Return of the Jedi. Lucas also chose not to direct Return of the Jedi himself, and started searching for a director. Although Lucas’ first choice was Steven Spielberg, their separate feuds with the Director’s Guild led to his being banned from directing the film. Lucas approached David Lynch, who had been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for The Elephant Man in 1980, to helm Return of the Jedi, but Lynch declined, saying that he had “next door to zero interest”. David Cronenberg was also offered the chance to direct, but he declined the offer to make Videodrome and The Dead Zone. Lamont Johnson, director of Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, was also considered. Lucas eventually chose Richard Marquand. Lucas may have directed some of the second unit work personally as the shooting threatened to go over schedule; this is a function Lucas had willingly performed on previous occasions when he had only officially been producing a film (e.g. More American Graffiti, Raiders of the Lost Ark). Lucas did operate the B camera on the set a few times. Lucas himself has admitted to being on the set frequently because of Marquand’s relative inexperience with special effects. Lucas praised Marquand as a “very nice person who worked well with actors”. Marquand did note that Lucas kept a conspicuous presence on set, joking, “It is rather like trying to direct King Lear – with Shakespeare in the next room!”

The screenplay was written by Lawrence Kasdan and Lucas (with uncredited contributions by David Peoples and Marquand), based on Lucas’ story. Kasdan claims he told Lucas that Return of the Jedi was “a weak title”, and Lucas later decided to name the film Revenge of the Jedi. The screenplay itself was not finished until rather late in pre-production, well after a production schedule and budget had been created by Kazanjian and Marquand had been hired, which was unusual for a film. Instead, the production team relied on Lucas’ story and rough draft in order to commence work with the art department. When it came time to formally write a shooting script, Lucas, Kasdan, Marquand and Kazanjian spent two weeks in conference discussing ideas; Kasdan used tape transcripts of these meetings to then construct the script.

The issue of whether Harrison Ford would return for the final film arose during pre-production. Unlike the other stars of the first film, Ford had not contracted to do two sequels, and Raiders of the Lost Ark had made him an even bigger star. Return of the Jedi producer Howard Kazanjian (who also produced Raiders of the Lost Ark) convinced Ford to return.

Ford suggested that Han Solo be killed through self-sacrifice. Kasdan concurred, saying it should happen near the beginning of the third act to instil doubt as to whether the others would survive, but Lucas was vehemently against it and rejected the concept. Gary Kurtz, who produced Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back but was replaced as producer for Return of the Jedi by Kazanjian, said in 2010 that the ongoing success with Star Wars merchandise and toys led George Lucas to reject the idea of killing off Han Solo in the middle part of the film during a raid on an Imperial base. Luke Skywalker was also to have walked off alone and exhausted like the hero in a Spaghetti Western but, according to Kurtz, Lucas opted for a happier ending to encourage higher merchandise sales.Harrison Ford himself has confirmed this account, saying that Lucas “didn’t see any future in dead Han toys.”

Yoda was originally not meant to appear in the film, but Marquand strongly felt that returning to Dagobah was essential to resolve the dilemma raised by the previous film. The inclusion led Lucas to insert a scene in which Yoda confirms that Darth Vader is Luke’s father because, after a discussion with a children’s psychologist, he did not want younger moviegoers to dismiss Vader’s claim as a lie. Many ideas from the original script were left out or changed. For instance, the Ewoks were going to be Wookiees and the Millennium Falcon would be used in the arrival at the forest moon of Endor. Following the defeat of the Emperor, the film was originally intended to end with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda returning to life from their spectral existence in the Force, along with Anakin Skywalker, thanks to Yoda being able to prevent him from becoming one with the Force. They would then join the rest of the characters in their celebration on Endor.

Filming

Filming began on 11 January 1982, and lasted through 20 May 1982, a schedule six weeks shorter than The Empire Strikes Back. Kazanjian’s schedule pushed shooting as early as possible in order to give Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) as much time as possible to work on effects, and left some crew members dubious of their ability to be fully prepared for the shoot. Working on a budget of $32.5 million, Lucas was determined to avoid going over budget as had happened with The Empire Strikes Back. Producer Howard Kazanjian estimated that using ILM (owned wholly by Lucasfilm) for special effects saved the production approximately $18 million. However, the fact that Lucasfilm was a non-union company made acquiring shooting locations more difficult and more expensive, even though Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back had been big hits. The project was given the working title Blue Harvest with a tagline of “Horror Beyond Imagination.” This disguised what the production crew was really filming from fans and the press, and also prevented price gouging by service providers.

The first stage of production started with 78 days at Elstree Studios in England, where the film occupied all nine stages. The shoot commenced with a scene later deleted from the finished film where the heroes get caught in a sandstorm as they leave Tatooine. (This was the only major sequence cut from the film during editing.) While attempting to film Luke Skywalker’s battle with the rancor beast, Lucas insisted on trying to create the scene in the same style as Toho’s Godzilla films by using a stunt performer inside a suit. The production team made several attempts, but were unable to create an adequate result. Lucas eventually relented and decided to film the rancor as a high-speed puppet. In April, the crew moved to the Yuma Desert in Arizona for two weeks of Tatooine exteriors. Production then moved to the redwood forests of northern California near Crescent City where two weeks were spent shooting the Endor forest exteriors, and then concluded at ILM in San Rafael, California for about ten days of bluescreen shots. One of two “skeletal” post-production units shooting background matte plates spent a day in Death Valley. The other was a special Steadicam unit shooting forest backgrounds from 15 to 17 June 1982, for the speeder chase near the middle of the film. Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown personally operated these shots as he walked through a disguised path inside the forest shooting at less than one frame per second. By walking at about 5 mph (8 km/h) and projecting the footage at 24 frame/s, the motion seen in the film appeared as if it were moving at around 120 mph (190 km/h).

Harrison Ford altered some scenes during the shoot, causing Billy Dee Williams to forget some of his lines, which was a source of frustration for Marquand. Marquand and Anthony Daniels also clashed somewhat, leading to the latter recording his ADR with Lucas instead.

Title Change

The original teaser trailer for the film carried the name Revenge of the Jedi. In December 1982, Lucas decided that “Revenge” was not appropriate as Jedi should not seek revenge and returned to his original title. By that time thousands of “Revenge” teaser posters (with artwork by Drew Struzan) had been printed and distributed. Lucasfilm stopped the shipping of the posters and sold the remaining stock of 6,800 posters to Star Wars fan club members for $9.50.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, released in 2005 as part of the prequel trilogy, later alluded to the dismissed title Revenge of the Jedi.

Trivia

  • As with the previous film, Lucas personally financed Return of the Jedi.
  • Steven Spielberg, David Lynch and David Cronenberg were considered to direct the project before Marquand signed on as director.
  • The production team relied on Lucas’ storyboards during pre-production.
  • While writing the shooting script, Lucas, Kasdan, Marquand, and producer Howard Kazanjian spent two weeks in conference discussing ideas to construct it.
  • Kazanjian’s schedule pushed shooting to begin a few weeks early to allow Industrial Light & Magic more time to work on the film’s effects in post-production.
  • Filming took place in England, California, and Arizona from January to May 1982.
  • Strict secrecy surrounded the production.
  • On a budget of $32.5 million the film generated revenue of $475.3 million at the box office.

Star Wars Series

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Robert Marquand.
  • Producer(s): Howard Kazanjian.
  • Writer(s): Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas.
  • Music: John Williams.
  • Cinematography: Alan Hume.
  • Editor(s): Sean Barton, Marcia Lucas, and Duwayne Dunham.
  • Production: Lucasfilm Ltd.
  • Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox (1999 to 2019) and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (2019 to Present).
  • Release Date: 25 May 1983 (US).
  • Running time: 132 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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