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The Untold Truth Of Return Of The Jedi

"Return of the Jedi" was an appropriately epic conclusion to the story George Lucas and the rest of the "Star Wars" crew built up to over their original epic series. It showed how the evil Empire was finally overthrown by its humblest subjects on the forest moon of Endor, and even in the midst of all its violent bombast, "Jedi" still found room for a deeply personal story that made an impossible storytelling task look easy — taking one of the most iconic, larger-than-life villains in movie history and making us believe he could be not just humanized, but redeemed.

Of course, when "Jedi" came out in 1983, little did audiences realize that after 16 years of relative inactivity the Star Wars franchise would roar back to life. Since then, we've been blessed (or cursed, depending on who you ask) with more than a dozen sequels, prequels, series and side stories. But once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, "Jedi" actually felt like the end.

The "Jedi" crew put a lot of sweat into bringing the movie to the screen — sometimes literally, since they had to wear hot alien costumes in the Arizona desert while shooting Tatooine's dessert wastelands. We've dug into those stories, and hopefully even the most diehard-est of fans will be able to find something new and surprising as we present these untold truths about "Return of the Jedi."

Three legendary directors were up for the job

According to Chris Taylor's "How 'Star Wars' Conquered the Universe," George Lucas's first choice to direct "Return of the Jedi" was Steven Spielberg, who had adapted Lucas's story for "Raiders of the Lost Ark." We can only imagine how action-packed Spielberg's "Jedi" could have been, but he was a member of the Director's Guild of America, which had blackballed Lucas over his refusal to put "Empire" director Irvin Kershner's name before the titles because it would have interfered with the iconic opening crawl.

So, Lucas had to go outside the Guild for talent. One exciting possibility was "Twin Peaks" creator David Lynch. But he has since said, "I had next door to zero interest." Instead, Lynch took on a similarly desert-set sci-fi epic with the disastrous "Dune," a now-legendary flop that forced Lynch to take a step back into smaller personal projects which in retrospect was probably for the best. But, what Lynchian weirdness would the director have brought to Lucas' galaxy? It's certainly an intriguing question to ponder.

Finally, a second cult-director David was at some point considered for the job: Cronenberg. When you think about the sort of "body horror" David Cronenberg spent much of the '80s exploring in watch-through-your-fingers classics like "Videodrome" and "The Fly," it's another intriguing question to wonder how off-the-wall his "Jedi" would have become. But, it wasn't to be, with Cronenberg later telling Entertainment Weekly it wasn't even close: "I said, with the arrogance of youth — relative youth, anyway — I said, 'Well, I'm not used to doing other people's material.' And there was like a stunned silence and then 'Click' — hang up."

The crew used a fake name to keep from getting gouged

By their third go-round on the "Star Wars" series, Lucas and his crew knew the pitfalls of the project. 

The success of the first two movies was a bit of a curse — as production designer Jim Bloom explains in the documentary "Empire of Dreams," every place the crew went, they met people who raised their prices to get on the "Star Wars" money train. 

So, he found an innovative workaround: Officially, they weren't making "Return of the Jedi," they were making a totally different movie. He tried to think of "a title that would instill absolutely no interest whatsoever," and he came up with "Blue Harvest: Horror Beyond Imagination." To complete the ruse, the "Jedi" crew printed up the fake title on custom T-shirts, caps, and letterheads, and Taylor writes that the stars used codenames to hide their involvement. Once the secret got out, "Blue Harvest" became a major part of the "Star Wars" fandom, giving its name to an episode of the "Ewoks" animated series, a story arc in the Dark Horse comics, and even the "Jedi" parody episode of "Family Guy."

George Lucas imitated R2-D2 on the set

George Lucas may have wanted to take a backseat on the production of "Jedi," but he was so attached to his creations that he found it hard to step back. At the end of his director search, Lucas found the Welsh filmmaker Richard Marquand, at the time best known for "Birth of the Beatles" and the war drama "Eye of the Needle." 

Taylor's "How Star Wars Conquered the Universe" book says that Marquand's job "was like conducting the Ninth Symphony while Beethoven listened," adding "You can see it in clips from the set: Marquand gives orders, but the crew is listening to Lucas."

By all accounts, this made Marquand's job stressful, but some of Lucas' involvement was much more lighthearted. In "Empire of Dreams," Anthony Daniels describes playing his first scene as C-3P0, when, "suddenly I hear 'beep-beep-beep beep-beep-beep,' and I turn round, and George is now crouched behind me, waddling along, sort of, on his haunches, going 'beep-beep beep-beep-beep.' It was a joyous moment."

Jabba the Hutt came from "Casablanca"

The success of "Star Wars" has defined George Lucas, but he's always been interested in the full spectrum of filmmaking. He began his career with experimental shorts and before "Star Wars," he directed the down-to-earth teen comedy "American Graffiti" and a much darker, colder kind of science fiction with "THX-1138." 

Even on "Star Wars," he drew from a wide variety of genres, most famously Akira Kurosawa samurai dramas like 1958's "The Hidden Fortress," as well as World War II action movies like 1955's "The Dam Busters" that inspired the aerial dogfights. In the case of "Return of the Jedi," he had one of the all-time classics in mind.

1942's "Casablanca" starred Humphrey Bogart as a cynical bartender in the Moroccan city, forced from his selfish lifestyle when an old lover (Ingrid Bergman) returns, on the run from the Nazis and their French collaborators. Part of the film's brilliance was in how the film's director, Michael Curitz, populated the story with a vivid background of colorful characters, including the oversized owner of Bogart's rival bar — the Blue Parrot. The character, named Signor Ferrari, was played with a slimy twinkle in his eye by Sydney Greenstreet, who had played a similar role opposite Bogart a few years earlier in another instant classic, "The Maltese Falcon."

Those characters made a big impression on Lucas when it came time to create his own menacing gangster. In "Empire of Dreams," effects artist Phil Tippett describes his brief from Lucas: "I need something that's alien and grotesque that's like ... Sydney Greenstreet ... at one point, I had a fez on one of the characters."

It took nine actors to play Jabba

Making a monster as huge and intimidating as Jabba the Hutt turned out to be a huge, intimidating task. 

In "The Moviemaking Magic of 'Star Wars': Creatures and Aliens," Mark Salisbury breaks down just how intimidating it was. In those pre-CGI days, playing Jabba required a life-sized puppet (that cost over a million dollars, adjusted for inflation) weighing roughly a ton. Inside it were two actors, one to work the crimelord's right arm and head, the other manning his left arm and long, muck-encrusted tongue — plus another two working Jabba's eyes by remote control. 

They took point for closeups, but the long shots were even more complicated, requiring another actor to lie inside the suit to move Jabba's torso. The tail presented a challenge — it was too small to fit most actors, so one of the dwarfs who were on set to play the Ewoks squeezed inside. As if that wasn't enough, there were still another two performers hiding underneath Jabba to work the bellows that made him seem to breathe, while another blew smoke out his mouth.

Salacious Crumb got his name from a brainfart

The original "Star Wars" wowed viewers with the famous cantina full of weird alien critters. For "Return of the Jedi," Lucas' crew went to the next level, filling Jabba's palace with literally hundreds of extras and puppets, including some recycled effects from the original cantina scene. However, few have stuck with viewers as much as Salacious Crumb, the cackling little monkey-thing Jabba keeps perched on his throne.

In "Behind the Scenes: The Collection," Tippett remembers how Lucas asked his effects team to come up with a name for the little bugger. They spent their whole lunch break and several pitchers of beer racking their brains for an answer and finally gave up and left when Tippett asked his coworkers to wait while he tied his shoelaces. Except after all that drinking, what came out was, "I need to tie my soolayshes." They realized that was the best they were going to get and brought the name to Lucas. He wasn't impressed, but it got the wheels in his head turning, and he reshuffled a few letters to get "Salacious" — a fitting name for such a salacious little character. And after all that, no one in the movie says his name once!

George Lucas rejected a high-tech Sarlacc tentacle

The "Star Wars" series revolutionized special effects with complicated miniatures, blue-screen effects, prosthetic makeup, and animatronics. But the highest-tech solution isn't always best. 

When Jabba catches Luke and crew trying to liberate their frozen friend Han Solo, he condemns them to die in the belly of the Sarlacc, a tentacled alien monster that eats its prey alive and digests them over hundreds of years. We never actually see most of the beast — it buries itself in the sand, making it look like a disembodied mouth filled with rows and rows of sharp, nasty teeth.

In one scene, a tentacle nearly drags Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) down before Han saves him. Salisbury writes how effects artists Kit West rigged up a complex bit of remote-controlled machinery full of wires and cables. But Lucas wasn't interested. Instead, the crew went the opposite direction, simply wrapping a machinery-free tentacle around Williams' leg and filming as they yanked it loose. Then, when they played the footage backwards, the tentacle seemed to grab him.

Mark Hamill wasn't happy with Boba Fett's exit

Mandalorian bounty hunter Boba Fett became a huge fan favorite thanks to his mysterious appearance in the "Empire Strikes Back" toy line, which seemed to indicate a much bigger than he actually had in the movie. His faceless, largely silent presence earned him a huge fanbase that continues today to power the success of "The Mandalorian" series and the anticipation for Boba's own upcoming series, "The Book of Fett." 

Those fans weren't thrilled in 1983, however to see his fate in "Jedi" — spinning out of control after a stray shot fries his jetpack, plopping the antihero straight into the Sarlacc's open mouth.

As it turns out, one of those fans is Luke himself, Mark Hamill. In an interview excerpted in the blu-ray audio commentary, he recalls asking Lucas, "Did you make this up the day before we shot it?"

He also wasn't happy that Lucas repeated the "I am your father" twist from "Empire" by revealing Leia was Luke's sister, and that gave him some interesting ideas for what might happen to Boba Fett. "I thought when they unmask Boba Fett, it's going to be my mother or something wild. You know, she's gonna shake out her hair — 'Why, Miss Fett, you're beautiful!'"

"Apocalypse Now" inspired the Ewoks

If there's one reason "Return of the Jedi" became the most divisive movie in the original trilogy, it's the Ewoks. Some fans think they're just too cute. But other fans just think they're ... well ... too cute. 

The latter objection, though, seems a little flimsy when you know the history behind it. For many viewers, it was too much to accept that this small band of low-tech guerillas could defeat all the forces of the Empire. But Lucas actually took the story from real life. "Star Wars" wasn't the only generation-defining classic Lucas could have had a hand in — according to Taylor, he was writer George Milius and producer Francis Ford Coppola's first choice to direct the Vietnam War classic "Apocalypse Now." 

Coppola ended up taking that job himself, of course, but Lucas' time preparing the 'Nam story stuck with him. In "The Making of 'Star Wars: Return of the Jedi,'" Lucas says "Star Wars" was born during the famously long, arduous process of trying to get "Apocalypse Now" made, and he describes both plots in similar terms: "It was about this totally insane giant technological society that was fighting these poor little people. They have little sticks and things, and yet they completely cow this technological power." 

The Viet Cong obviously had a lot more firepower than "little sticks and things," and we doubt they'd appreciate the comparison to cute little teddy bears. But aside from that, you can see the similarities.

Designer Ralph McQuarrie wanted the Emperor to look different in every scene

"Return of the Jedi" introduced another iconic character with the Emperor, finally appearing in the flesh after a brief holographic cameo (by a completely different actor until Lucas re-edited it for home video) in "Empire." Ian McDiarmid's performance created an unforgettable image of pure, ancient evil. And while he did that all with just a hood and some makeup, designer Ralph McQuarrie had a more elaborate idea based on the mystical underpinnings behind the concept of the Jedi with maybe a little bit of "Wizard of Oz" thrown in.

In an interview excerpted in the commentary, McQuarrie says, "My concept for the Emperor was a guy who was more spirit than reality. He was so far advanced that he kind of presented himself in graphics. You never actually saw him. And I did a lot of sketches showing this emperor, who at times presented himself as the beautiful pink lips of a young woman, then there would be this beastly-looking doglike creature, growling and snarling at you, with these hideous glaring eyes looking at you."

All this psychedelic shapeshifting turned out to be impractical for the confrontation we ended up seeing onscreen. It's hard to imagine the Emperor being any scarier than he is with just McDiarmid sitting on a chair, but it sure is something to imagine.

The speeder chase used a special low-speed camera

Before the Rebels find the Ewoks on the forest moon of Endor, they meet with some Stormtroopers and have to escape by stealing their flying-motorcycle-like speeder bikes. This leads to a thrilling high-speed chase — and as it turns out, the secret to filming it was taking it slow. 

In "Empire of Dreams," effects artist Dennis Murren explains how he filmed the scene in the Redwood forests of Northern California. He had a cameraman walk at normal speed down a nature trail while wearing a Steadicam vest — a harness that keeps the camera still while the operator moves. The camera was filled with a special film that only records one frame every second. When you play that footage back at normal speed — 24 frames a second — it runs 24 times faster, turning the cameraman's five-mile-per-hour amble into a hundred-mile-an-hour chase scene.

One of the Ewoks was named for his eleven-year-old actor

"Return of the Jedi" was the end of the first "Star Wars" trilogy, but it was the beginning for a new star — Warwick Davis

Only eleven at the time, Davis was a huge "Star Wars" fan whose grandmother encouraged him to respond to a radio ad looking for people bunder four feet tall to appear in "Return of the Jedi." Originally, he was just supposed to be a background Ewok.

"I don't think anybody on the movie was as excited as I was," he says in "Empire of Dreams." Originally Kenny Baker, who also operated the R2-D2 suit, was slated to play Wicket. But the day he was supposed to film the bike chase, Baker caught food poisoning. Davis got the call to fill in, and he jumped at the chance, adding to his performance with gestures he'd learned from his dog, like Wicket's curious head tilt.

After playing the lead Ewok, Davis would go on to the lead role in the Lucas-produced "Willow" and the long-running "Leprechaun" series, anchoring the TV show "Life's Too Short," pivotal supporting roles as both dwarves and goblins in the "Harry Potter" series, and until recently he hosted the popular "Tenable" game show in England. His character was named Wicket W. Warrick in his honor, but he got the part pretty much by accident.

There was a whole rap single in Ewok-ese

Like all "Star Wars" movies, "Return of the Jedi" inspired a mall's worth of tie-in products, but none were quite as strange as Meco's remix of "Ewok Celebration." 

Six years earlier, the New York DJ had landed a surprise hit with his disco remix of the original "Star Wars" theme, which took him all the way to number one. "Ewok Celebration" only got to #60, but that's still pretty impressive for such a bizarre song, one that even got a disco remix. At first, "Ewok Celebration" seems like more of the same, adding synthesized steel drums under the songs the Ewoks perform to celebrate the Empire's defeat in the movie. But then Meco adds something new to the timeless world of "Star Wars" — rapping.

That'd be strange enough, but except for a few familiar words like "Han Solo" and "Darth Vader," it's all in some kind of unintelligible gibberish. The label helpfully identifies it as "Ewok-ese," created by sound effects master Ben Burtt, who also wrote the Ewokese dialogue in the movie. 

The final swordfight could have been much bigger

The main trilogy ends with a family struggle as Luke and Darth Vader battle in the Emperor's throne room — the Emperor cackling with evil delight. By "Star Wars" standards it's practically an intimate scene, but in one earlier draft of the script, Lucas envisioned a much bigger canvas for their conflict. 

According to Taylor's summary, the fight was intended to take place in the Emperor's palace on a planet covered in boiling lava, and the two-way duel would have been an all-out melee with the ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda fighting by Luke's side.

We can imagine "Star Wars" fans drooling at the possibility of this epic conflict, but since this was in the very earliest days of CGI, it would have been nearly impossible to pull off. Obi-Wan actor Alec Guinness was beginning to wind down his career, Yoda was still one-hundred percent puppet, and a planet of lava would be tough to convincingly depict — until right around 2005, when "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" would introduce us to Mustafar.

Looking back on "Jedi," it seems like Lucas' team made the right decision. The balancing act of the three battles on land, air, and inside the Death Star would just be exhausting if we didn't have a smaller-scale conflict for breathing room. Conversely, if that one big battle was the only one we followed, that wouldn't be nearly as thrilling, and it would have shortchanged Han and Leia. 

In the finished version of "Jedi" that hit theaters in 1983, we got the perfect balance of personal drama and electric action. At the time, most Star Wars fans thought they'd witnessed the final redemption of this universe, and peace would rule the galaxy forever. But if you've enjoyed any of the Star Wars saga since 1999's "The Phantom Menace" picked the lightsaber back up, you're likely thankful that "Jedi" wasn't the final chapter it was designed to be.