‘Return Of The Jedi’ Turns 40

By the time Return of the Jedi hit theaters in 1983, audiences were mixed on the final entry into the trilogy. And there’s good reason to that. The movie was swiftly rushed into production following the success of The Empire Strikes Back even though it took three years, which was the same time lapse of between A New Hope and Empire. George Lucas chose not to direct the movie again following being tired from long work days on Hope.

But there was another reason. Lucas’ wife, Marcia, had asked for a divorce in 1982 during pre-production. And while he agreed to it, he wanted to wait until after the movie came out so the publicity wouldn’t affect the movie. Not that Marcia was being railroaded. She got a whopping $50 million (which is more than three times that today) from the settlement and relocated from Marin County, Calif. to Los Angeles. Marcia had worked as a film editor on many of Lucas’ films as well those of colleague and friend, Martin Scorsese.

Lucas had wanted another colleague and friend Steven Spielberg, to direct it but he had been battling with the Directors Guild of America following the opening of Hope and Empire. Apparently the DGA didn’t care for the John Williams Star Wars theme transition from the 20th Century Fox fanfare to the title card “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away” without a credit reading who directed the movie. They had allowed it on A New Hope. However, since Spielberg was a DGA member, he couldn’t be used.

Lucas had famously scouted David Lynch after seeing The Elephant Man. Imagine what type of movie that would’ve been. He also sought out Canadian-based filmmaker David Cronenberg. Again, it was a crazy missed opportunity for one helluva ending. Eventually, he found British director Richard Marquand, which was helpful since most of the production was to take place at Elstree Studios in England utilizing all nine sound stages.

But if there is something else a little off about the movie. Well, that divorce threw off reportedly what Lucas had intended. It’s well known that Harrison Ford wasn’t too keen on returning to the role of Han Solo, which was why he was frozen in carbonite and shipped off to Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) was added to be kind of a replacement for Han in the event Ford didn’t choose to return. The third movie was being planned to focus on the rescue of Han while there would’ve reportedly been another trilogy focusing on Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vadar (David Prowse in the suit with the voice of James Earl Jones) seeking the other hope Yoda (Frank Oz) had spoken to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) about.

It was also reported Lucas was interested in returning to complete the first three movies as well. However, the divorce and the push to do another Indiana Jones movie pretty much put the breaks on what Lucas had intended for about 15 years. It was decided to just wrap Jedi up with Luke confronting Vadar and the Rebels defeating Empire Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and toppling the Galactic Empire. It does seem like a very rushed ending that probably needed another movie.

The opening sequence where Luke, Lando, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) infiltrate Jabba’s palace to rescue Han feels more like a whole movie that was gutted of more action to its bare bones to just get Han released so they could jump into the other part involving the Rebels working on a master plan. That’s not to say that Lucas, Marquand and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan has done a half-ass job.

No, not by any means. Jedi in retrospect after 40 years seems almost a good movie as the other two movies. While the line from Clerks that “All Jedi had was a bunch of Muppets” might make for a good punchline, I much prefer the puppetry and animatronics of the movie as opposed to the CGI that would be used in the prequels and sequels. You got to remember it was the early 1980s. Even with a budget reportedly as high as $43 million, nearly four times the cost of the original, they were still limited. This might explain why the Millenium Falcon is only used in matte drawings.

There’s something about seeing Jabba in the gross filth that he is representing the Seven Deadly Sins (Sloth, Wrath, Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust and Greed) and his sycophantic minions like Salacious B. Crumb and Bib Fortuna (Michael Carter) as they lounge around his seedy palace. While the movie has been criticized for the way it disposed of Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch), his popularity had him resurrected in the TV series The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.

As for the Ewoks, well, they’re not the biggest highlight of the movie. They’re mainly there to please all the kids who are in attendance and quite possibly the girlfriends who aren’t into the sci-fi movies, even though SW woman fanbase is more well celebratedf now than 40 years ago. Despite being furry creatures, they are primitive warriors. One of my friends theorized they probably dined on the flesh of the stormtroopers following the victory at Endor. Remember they were going to make Han the main feast in the banquet in the honor of C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) when they confused him as a god.

It is kinda harsh that when the movie’s Special Edition was released in theaters in March of 1997, people actually cheered with the Ewok Nanta died following being shot by a laser blast from an AT-ST. Considering all the deaths of the Rebel Starfighters, it’s the law of probability that at least one Ewok would die on Endor. I feel that hatred toward the Ewoks over the years has been one of that isn’t warranted or was thrust upon fans following the Saturday morning cartoon and the two less than stellar Ewok TV movies released in 1984 and 1985 respectively which felt more like a disservice in production values as well as storylines.

There’s also a very good plot as Luke battles being tempted by the dark side while he is trying to come to terms with the fact that Vadar is his father and was once known as Anakin Skywalker (Sebastian Shaw). And even though Kevin Smith used the reveal in Chasing Amy as a joke to be “a feeble crusty old white man,” I think it’s symbolic of how behind the mask, there was just a broken old man. As we would learn in the prequels and the TV show Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin was used by people his whole life that when the Jedi Council refused to make him a Master, he took it as another case in which he was being used. And use him the Council did to spy on Palpatine.

But in Kenobi, Anakin is wielding power and strength. He’s feared by many who report to him or else he’ll kill them without much of a thought. In the end, he must make the choice to let the Emperor kill Luke or to save Luke. There’s almost some belief that he is surprised by the extent of Luke’s anger and violence and maybe she’s himself. As it goes back to the scene in Revenge of the Sith, where Anakin could’ve made a choice to save Mace Windu or Palpatine, he chose Palpatine. He doesn’t want to make the same decision again. He can’t. I also like how the mask Vadar wears while it has been seen as intimidation suddenly becomes different in emoting weakness and humility.

Lucas was inspired by Japanase movies most notable The Hidden Fortess while constructing the Star Wars movies in its early stage. Vadar’s helmet resembles a Samurai’s helmet. There’s a 1964 Japanese horror movie Onibaba about a young woman and her mother-in-law who live a primitive lifestyle in feudal Japan during the Onin War. A Samurai warrior approaches their home one evening wearing a Hannya mask that has become stuck on his face. The mother-in-law gets it off after killing the warrior and uses it to scare the young woman as she begins an affair. However, once the mask gets stuck on her face as well, it goes from looking terrifying to foolish and pathetic as her attempts to prevent the affair aren’t successful.

Vadar’s mask reminds me of the Hannya mask. In the end, he chose to throw the Emperor down the reactor shaft even though he is mortally wounded by the Force lightning. To start a trilogy where Vadar is the villain and to end it where he has redeemed himself is a daring course for a filmmaker to do on a Hollywood blockbuster. I think this is why people have seen the SW universe as more than just a kids space cowboy movie. There’s something Shakespearan about Vadar’s transformation.

As for Palpatine, McDiarmid has a lot of fun playing the cocky and arrogant Emperor. Since he was only discussed in Hope and appeared in one scene in Empire (but not by the same actor in the theatrical original version), his presence shifts the villainous tone. The Emperor’s greatest sin is Pride as he feels he can pit father against son and still come out the victor in either conclusion. That being said, I really hated his appearance in Rise of Skywalker even if it was a clone. But there’s a lot of things about the sequel trilogy that can be saved for another post.

If anything else, a lot of people see Jedi as the unofficial ending to the the Skywalker Saga. Evil is punished. The Rebels win. The credits roll. Even though I never got into the books that emerged, there was a lot of material to pull from that was discarded. I still prefer The Last Jedi as the only shining hope of the trilogy despite some problems, I feel Rian Johnson tried to make it more than a space cowboy movie. He tried to do what Empire and ROTJ did. Some liked it. Some hated it.

It’s hard to believe how much the franchise has brought us in feature movies, TV movies, that Christmas special, cartoons, animated series, TV series, books and even video games. Like a lot of people, I saw ROTJ when I wasn’t even 5 years old not remembering much. There’s a mythology and almost a religion that has arisen from the works. Who knows hundreds of years from now, people might interpret it as part of a new Bible.

To all my Star Wars fans out there reading this, May the Fourth Be With You.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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