Behind the Scenes of “Return of the Jedi”: 30 Years Later

"The Making of 'Return of the Jedi'" is author J.W. Rinzler’s latest look into the creation of the beloved film trilogy, built on unprecedented access to Lucasfilm archives.

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Carrie Fisher (c.) and Harrison Ford (far r.) on the set of "Return of the Jedi." Released in 1983, at the time it was third installment in the "Star Wars" trilogy.
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© 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd.
The Making of “Return of the Jedi" is author J.W. Rinzler’s latest look into the creation of the beloved film trilogy, built on unprecedented access to Lucasfilm archives, key players and creator George Lucas. “George did enjoy going down memory lane for 'Star Wars', and by the time he got to ‘Jedi,’ he read it and said 'That was a weird experience,'” says Rinzler. “He's really one of the rare grownups out there who doesn't mind having stuff in his book which he might not agree with, but as long as his view is also there, he's fine with it.” "Return of the Jedi" was released in U.S. theaters on May 25, 1983.
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Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher played lovers onscreen, but an undercurrent of tension arose after “Raiders of the Lost Ark” made Ford a bona fide movie superstar, while Fisher dealt with her fast-lane lifestyle. “She was having personal issues, and also for whatever reason, she felt like Marquand was paying more lip service to Harrison because he was this big star,” says Rinzler. Ford hoped a Han Solo death scene would add some gravitas “but George said, ‘No – I'm not killing off your character.’ Harrison knows George, knows his vision, and he was fine. He's just a team player.”
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Harrison Ford in-between setups chatting with George Lucas, who was “almost running on empty to begin with – it was already seven years of fairly nonstop work,” Rinzler says. “He always put a lot of pressure on himself. Jedi was a more ambitious project: more creatures, more visual effects, more giant sets, so that becomes a challenge. And then, he knew when post-production began that he was going to be separating from his wife, Marcia, and that, of course, had a big impact on him. It was very hard for him to drag himself to work every day."
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Phil Tippett and Stuart Freeborn pose before their joint collaboration: a fantastic menagerie of otherworldly creatures. “George was still feeling the frustration of not being able to do 'Star Wars' the way he wanted to,” says Rinzler. “He saw Jabba's throne room as a good place to do what he had originally imagined …He got Phil and Stuart Freeborn and a lot of amazingly talented people – they had the experience of doing Yoda – to go in really early and those guys just went to town on the creatures.”
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Ian McDiarmid in his complete Emperor’s makeup, which covered only the front two-thirds of his head. McDiarmid would reprise the role more than two decades later when Lucas launched the prequel trilogy. “By the time he got to the end of ‘Jedi’, he was definitely ready to take a sabbatical from all work,” says Rinzler. “George is often embracing 'Star Wars' and then saying, "Okay, I need a break." And then getting back into it and saying, "I need a break – I'm retiring." And then of course, he finally did retire and sell the company, recently.”
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© 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd.
Harrison Ford relaxes on the plank, with director Richard Marquand and co-star Mark Hamill. Marquand took on the directorial duties after Lucas was turned down by his initial choice, David Lynch. “David Lynch was first pick, but I think once they met, it was clear that you had two people with very strong visions of how it was going to be,” says Rinzler. “And I think they both realized pretty quickly that it might have been contentious as a working arrangement. But George told me he obviously has tremendous respect and love for David Lynch's work, and vice versa.”
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George Lucas and director Richard Marquand on the Emperor’s throne room set. “Marquand had a difficult job coming on to direct a movie that so many people had very high hopes for,” says Rinzler. “Marquand might want to shoot with a single camera series of set-ups, and George wanted to get the coverage he needed so he could go into the editing room and craft the film the way he saw it. But all in all, it worked out really well.”
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© 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd.
Mark Hamill enacts Luke’s moment of truth as he confronts his father. “Mark wanted it to come to a great conclusion, to be satisfying for the millions of people who were waiting to see it,” says Rinzler, noting that Hamill was a genuine sci-fi fan. “One reason why the original trilogy is such a success is thanks to his performance. He really understood what George was getting at, and in a sense he sold the world on Yoda and so many different aspects to 'Star Wars' because he believed in it. And because he did, we all did as well.”
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Ewoks seize the clapperboard during second unit work near Crescent City, CA. The creatures were loved or loathed from the very beginning, even behind the scenes: “[At Lucasfilm and ILM] those who have problems with the Ewoks always had problems with the Ewoks,” says Rinzler. Lucas, however, adored them. A tweak on his original “Star Wars” draft in which Wookiees helped destroy the Death Star, he loved having “a non-industrial group going up against the Empire. He couldn't use Wookiees anymore, so he basically cut them in half and made Ewoks.”
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Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill on location in California’s Buttercup Valley aboard Jabba’s barge. “Jedi” debuted Princess Leia’s skimpy slave wardrobe for which Carrie Fisher counted calories but became an icon of pop cultural sex appeal. “Marquand should get the lion's share credit for that,” says Rinzler. “He saw Leia in ‘Empire’ and thought ‘Boy, they're not really showing her figure at all!’ and went the opposite extreme." - Scott Huver
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