To celebrate the 31th anniversary of Episode VI and to finish my Star Wars weekend on All That I Love (because I’m going to my annual review of the original trilogy right now), here are 31 facts about Return of the Jedi that you don’t needed to know. Have a nice week. May the Force be with you!
1. Most Star Wars fans know that the movie was filmed under the title Blue Harvest: Horror Beyond Imagination to avoid publicity, but it’s less-known that the bogus title was a play on Dashiell Hammet’s 1929 novel Red Harvest, which was said to be an influence for Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which was cited as an influence for Star Wars. See how it all comes together?
2. Jabba’s sail barge was filmed in Yuma, Arizona. The film crew had problems avoiding the 35,000 dune buggy enthusiasts in the area. To preserve secrecy, the producers claimed to be making a horror film called “Blue Harvest” with the tagline “Horror beyond imagination”, and even had caps and t-shirts made up for the crew. A chain-link fence and a 24-hour security service could not prevent die-hard fans from entering the set and sneaking some photographs.
The Jabba’s Sail Barge set on location in Yuma, AZ.
3. Despite the credits, Richard Marquand may not have directed all of the movie; George Lucas directed some footage, and Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner once hinted that Marquand’s assistant directed footage credited to Marquand, due to Marquand’s poor relationship with the actors.
4. Speaking of connections to classic movies, Emperor Palpatine, making his first appearance in the flesh — he was just bits and bytes in that hologram in Empire, and was portrayed by a different actor — was at first named after a character in Taxi Driver, but his name was changed to avoid potential legal issues.
The directors of the original Star Wars trilogy: Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back), George Lucas (Star Wars ) and Richard Marquand (Return of the Jedi).
5. And speaking of Marquand, he wasn’t the first choice for Jedi. Or the second, or even third. Stephen Spielberg, David Cronenberg and David Lynch were ahead of him in line. Just imagine, for a second, Cronenberg or, better, Lynch making a movie with Ewoks.
6. The Ewoks occasionally speak Tagalog, although most of their dialogue is loosely inspired by Kalmuck, a language spoken in Mongolia. One of the Ewok songs once was believed to be in Swedish — with the lyrics translating, wonderfully, as “It smells of cereal in here” — but that, sadly, was based upon people mishearing the gibberish the oversized rodents were singing.
Ewoks seize the clapperboard on May 17, 1982, during second unit work near Crescent City.
7. The word “Ewok” is never actually said in Return of The Jedi, and neither were the names of individual Ewoks, although both appear in the end credits.
8. “Ewok” is derived from the Native American tribe the Miwok, indigenous to the Northern California redwood forests in which the Endor scenes were shot.
Carrie Fisher with a very young Warwick Davis who played Ewok Wicket Wystri Warrick in Return of the Jedi. Davis was 11-years-old.
9. “Endor” comes from the Bible and is a village visited by King Saul before his final battle with the Philistines. Oddly enough, it also makes an appearance in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, as the Elvish name for Middle-Earth.
10. Ewoks were a late addition to the Star Wars mythology. Their part in the story was to be played by the Wookiees, but by the time Lucas and partners sat down to write Return of The Jedi, they realized that, because Chewbacca could fly the Millennium Falcon, repair the ship and operate pretty much any weapon or machine in the known universe, they’d made the Wookiees too technologically advanced for the plot.
11. In what is either amazing planning or, more likely, complete coincidence, the one word C-3PO says to the Ewoks is “Naboo,” which was later revealed in The Phantom Menace to be the home world of Luke and Leia’s mother — and Anakin Skywalker’s wife — Queen Amidala.
12. The lyrics to the song the Ewoks perform at the end of the movie — the words everyone heard as “yub nub” — were written by none other than Joseph Williams, son of Star Wars composer John and lead singer with Toto. Someone, somewhere: Please make a mash-up of this song and Toto’s “Africa” as soon as possible.
Ian McDiarmid in his complete Emperor’s makeup, which covered only the front two-thirds of his head. The cowl always covered the back of his head.
13. Both lightsabers used in the movie were re-purposed props from earlier movies. Darth Vader’s lightsaber was a Luke Skywalker saber from The Empire Strikes Back because all of Vader’s had mysteriously disappeared between movies. Luke’s new saber was originally one of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s from the original Star Wars movie.
14. Yoda was to sit this one out, but he was added after consultation with child psychologists made George Lucas decide he needed an independent character to confirm Darth Vader’s claim that he is Luke Skywalker’s father. Now you know why Yoda doesn’t do much for the rest of the movie.
15. In the radio adaptation of the movie, broadcast on NPR in 1996, Yoda was played by John Lithgow. Just think about that for a minute.
Phil Tippett and Stewart Freeborn pose before their joint collaboration: a menagerie of wonderful monsters.
16. The reasoning behind the switch from the title Revenge of The Jedi to Return of The Jedi is murky, with various motivations given by various people at various times. One story has it that the switch returned the movie to its original title after Lucas temporarily changed it when Kasdan complained “Return” was “too weak.” Another has it that the change was made to differentiate the movie from the second Star Trek movie, which filmed under the title The Vengeance of Khan (Vengeance later became Wrath because of Revenge of The Jedi, according to those involved with the Star Trek production). The third story, which is my favorite, says Revenge was never the movie’s title at all, but Lucas announced that it was purely to mess with those making counterfeit merchandise.
17. The only cast member to shoot new material for the 1997 re-release was Femi Taylor. Whattya mean you don’t recognize the name? And you call yourself a fan? She played Oola, the slave girl fed to the Rancor in Jabba’s palace. According to rumors, she was recommended to Lucasfilm and ILM for reshoots because she was in better shape than she had been 15 years earlier; her scenes in the Special Edition are a mix of new and original footage.
Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill on location in California’s Buttercup Valley aboard Jabba’s barge, April 1982.
18. Carrie Fisher complained about her costumes in the previous two movies. She said they were so long, you could not tell “she was a woman”. Those complaints led to the skimpy outfit she wore as Jabba’s prisoner. The costume became something of a running joke among the crew, because the metal framework that held the top together meant that the costume didn’t move well with her. Since Fisher didn’t like the industry standard solution of using double-sided tape, it became necessary before each take to have a wardrobe person check to ensure that her breasts were still snug inside the costume top (and several scenes had to be re-shot when “wardrobe malfunctions” occurred).
19. Adding to the Star Wars movies’ accidental misogyny, the few women flying spacecraft for the Rebellion were edited out of Return for unknown reasons. Surely women are no less capable of bulls-eying womp rats in a T-16…
20. However, Return of The Jedi does hold the dubious honor of being the first Star Wars movie to feature more than one woman who was more than a background extra. Take a bow, Mon Motha. You broke new ground in a way that is genuinely embarrassing to admit. (Seriously, Princess Leia is the only named female character in the first two Star Wars movies.)
Mark Hamill is filmed during Luke’s moment of choice: Will he commit patricide or become a true Jedi and show compassion for his father?
21. The voice of Boushh, Princess Leia’s bounty hunter disguise in Jabba’s Palace, is provided by Pat Welsh. Welsh’s only other voiceover work is a biggie: She was the voice of E.T. in 1982′s E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
22. The shots of Darth Vader’s funeral pyre were shot last minute, long after the end of initial filming, and close to Lucas’ home Skywalker Ranch.
23. David Prowse, the unusually tall actor who played Darth Vader throughout the series, didn’t film any of the lightsaber battle sequences for Return of The Jedi. Instead, he was replaced by stuntman Bob Anderson. Anderson, considerably shorter than Prowse, wore platform boots. Somewhere, Gene Simmons just smiled.
Harrison Ford relaxes on a plank, with Richard Marquand and Mark Hamill close by.
24. “It’s a trap,” which is arguably the most famous line in the movie, was, incredibly, not in the screenplay. The line was scripted as “Its a trick!” and was later changed post-filming after a test screening because, let’s face it, “it’s a trick” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
25. During the writing of the film, Mark Hamill speculated that the film would include Luke Skywalker’s turn to the Dark Side and eventual redemption, but it’s unclear whether this was wishful thinking on his part or a plot point that was genuinely considered.
26. An early version of the movie was to end with Luke walking off alone, leaving his friends behind in true gunfighter/Samurai fashion. That idea was dropped in favor of a happier ending, reportedly because Lucas feared a downbeat ending would throw a wrench in the printing press from which truckloads of merchandising money flowed.
27. Harrison Ford wanted Han Solo to die in the movie, sacrificing himself to save his friends. George Lucas vetoed that idea even though co-writer Lawrence Kasdan supported it. Kasdan suggested that Solo not survive being thawed, in part to make the audience believe no one was safe in the final film.
Harrison Ford chats with George Lucas between setups.
28. Another idea abandoned early on was having Obi-Wan Kenobi return from the dead. It did, however, make it into an early draft of the script.
29. One more abandoned idea: There were rumors that the final scenes were to mirror the ceremony of Star Wars‘ finale, but instead of Luke, Han and Chewie getting medals, we’d witness the marriage of Han and Leia. Although this never happened, their marriage became part of Star Wars canon and serves as a basis for developments in the comic book and novel spin-offs.
Phil Tippett manipulates the miniature Luke Skywalker on a speeder bike puppet in front of a blue screen.
30. When scenes of post-victory celebrations around the galaxy were added to the 1997 Special Edition re-release, it was less a case of George Lucas tampering and more a case of fixing something that was missing from the original version of the movie. Lucas and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan had wanted to show Coruscant celebrating the end of the Empire originally but, unable to come up with a name for the city, dropped the idea entirely. It was only after Timothy Zahn came up with the name in his Heir to The Empire novel that the Imperial Capital had a name.
31. Before the Millennium Falcon leaves for the final battle with the Death Star, Han says, “I just got a funny feeling, like I’m not gonna see her again.” This would seem to foreshadow the Falcon’s demise in battle. But it doesn’t. Researchers have looked into the matter from the first scripts of this movie, and have found that in all drafts of the script, Lando and the Falcon survive. All claims that the Falcon would not survive are urban legends, forgeries, or mistaken assumptions.
More trivias about Return of the Jedi on IMDb.