We’re telling the tale behind a classic. The making of story of Return of the Jedi via 30 huge facts.
The final part of the original Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi has been a much-loved film since its release in 1983. Now regarded as a blockbuster classic, the behind the scenes story is full of surprising and fascinating trivia. We tell that story below with 30 interesting facts about Return of the Jedi.
1. Jabba’s Palace was full of great animatronic work
One of the memorable scenes early on takes place at Jabba the Hutt’s Palace when Luke Skywalker, thrown down a trap door, finds himself in a fight to the death with the Rancor monster.
George Lucas originally wanted the Rancor to be played by an actor in a suit. They did try that but it didn’t look very good so the effects house, ILM, came to the rescue. They shot the Rancor as a high speed scale model, operated by one puppeteer.
Jabba himself was a huge animatronic that took 6 people to operate. There were three men inside: two working the arms, head and tongue and one on the tail. Then there was a person lying below the puppet who would move Jabba’s mouth. And two radio operators controlled his eyes. There was an issue during production where Carrie Fisher had to climb over Jabba’s tail – her foot went straight through the puppet and her heel hit the puppeteer in the tail in the head. So they padded that area up.
The Jabba animatronic itself took 3 months to build, weighed 1 ton and cost half a million dollars. It was built by Stuart Freeborn, who had designed Yoda for The Empire Strikes Back.
Stuart Freeborn and his Jabba animatronic
2. There’s a link to another huge blockbuster
When Leia first appears in the film she’s dressed as a bounty hunter called Boussh to infiltrate Jabba’s Palace. Boussh speaks an alien language and has a distorted voice. The voiceover artist who voiced Boussh was called Pat Welsh. She smoked 2 packs of Camel cigarettes a day to get acquire her raspy voice, and worked on another big film a year earlier when she voiced E.T.
3. There’s a link to a classic horror film, too
Jabba’s lieutenant is called Bib Fortuna, and he’s played by an actor called Michael Carter. Michael Carter was also in John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London as Gerald Bringsley, the unfortunate commuter who comes a cropper against the werewolf in Tottenham Court Road tube station.
4. One outfit is very famous
The Star Wars series is full of great and iconic costume design, and one of the most recognisable is the ‘space bikini’ that Leia wears at Jabba’s Palace. Lucas was planning to dress Leia in more formal, military clothing and it was actually Carrie Fisher who requested a skimpier outfit.
The costume was designed by Aggie Guerard Rodgers and she said she took inspiration from a fantasy artist called Frank Frazetta, who had created the artwork for Conan the Barbarian.
Carrie Fisher in the famous bikini
5. One actor didn’t like Jabba’s Palace quite as much
There’s a moment on Jabba’s sail barge when Jabba’s pet Salacious Crumb chew’s on C-3PO’s eyes. When they filmed this, Anthony Daniels (who played 3PO) had a panic attack. He kept shouting, “Get me up, get me up,” and they dubbed over his lines but that take is the one we see in the film.
Anthony Daniels and his C-3PO suit
6. The film had a strange working title
To keep keen fans and over-zealous reporters away from the set, Lucas and producer Howard Kazanjian said they were making a horror movie called Blue Harvest. They even had t-shirts and caps made for the crew and created a tagline for the movie: “Horror beyond imagination.”
There was a novel called Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett published in 1929. Red Harvest was an inspiration for Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa, so Lucas came up with a working title of Blue Harvest as a tribute. And if you visit blueharvest.com, you’ll see it redirects you to the Star Wars website.
7. A few names were up to direct
The director of Return of the Jedi was Richard Marquand, a largely unknown filmmaker at the time. Marquand wasn’t the first name Lucas thought of to direct Jedi, and he did approach some other well-known filmmakers.
The first person Lucas wanted was his old pal Steven Spielberg. He couldn’t do it though because he was a member of the Directors’ Guild of America (DGA) and Lucas had fallen out with the DGA when The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was released.
Lucas then asked David Lynch to direct but he said no in favour of making Dune (1984). Lucas then asked David Cronenberg and he said no to make Videodrome (1983). So he turned to Welshman Richard Marquand. Lucas had seen Marquand’s second World War thriller Eye of the Needle (1981) and was impressed.
Richard Marquand, George Lucas, and Mark Hamill on the set
8. Lucas made sure he knew what was going on
Because Marquand was so inexperienced working on a large-scale blockbuster like Return of the Jedi, Lucas was permanently on the set. Marquand later said. “It was like trying to direct King Lear with Shakespeare in the next room!”
9. Some Star Wars stalwarts weren’t involved this time round
Gary Kurtz had been producer on the first two Star Wars films but, as Empire had went massively over budget, Lucas didn’t ask him to return. Instead, Lucas so took on Executive Producer duties himself and promoted Howard Kazanjian in the production team.
Also, famed concept artist Ralph McQuarrie had worked on both previous Star Wars films and designed some of the series’ most famous images. He left Return of the Jedi, though, when he was asked to design the Ewoks. He didn’t like the Ewoks as an idea and did give over some designs, but then when Lucas started making them more teddy bear-like, McQuarrie left the production.
Ralph McQuarrie’s Ewok designs
10. The crew received some nice good luck messages
Howard Kazanjian said that on the day production started he received a telex saying “May the Force be with you!” from Gary Kurtz, and one from Steven Spielberg which said, “It’s about time somebody made Blue Harvest. Break a leg.”
11. Marquand didn’t get on with everyone
Marquand was reportedly a bit of a task master on the set and, in particular, didn’t get on with Carrie Fisher. Fisher later said: “I hated him. He fell all over Harrison, but he would yell at me constantly. One time he made me cry by shouting at me that I was f***ing up a shot.”
Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill on the Return of the Jedi set
13. Luke has a new lightsaber
Luke has a new, green lightsaber this time round but it was actually going to be blue originally, the same colour one he lost in The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas changed it to green as he thought the blue saber was too difficult to see on the screen. In early trailers though, you can still see the blue saber.
Luke’s original blue lightsaber
14. One of the most famous characters almost wasn’t in the film
After the first act, Luke goes back to Dagobah to see Yoda, and he’s there when Yoda dies. Yoda wasn’t in the script originally but Lucas thought it was best to include him as Yoda could be used to remove any doubt that Vader was Luke’s dad by having Luke ask him if it was true.
15. Carrie Fisher was popular with the Ewoks
Leia is the first person who comes across the Ewoks on Endor in the form of Wicket. Wicket was played by Warwick Davis in his first feature role and he said Carrie Fisher was very nice to him. She was worried about him spending too much time in the Ewok costume in the Californian heat so would bring him lots of milk and cookies. Davis said said, “[Carrie] was everything an 11 year old Ewok could wish for.”
16. The big twist was originally different
Luke and Leia are revealed as brother and sister in Return of the Jedi, but that wasn’t always the case. At one point, Lucas was planning a sequel trilogy to Star Wars where Luke’s long-lost sister would be a major character. He was exhausted by this point, though, so decided he wanted to tie everything up.
17. Harrison Ford wanted Han to die (again)
It’s fairly well known that Harrison Ford wanted to kill Han Solo off in The Empire Strikes Back. He didn’t get his wish, but that didn’t stop him asking for the same thing in Return of the Jedi. Lawrence Kasdan agreed with him and actually wanted to kill Han at Jabba’s palace so the audience wouldn’t be sure who would survive.
Lucas overruled both Kasdan and Ford and said Han had to live. Ford later said, “George didn’t see a future in dead Han toys.”
18. Two Star Wars legends created an iconic vehicle
Star Wars is famous for its great design work, particularly of the futuristic vehicles. The speeder bikes were a popular addition to Return of the Jedi themselves and designed by Ralph McQuarrie, responsible for a lot of Star Wars design work.
Sound design guru Ben Burtt also played a part in creating the sound of the speeder bikes. Burtt spliced together the sound of thunder and P-38 aeroplanes to create the noise of the speeder bikes engine.
19. The Speeder bike scenes involved some innovative camera work
Some of the film’s most striking shots are the point of view shots from the Speeder Bikes as they’re racing through the forest. ILM pulled this off by having a camera operator with a Steadicam walk through the forest at normal speed with the camera filming at about 5 miles per hour. And the camera was set to film one frame per second. Then, when the footage was played back at the normal 24 frames per second, it looked like they were moving at about 100 miles per hour through the trees.
20. The indigenous creatures of Endor were inspired by real life
The name ‘Ewok’ came from a Native American tribe called the Miwok (it wasn’t an anagram of ‘Wookie’, as is often reported). The Miwok were indigenous to Northern California, which is where the Endor scenes were filmed.
Also, Endor appeared in the Bible. The Witch of Endor was used by King Saul to channel a dead prophet and defeat the Philistines. Obviously.
The Witch of Endor
21. The Ewoks went on strike (kind of)
The Endor scenes were filmed in Crescent City in California, and the actors playing the Ewoks had to permanently wear hot, heavy suits, and hated the location. The production assistant called Ian Bryce turned up one day to find a note from the Ewok actors saying they’d had enough and were going to the airport. He raced to his car and was about to leave for the airport when a bus turned up and all the Ewoks climbed off wearing t-shirts saying “Revenge of the Ewoks” – it had all been a joke.
22. Warwick Davis wasn’t meant to play Wicket
Warwick Davis is Wicket in the film and he said he auditioned after his grandmother heard a casting call advert on London Radio. Kenny Baker (the man inside R2-D2) was supposed to play Wicket but, on the day they were due to film his scenes, Baker had food poisoning. So they got Warwick Davis to play Wicket instead. Kenny Baker ended up playing Paploo, the Ewok who pinches a Speeder Bike.
Warwick Davis on the set
23. Endor was going to be populated by a familiar Star Wars species
Lucas’ original idea for Endor was that it wouldn’t be populated by Ewoks, it would be populated by Wookies. And the Wookies would fight alongside the rebels to defeat the Empire. It was, apparently, changed as Lucas saw more profitability in Ewoks merchandise.
24. The film was once called something different
Return of the Jedi wasn’t always called Return of the Jedi. Its original title – well into production – was Revenge of the Jedi. In fact, you can still see the original posters that had that title. Lawrence Kasdan thought Return of the Jedi was a weak title but Lucas changed it as he thought gaining revenge wasn’t a very Jedi trait.
The change also had a knock-on effect elsewhere. The second Star Trek film was also in production at the time. It was going to be called Star Trek II: The Revenge of Khan but when they heard about Revenge of the Jedi it was changed to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
25. Script leaks were a concern
Lucas was concerned about script leaks so had some fake screenplays created for the cast members he didn’t trust as much. Some of the fake scripts did end up getting leaked to the press. There was one where the last hope Yoda talks about in The Empire Strikes Back turned out to not be Leia, but Lando Calrissian.
The script did go through some changes too. The first idea for the final battle was that it would take place on the Imperial home world called Had Abbadon. Ralph McQuarrie did some design concepts but the idea was scrapped for a bigger Death Star. Also, originally, the plan was that Obi-Wan would turn from being a force ghost and come back to life.
26. John Williams had a musical collaborator
John Williams returned to write the score for Return of the Jedi, but this was the first time he had a collaborator on a Star Wars film. It was his son, Joseph Williams. Joseph wrote the lyrics to the Ewok song – ‘Yub Nub’ – we hear at the end of the film.
And, Joseph Williams had a musical career of his own. He was the lead singer in rock band Toto. He didn’t sing Africa, though, unfortunately.
27. The DP left towards the end of production
The Director of Photography on the film was Alan Hume – and there was reportedly some friction between him and Lucas. Hume was annoyed at what he saw as mistreatment of Richard Marquand by George Lucas. What he specifically didn’t like isn’t known, but Hume left production one month before it wrapped, and camera operator Alec Mills took over.
George Lucas and the new Death Star
28. Lucas destroyed some special effects work
The special effects team on the film was ILM, returning from the previous two films. There was one day during production, which has since been dubbed Black Friday, where Lucas came into the ILM studio, took 100,000 feet of visual effects footage shot by ILM, and dumped it in the bin because he didn’t like it. They had to start again from scratch. The heads of effects at ILM then were Denis Muren, Ken Ralston and Richard Edlund and they said after Lucas did that, they went on a two-day bender before starting again.
29. One of the film’s famous lines was changed at the last minute
One of the most famous lines in the movie comes from Admiral Ackbar. During the attack on the Death Star, the rebels find out they’ve been ambushed and Ackbar shouts, “It’s A Trap!” In the script the line was actually, “It’s A Trick” It was changed in post-production.
30. The women rebels were taken out of the film
The briefing to the Death Star attack is delivered by Mon Mothma, and in that scene, we see a few women rebel pilots. We don’t see much more of them in the film but scenes were shot with them. There was a French actress called Vivienne Chandler who had over a page of dialogue in the script. It was filmed but she was removed from the final cut completely. Reportedly, the filmmakers though the audience wouldn’t like to see women killed in battle.
BONUS FACT: The Emperor could have been different
Ben Kingsley, David Suchet and Lindsay Anderson were all considered by Lucas to play the Emperor. And Alan Webb was the first person cast but he had to pull out due to ill health. Ian McDiarmid was then cast to just be the physical performance of the Emperor, the idea being that his dialogue would be dubbed over. Apparently though, Spielberg heard McDiarmid’s voice as the Emperor and said to Lucas, “He sounds perfect, you’ve got to go with him.”
Apparently, McDiarmid used an old Japanese acting technique used to give your voice a guttural sound. And that’s where the Emperor’s voice came from.
As an aside, when Darth Vader actor David Prowse read the script, he was excited because he thought we’d finally get to see his face when Luke takes Vader’s helmet off. However, Lucas told him he was planning to get an older actor in. Lucas originally thought about somebody well known like Laurence Olivier or John Gielgud but eventually went for Sebastian Shaw, who was an RSC veteran.
BONUS FACT: The ending was originally very different
We get a happy ending of course with the death of the Emperor and destruction of the Death Star but it was going to be very different. Lawrence Kasdan said he pitched Lucas an idea where, after Luke takes Vader’s mask off and Vader dies, Luke puts the mask on and says, in Vader’s voice, “Now I am Vader.”
And according to Gary Kurtz, the original treatment ended with Luke going off alone and wandering into seclusion in the Tatooine desert.
And you’ve reached the end – 30 Rancor-sized facts about Return of the Jedi. Please share on your social media channels, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for lots of great video content.
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