The third and final Star Wars Original trilogy movie was released on May, 1983. Not surprisingly, it shot up to the Number One spot in the Box Office, accumulating a total of $480 million worldwide, a little less than the previous movie. As he’d done before with Empire Strikes Back, Lucas financed the movie himself, with a total budget of $32 million, and just like before, he went looking for a director to helm the proyect. His commitments with both the Star Wars franchise, and his companies, Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic, left him with very little quality time to spend with his family, which would end up taking its toll on an already shaky marriage. So, he decided to offer the director chair to someone he thought could handle the responsibility and pressure of working on a big budget feature. The director chosen for this task was British director Richard Marquand, whom Lucas had been impressed with after watching his film Eye of the Needle (1981). The WWII spy thriller proved to George that Marquand could not only handle the Suspense, but also deliver when working with actors to develop their characters, which turned out to be the best thing to come out of his direction. As Kershner before him, Marquand had ample experience working on character-driven stories, and all the emotional beats from the movie; the death of Yoda, Luke’s conversation with Obi-wan, Luke’s revelation to Leia that they’re siblings, his final confrontation with both Vader and the Emperor, are all good examples of heartfelt moments that further develop the main characters, bringing, at the same time, the best out of the actors who portray them. Unfortunately, Marquand’s limited experience with Special Effects meant that Lucas ended up being more on set supervising Marquand than he originally intended.
Pretty much all the original cast and crew came back for the third movie, with one important addition; the casting of Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor. The British stage actor was cast by Lucas after receiving a call from his agent, who told him that Lucas was in England and wanted to meet him. They had lunch together, after which McDiarmid received a call from his agent telling him that he’d been cast as ”The Emperor of the Universe”. All of the recurring cast members had been contractually obliged, from the beginning, to do all three movies, save for Harrison Ford. It did take Lucas some convincing for Ford to come back; even though Ford, and co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan both agreed that Ford’s character, Han Solo, should have been killed off at the end of Empire Strikes Back, or at the very least, at the beginning of Return of the Jedi.
As with the previous two movies, the bulk of the production was shot once again in Elstree Studios, in Borehamwood, England. Additional shooting took place in Yuma, Arizona, for the Jabba the Hutt Sail Barge rescue action set piece, and in Redwood Forrest, California, for the scenes set on the forest moon of Endor. One of the main challenges regarding special effects this time around was the creation of Jabba, the Hutt. The massive puppet was created, as the Yoda puppet had, by british Creature Designer, Stuart Freeborn. The size of the puppet required, at least, five people to control it. In addition to Jabba, other creatures needed to be designed and built for the large menagerie of strange alien creatures that were part of Jabba’s entourage. Phill Tippett and Joe Johnston were in charge of these, and they came up with some nifty ideas for creatures like Selacious Crumb, the musical band, and the Gamordian guards. But the most challenging of them all would be the Rancor monster, to whom Jabba would feed all of those who displeased him. The idea, at first, was to have someone play the monster wearing a suit, and although this idea was tested with Tippett wearing said suit, the process became too cumbersome, and like the Wampa suit in ESB, it was discarded in favour of filming a model at a higher frame rate, blending it in, later on, with the live footage. The whole of Jabba’s Sail Barge set was built in the Arizona desert in Yuma, where the actors and crew would experience the opposite weather conditions they had while shooting in Elstree. The stifling heat wreaked havoc among the actors and crew, and made the shooting conditions unbearable. The creation of the Ewok suits would also prove to be a pain. Even though the casting of short people in the UK had been successful, the fitting of the actors inside the suits was another matter entirely. The actors had to wear rubber suits to bulk them up beneath the furry outer suits, and the combination of the two made them too stiff to move around in, and too hot to stay inside of them for long periods of time. Fortunately, they came up with a lighter fabric that gave the suits more flexibility, and made them more breathable.
Right before the filming crew moved to the Redwood Forrest location in California, and in order to avoid being overcharged by supplying companies on the grounds of being the Star Wars crew that was shooting the next Star Wars movie, the crew decided to change the Star wars name on the vehicles, and all filming material used in the production. The production was given the bizarre name of “Harvest Moon”, which was supposed to be a low-budget Horror film, thus avoiding at the same time, prying eyes. Of course, all this would come to naught once Ford, Fisher and Hamill arrived at the location to start shooting.
Another stand out moment in the movie was the Speeder bikes Chase scene through the Endor Forrest. To achieve the speed of the Speeder bikes on the scene, a Steadicam operator started walking, and filming along a previously laid out path in the forrest filming at a rate of 1 frame per second, which, when played back later on at 24fps, would result in the shots going at a speed of 100 miles per hour. Side shots would be achieved by an operator shooting from the side of a truck, and rear shots would be achieved by just playing the forward shots backwards. The actors would then film their live action scenes on top of life-size Speeder bikes against blue screen in the Studio. The footage from both sources would later on be edited together resulting in one of the most dynamic action set pieces ever to be shown in a Star Wars movie. For the final Battle in the movie, a mix of miniatures, matte paintings and optical effects were used to achieve the grand scale and visual majesty of the Grand Finale. As before, the visual effects technicians shot the whole sequence of the final attack on the unfinished Death Star with miniatures, models and cardboard cutouts representing the characters. The crude animatic was used as a visual guide to shoot and edit the sequence later on in Post-production. This whole approach would be changed when Lucas got about working on the Prequel Trilogy, which would use computer graphics instead, thus saving time and money in the process.
Financial and critical reception
The movie, as I mentioned earlier, was a financial success, even though it earned less money than the previous movie, and markedly even less money than the first Star Wars film. On the critical front, the movie was better received than its predecessor, and nicely tidied up all the story’s loose ends, giving the whole trilogy a fittingly exciting and spectacular finale. On a side note, right before the release of the movie, it had been decided that the chapter title of the movie would be Revenge of the Jedi, as the working title Return of the Jedi was deemed too weak by producer Howard Kazanjian. On the grounds that a Jedi would never seek revenge, Lucas pulled the title Revenge of the Jedi, and changed it back to Return of the Jedi. That meant changing up the whole marketing campaign from the posters and trailers at the last minute. Funnily enough, George Lucas would come back to the title for the third episode of his prequel trilogy, changing Jedi for Sith.
As far as added CGI and scenes, this movie has a couple of moments that are cringe worthy, to say the least. The new musical number in Jabba’s palace, where Lucas changed the alien singer for a CGI version of it, and the horrendous song, along with the decision to change Sebastian Shaw’s old Anakin Skywalker Force Ghost for that of Hayden Christensen’s, are two of the worst changes ever made to the Original Trilogy. Other changes, like giving the Sarlacc pit monster a beak, and more tentacles, and changing up the final Ewok song for another, vibrant composition by John Williams, and showing off more planets from the prequels to show the Galaxy wide celebrations of the Alliance’s final victory against the Empire, are welcome changes, and are not as bothersome.
The movie is awesome. There are no two ways about it. It does slow down considerably once our protagonists get to the Endor moon, right after the amazing Speeder bike chase scene, when we’re first introduced to the Ewoks. This, in my opinion, is the weak link of the film. To me, this teddy bear-like creatures, are nothing but an excuse to sell toys, even though they play a pivotal part in the last showdown against the Imperial troops, and one could argue that if it hadn’t been for them, victory would have been all but impossible, but, then again, the same thing could’ve been achieved just as easily, using Lucas’s original idea of using the Wookies, and their home planet Kashyyyk, as the setting for the final confrontation. That little hiccup out of the way, the action set pieces are a joy to watch. Luke’s fight with the Rancor, the rescue scene on Tatooine, the Speeder bike chase scene through the Forrest on Endor, and the two-pronged final battle, both on the planet Endor, between the Rebels, Ewoks and Imperial Troops, and the the space battle in and around the unfinished Death Star.The movie starts very strongly with the rescue of Han Solo by his friends from the clutches of Intergalactic gangster Jabba the Hutt, and after a brief interlude in which Luke returns to Dagobah, and his final mission is revealed to him by Yoda, right before he dies, the movie immediately kicks into gear once more, and our heroes land on Endor for the final showdown with the Empire. Save for the slowing of pace after the encounter of our heroes with the Ewoks, the rest of the movie plays perfectly, it’s got a breakneck speed pace for the final act, the acting is very strong, possibly the best performance by Mark Hamill in the Original Trilogy, top notch production values, and an excellent soundtrack by John Williams to boot. On another level is the final face-off of Luke with both his father and the Emperor. The last duel between them is a momentous event, and one of the saddest and, at the same time, uplifting scenes in the entire saga. Could have done without Darth Vader yelling Noooo!!, right before throwing the Emperor to the chasm, George. That was an unnecessary change, if there ever was one. But still, the movie is a blast, and a spectacular, exciting and moving film.
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