May 25, 2018 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi 35 Years Later
Han Solo is frozen in carbonite. Princess Leia is impersonating a bounty hunter. Luke Skywalker is off on Dagobah with Master Yoda. The galaxy continues to be in peril at the feet of Darth Vader. What is a Jedi to do? Enter Return of the Jedi, the third epic installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, which debuted in theaters back on Wednesday, May 25, 1983, which coincides perfectly with the release of the original Star Wars, some 6 years earlier on May 25, 1977.
If you don’t know the story, something is very wrong with you! Here, all the key characters are present and accounted for: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope 1977, Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017), Han Solo (Harrison Ford: Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981, Air Force One 1997), and Princess Leia (the much beloved, late great Carrie Fisher: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope 1977, Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017) leading the good guys, and Darth Vader (James Earl Jones & David Prowse) and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 1999, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith 2005) holding down the fort (or Death Star) for the vile dudes. There is also switch-hitter Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back 1980, Batman 1989), who has some issues with loyalties.
Of course, one cannot possibly have a Star Wars flick without Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope 1977, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith 2005), Yoda (Frank Oz: The Muppet Show series, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones 2002), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope 1977, Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker: Time Bandits 1981, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith 2005). Along with these beloved favorite characters, this time around, we also met those adorably furry creatures known as the Ewoks, particularly friendly and feisty little Wicket (Warwick Davis: Willow 1988, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 2011).
Directed by the late Richard Marquand (Jagged Edge 1985, Nowhere to Run 1993) from the story by George Lucas (American Graffiti 1973, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope 1977), Return of the Jedi – which would be the highest grossing film of 1983 – introduced a bevy of new characters to a galaxy of die-hard fans. Perhaps, most importantly, aside from the fluffballs, we meet the behemoth villain Jabba the Hut – whom it took six people to control and puppet – his annoying little crony Salacious Crumb, and that beastly Rancor in the basement.
Of course, just mentioning that trio also requires a discussion of the infamous “Slave Leia” costume. In fact, the jaw-dropping metal bikini – now a risque Halloween staple – was a clear example of “be careful what you wish for, Ms. Fisher!” Word on the street is that Carrie had complained during the two previous films, stating that her costumes were too long and bulky, presenting no feminine or womanly allure for herself and her character. These complaints would ultimately inspire the sexy and revealing Jedi costume that we all know and love, which, reportedly, led to several “wardrobe malfunctions” on set. (Die-hards know all too well that Jedi was not without other wardrobe malfunctions, as well!)
Remember that, in 1983, there would be a long drought, nearly twenty years, before those shameful prequels would arrive on the scene in 1999, and 32 years, nearly a lifetime, before the film’s proper sequel, The Force Awakens, arrived in December 2015. Rewinding back, the creation of Jedi, as with most major film undertakings, was not without its issues, including several directors who rejected the offer of filming (David Lynch and David Cronenberg being two of the bigger names), concerns over whether Harrison Ford would reprise his role, and reports that the big wigs ultimately in-charge of the project were not all fans of one another. Ignoring the negativity, Return of the Jedi would go on to gross upwards of $475-million on a budget of approximately $32.5-$43-million. Not too shabby!
So, you want some trivia? Did you know that, to maintain secrecy while shooting the film in locations in Arizona and California, the crew worked under the false title “Blue Harvest,” with a tagline that decreed “Horror Beyond Imagination”? Fake merchandise was even printed for the crew, as it was believed that price-gouging would occur when vendors and locals discovered that the production team were, in fact, working on the newest Star Wars film. This tidbit is echoed in a 1998 episode of Family Guy, which was titled Blue Harvest, and spoofs 1977’s Episode IV – A New Hope.
Furthermore, attempting to maintain secrecy while filming the sail barge/Pit of Carkoon scene in the Yuma, Arizona desert, crew had to fence off an area to prevent joy-riders on dune buggies from entering the perimeter during shooting. However, the chain link and 24-hour security failed to prevent several die-hards from sneaking photographs of the set. Similarly creating its own, bizarre dilemmas, when the Redwood National Forest in California became the location for filming scenes on Endor, home of the Ewoks, crew had to escort Peter Mayhew, in full Chewbacca costume, around the woods for fear that he might be mistaken for Bigfoot and shot on sight.
Practical effects, which were always a hallmark of the Star Wars franchise, were plentiful throughout Return of the Jedi. To film point-of-view shots for the Endor forest speed bike scenes, a camera operator walked the forest route at normal speed, and when the footage was simply sped up it naturally created an appearance of racing through the trees. These types of practical tricks were utilized by the audio department, as well, where a soundman running his hands through a cheese casserole created the slimey, cringe-worthy sounds that emanate from Jabba the Hutt, and a Dachsund was actually cast to help bring the growls of the Rancor to life. Other practical and budget-saving ways to tackle production dilemmas? The shafts that composed the floor of the newly remodeled Death Star’s core reactor were actually a collection of 1,500 fishing rods.
The first film to utilize THX technology – a form of high-fidelity audio/visual reproduction for cinemas, theaters, and home theaters – the film was not initially entitled the tongue-twisting Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, but was simply Return of the Jedi. However, this actually nearly not the case, as the original working title for the production was “Revenge of the Jedi.” Believing that revenge was not suited to the Jedi way of life, Lucas ultimately altered the title and would later embed a reference to the original titling in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. In fact, die-hard collectors might know that, in a 2010 episode of the popular series Storage Wars, a Star Wars jacket was discovered inside a storage locker emblazoned with the original title. The item was appraised at over $3,000!
As with its predecessors, Return of the Jedi would go on to be nominated for a slew of awards. While critics were largely positive about the film at the time of its release, some fans believed Jedi to be the weakest link in the original trilogy. Still others found it to be the strongest of the trio, and embraced Jedi for its deeper messages and embedded metaphors; pitting a simple race of peaceful, forest-dwelling creatures against the might of an empire, and authoring the ultimate underdog win. Whatever the case, diehards keep coming back for more: since 1983, Return of the Jedi has been re-released in a multitude of formats, including several VHS and Laserdisc releases (1986-1995), several restored and remastered Special Editions (1997-2000), an altered scenes DVD (2004), unaltered/original scenes DVD (2006), 2008 box set, Blu-ray (2011), and, most recently, digital (2015).
In celebratory fashion, 35 years to the date, Star Wars will release a brand-new offshoot of their epic saga with Solo: A Star Wars Story arriving to theatres May 25, 2018. Here, you will learn the backstory to the beloved hero, and just how he came to meet that tall glass of hairy goodness that is sidekick Chewie. The film introduces young talent Alden Ehrenreich (Beautiful Creatures 2013, Hail, Caesar! 2016) as the free-wheeling pilot Han Solo, and is directed by Ron Howard (Apollo 13 1995, A Beautiful Mind 2001). Strap yourselves in, folks, because the adventure is very much still alive!
What is there left to say, but go forth and embrace the Force, young Jedis!