Everything you ever wanted to know about ‘Return of the Jedi’

McClatchy Washington BureauOctober 2, 2013 

Now concluding his own trilogy, J.W. Rinzler provides the definitive history of the chronologically last movie in the “Star Wars” saga in “The Making of ‘Star Wars’: Return of the Jedi.”

While “Jedi” is the final chapter in the six movies that make up “Star Wars,” it was actually released third, back in 1983, behind “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back.”

“The Making of” shows that even getting it produced wasn’t a sure thing. Creator George Lucas and his team discussed making “Jedi” as they were finishing filming on their soon-to-be-mega-hit “Raiders of the Lost Ark” but, as producer Howard Kazanjian remembers, “If ‘Empire’ had gone down the drain, we could have stopped; We hadn’t spent anything yet on a third one, so we were just standing out in the desert talking about the next one...”

By accessing the literary archives at Lucasfilm, Rinzler documents the stresses and strains that went into the draft-by-draft thrashing out of the plot, including potential popular characters’ deaths — some of which became reality.

Lucas also was obsessed with keeping important plot points secret in the face of a rabidly interested fan base prone to “periodically pilfering” the trash cans for tidbits.

Unlike his other two “Making ofs,” Rinzler says that most of the interviews were done relying on the memories of the participants. He was able to find some contemporary 1979-80 documents including interviews with director Robert Marquand and Kazanjian done for the 1983 “Making of” paperback book. Kazanjian was re-interviewed for this book.

The trio of actors from the first two films — Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher — returned. According to Hamill, “By the time we got to ‘Jedi’ we all started to feel a little proprietary about our parts.”

Ford says that he’d wanted his character, Han Solo, to die but “George has a predisposition to happy endings.” He later pointed out, “There was no future in dead-Han toys.”

Carrie Fisher was “ambivalent” about her character’s change: ‘The princess is sweeter in this last episode. I’ve been a testy space-soldier, so single minded I’m nearly mean, for six years. And now I’m so nice and feminine, it’s almost confusing.’”

Then there were the small furry Ewoks, which were challenging to film.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this book is not the day-by-day, blow-by-blow minutia of moving making but a look at the creation of a modern film studio.

Lucas wanted freedom and creative control for his work and was practical enough to find a way to get it. During “Jedi,” he was always thinking of tight budgets; he did not want it to run over, as “Empire Strikes Back” had. Charles Weber, Lucasfilm’s president at that time, commented, “From a business standpoint, he knew everything that was going on; he knew from the very beginning what he wanted to accomplish as a corporation,” including the marketing.

One source of stress emerged during post-production: the breakup of Lucas’ marriage to his wife, Marcia. The people working for him at the time sensed the strain but weren’t sure of the cause until the announcement, which came after the film was released.

“The Making of ‘Return of the Jedi’” is filled with an abundance of unknown or seldom-scene photos. Fisher, wearing the well-known Princess Leia slave girl costume and her stunt double, Tracy Edon, were “very popular among the crew when they sunbathed, ‘like the Double-Mint Twins,’” says Rinzler. Another is of Ford, shirtless, waiting to do a scene in the Arizona desert

This book is really a look into a past that is within most older fans’ lives. The massive effort it took to do the special effects on “Jedi” would now be done faster and in the computers at Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic special effects company.

The fascination with George Lucas’ world continues. But Lucasfilm’s independence ended on Oct. 30, 2012, with the announcement that it had been sold to The Walt Disney Company. An era ended.

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“The Making of ‘Star Wars: Return of the Jedi’: The Definitive Story” by J. W. Rinzler; Del Rey/LucasBooks, NY (360 pages, $85)

Twitter: @TishWells1 email: twells@mcclatchydc.com

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