16 Surprising Facts About Return of the Jedi

Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

After the massive success of the 1977 original, and the downer ending of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, space opera mastermind George Lucas returned in 1983 to produce what everyone thought would be the final installment of Star Wars. Boy, were they wrong. In honor of the film’s 35th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about the making of Return of the Jedi.

1. CONTRARY TO LEGEND, RETURN OF THE JEDI WAS THE MOVIE’S ORIGINAL TITLE.

When it came time to decide on the title of the third entry in the Star Wars saga, creator George Lucas settled on Return of the Jedi. But co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and film studio 20th Century Fox thought it was too bland, so the collaborators decide to change the title to Revenge of the Jedi.

The title stuck all the way through production up to the early marketing of the movie, with a teaser trailer and posters sporting the “Revenge” moniker. But Lucas realized a Jedi technically doesn’t seek revenge in the mythology he created, so the title was changed back to Return of the Jedi before the movie opened on May 25, 1983.

Lucas eventually used the “Revenge of” naming convention on the third prequel in the saga, 2005’s Revenge of the Sith.

2. RETURN OF THE JEDI WAS CALLED SOMETHING DIFFERENT ON PURPOSE.

The fandom frenzy surrounding the third—and supposedly final—installment of the saga was at such a fever pitch, with cast, crew members, and the public willing to leak any new information about the storyline they could, Lucas intentionally named the movie something completely different during filming.

He chose the fake title “Blue Harvest”—a play on the 1929 Dashiell Hammett novel, Red Harvest—and even featured the fake tagline (“Horror Beyond Imagination”) to throw fans off the trail, as well as to help keep production costs down on the blockbuster so location scouts wouldn’t be price gouged if certain locations were chosen for the production.

The title eventually found its way back into official Star Wars lore as the episode title of the twelfth episode of the first season of the Ewoks animated series in 1985.

3. GEORGE LUCAS WANTED TO GO TO WHERE THE EMPIRE BEGAN.

The movie was supposed to give audiences their first look at the Empire's home world of Had Abbadon. This city-planet—an idea that would later be extrapolated into Coruscant in the Prequel Trilogy—was supposed to be ground zero for much of the film's climax, including the lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader in the Emperor's throne room.

Unfortunately, early 1980s logistics got in the way, and despite all the ILM wizardry up until that point, they couldn’t come up with a proper way to make a feasible effect look good. Plus, sets, models, or matte paintings would cost too much.

“We worked on this Imperial City [for] a long time,” conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie said in the book, The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. “It’s elaborate and quite pretty. But you can only do a little bit of this or that."

4. SOME BIG NAMES WERE ON THE SHORTLIST TO DIRECT RETURN OF THE JEDI.

Lucas originally wanted his friend Steven Spielberg to direct Jedi, but because Lucas decided to make his films outside the purview of the Directors Guild of America during the making of The Empire Strikes Back, prominent DGA member Spielberg had to turn it down.

Lucas’s next choice was David Lynch, who was fresh off a Best Director Oscar nomination for The Elephant Man. Lynch took a meeting at Lucasfilm about the job, where he saw concept art and “other creatures.” Lucas then took Lynch for a joyride in his Ferrari to a vegetarian restaurant “that only served salads.” According to Lynch, “That’s when I got almost a migraine headache, and I could hardly wait to get home.” One year after Return of the Jedi hit theaters, Lynch’s big-screen adaptation of another sci-fi epic, Frank Herbert’s Dune, was released.

Next on the list was body horror maestro David Cronenberg, who had just come off of the splatter classic Scanners, but he also turned Lucas down to write and direct Videodrome.

Lucas eventually picked Welsh director Richard Marquand because of his work on the 1981 WWII spy thriller Eye of the Needle.

5. RETURN OF THE JEDI INSPIRED THE PREQUELS.

Mark Hamill stars as Luke Skywalker
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

An early story meeting between Lucas, Kasdan, and producer Howard Kazanjian essentially mapped out the Prequel Trilogy. “Anakin Skywalker starting hanging out with the Emperor, who at this point nobody knew was that bad, because he was an elected official,” said Lucas, to which Kasdan responded, “Was he a Jedi?”

“No, he was a politician. Richard M. Nixon was his name,” Lucas said. “He subverted the senate and finally took over and became an imperial guy and he was really evil. But he pretended to be a really nice guy. He sucked Luke’s father into the dark side."

6. FAN SPECULATION WAS AS INSANE BACK THEN AS IT IS NOW.

While fan speculation is nothing more than a click away now, it’s nothing new. The official Star Wars Fan Club was in full swing in 1983, and the Lucasfilm staff received tons of letters from fans speculating on any number of out-there rumors about what they thought would happen.

Rumors around the release of the film included how Boba Fett was a beautiful woman assassin in disguise who turned out to be Luke’s mother or that the Emperor was a clone of Obi-Wan. “I love the list of rumors,” Mark Hamill told JW Rinzler in his book, The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. “One of my favorites is that Solo and Vader are somehow fused, so I can’t kill one without killing the other.”

7. IT CHANGED THE WAY WE HEAR MOVIES.

The blockbuster credit featuring a slowly building deafening sound punctuated by the letters “T-H-X” is near-ubiquitous these days, but Return of the Jedi was the first film to use the cutting-edge movie sound certification.

This was born when Lucas, after months of sound mixing and putting finishing touches on special effects, wanted to screen the third Star Wars movie at the Marina Theater, his favorite cinema in San Francisco, to get a full cinema experience. But during the screening, the sound mix was off, and dialogue and sound effects weren’t correct. When he and his team got back to Lucasfilm they realized it wasn’t a problem with the print—the problem was with the theater’s faulty audio standards. So they devised a set of audio criteria for theaters to be able to show certain blockbuster films that they dubbed “THX Certification,” inspired by Lucas’s debut film, THX 1138.

The specifications included directions that theaters “must be acoustically neutral — non-reverberant — to prevent sonic reflections from muddying dialogue; and (their) sound systems must reproduce substantial deep bass throughout the hall.”

8. YODA WAS ORIGINALLY LEFT OUT.

Yoda from 'Star Wars'
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Marquand requested Lucas and Kasdan include Yoda in Return of the Jedi, even though the co-screenwriters were going to leave the little green Jedi out altogether.

The original idea was to begin the film after Luke had completed his training with Yoda on Dagobah, but Marquand insisted they restructure the story so that audiences wouldn’t feel cheated for not seeing Luke’s Jedi training. Lucas also reportedly agreed to include Yoda because he needed an independent character to confirm Darth Vader's claim to audiences that he is, in fact, Luke Skywalker's father.

9. ADMIRAL ACKBAR WAS A FLUKE.

Marquand chose the squid-like design of Admiral Ackbar during a pre-production meeting. “George suddenly said to me, ‘Who’s going to play Admiral Ackbar? I just decided he should be a creature, so you can pick out Admiral Ackbar,’” Marquand said. “I said, ‘George, I think this should be your decision. He’s one of your new characters here.’ And he said, ‘No, you choose.’”

Marquand then selected a design by concept artist Nilo Rodis-Jamero, which was “the most delicious, wonderful creature out of the whole lot, this great big wonderful Calamari man with a red face and eyes on the side."

10. THERE WAS NO LOVE FOR THE EWOKS.

Warwick Davis in 'Return of the Jedi' (1983)
Lucasfilm

It seems everybody on the production except Lucas hated the Ewoks, the furry inhabitants of Endor. Cast and crew detested what they thought was a marketing cash grab, especially the final dance scene.

Ralph McQuarrie refused to work on designs for them once he realized what Lucas actually wanted. “They were starting to look teddy bear-like and I wasn’t for that. So I gave them three or four drawings that I thought were right on and said, ‘That’s it. Now if you don’t like those, I’m out of this competition.’”

The name “Ewoks” were inspired by the Miwoks (meaning “people,” a Native American tribe that lived in Marin and southern Sonoma County in Northern California).

11. THE FILMMAKERS WANTED A MOVIE STAR TO BE THE UNMASKED VADER.

By the time Return of the Jedi was released, fans had been waiting to catch a glimpse of the face of the evil Darth Vader. What they got when the dark lord of the Sith finally removed his mask was the face of 78-year-old British actor, director, novelist, playwright, and poet Sebastian Shaw. But the Royal Shakespeare Company performer and World War II vet wasn’t the filmmakers’ first choice.

Lucas and Marquand originally wanted to have a recognizable face staring back at audiences after the unmasking, and attempted to cast a well-known movie star like Laurence Olivier or John Gielgud to make a cameo as Vader. But after pre-production story sessions, they changed their minds and thought a nondescript person would make for a better impact in the moment.

12. FRANK OZ DIDN’T PLAY YODA ... KIND OF.

John Lithgow played Yoda in the radio adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

13. OBI-WAN AND YODA WERE SUPPOSED TO COME BACK TO LIFE.

Lucas’s preferred ending would have included Obi-Wan and Yoda effectively being resurrected as Force ghosts from what the script calls the “netherworld” to celebrate the end of the Empire. In several script drafts, Obi-Wan and Yoda also coach Luke through his fight when he confronts Vader on the second Death Star.

In Lucas’s June 12, 1981 draft, Obi-Wan tells Luke, “I am here … to help you destroy the Emperor, and ... your father,” with Luke responding, “I can’t.” Later Yoda emerges and says, “You can and you will ... I in the netherworld and Obi-Wan at your side. Help you we will.”

These scenes were cut for various reasons, with one being that a then nearly 70-year-old Alec Guinness couldn’t effectively travel or partake in fight scenes. Upon being asked to do his single scene on Dagobah for Return of the Jedi, Guinness noted in his biography: “It’s a rotten, dull little bit, but it would have been mean of me to refuse."

14. THE SAGA COULD HAVE ENDED VERY DIFFERENTLY.

During an early story meeting with Kasdan, Lucas pitched an idea for Return of the Jedi that would have ended the saga on a very dark note.

In the scenario, Luke and Vader engage in a lightsaber battle only to have Vader sacrifice himself to save his son and kill the Emperor—much like in the final film. But then, as Luke watches Vader die, Lucas suggested that, "Luke takes his mask off. The mask is the very last thing—and then Luke puts it on and says, 'Now I am Vader,’” with Kasdan responding, “That’s what I think should happen.” But the pair decided to scrap a second downer ending after The Empire Strikes Back, and went with the happy ending after all.

15. BOUSHH IS JUST E.T.

The voice of Boushh, Princess Leia's bounty hunter disguise when she’s trying to free Han Solo from Jabba's Palace, is Pat Welsh, the same radio actress who was the voice of E.T. in 1982's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

16. LUCAS GOT RID OF A TON OF SPECIAL EFFECTS LATE IN THE GAME.

When Lucas and editors Sean Barton, Duwayne Dunham, and Marcia Lucas delivered a cut of the film in November 1982, it forced the special effects teams at ILM to restructure key sequences totaling up to 100 visual effects shots—especially in the end battle sequence. Lucas cut the shots and substituted others as a way to improve the climax of the film.

“A lot of the stuff cut was work that [visual effects artist] Ken Ralston had supervised, that they had worked months on producing,” ILM supervisor Bruce Nicholson told Rinzler. “It was called ‘Black Friday’ because it was the equivalent of the stock market crash.”

Additional Resources:

The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, by JW Rinzler

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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