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 Dark Side: An Oral History of The Star Wars Holiday Special

Larry Heider
Larry Heider

Summer 1978: Over a year after its debut, Star Wars wasn’t through smashing box office records. Ushered back into theaters for a return engagement that July, it made $10 million in just three days. George Lucas had welded mythological structure, pioneering special effects, and a spectacular production design to create a cinematic phenomenon that redefined how studios selected and marketed big-budget spectacles. Movies would never be the same again.

Neither would television. That same month, filming began on The Star Wars Holiday Special, a 97-minute musical-variety show that featured Bea Arthur serenading a giant rat and Chewbacca’s father, Itchy, being seduced by a virtual reality image of Diahann Carroll. Originally, the show was intended to keep the property viable and licensed merchandise moving off shelves until the inevitable sequel. But with Lucas’s focus on The Empire Strikes Back and producers shrinking his galaxy for a television budget, the Holiday Special suffered. So did viewers.

Mental Floss spoke with many of the principal production team members to find out exactly how Lucas’s original intentions—a sentimental look at Chewbacca’s family during a galactic holiday celebration—turned to the Dark Side.

I. A VERY WOOKIEE CHRISTMAS


Thomas Searle via YouTube

According to onetime Lucasfilm marketing director Charles Lippincott, CBS approached Star Wars distributor 20th Century Fox in 1978 to propose a television special. Fox had seen a boost in box office returns after several aliens from the Cantina scene appeared on Donny and Marie Osmond’s variety show; CBS figured the success of the film would translate into a ratings win; Lucasfilm and Lippincott though it would be a good vehicle to push toys.

With all parties motivated to move forward, two writers—Leonard “Lenny” Ripps and Pat Proft—were brought on to write a script based on an original story by Lucas.

Leonard Ripps (Co-Writer): Pat and I spent the entire day with Lucas. He took out a legal pad and asked how many minutes were in a TV special. He wrote down numbers from one to 90. He was very methodical about it. He had at least a dozen stories he had already written, so we were just helping to fill in a world he knew everything about. His idea was basically for a Wookiee Rosh Hashanah. A furry Earth Day.

Pat Proft (Co-Writer): Wookiees played a big part of it. Stormtroopers were harassing them. I don't have the script. It sure as [hell] wasn't what it ended up being.

Ripps: Pat and I had written for mimes Shields and Yarnell, which is why we were brought on. We had written lots of non-verbal stuff. The challenge was how to get things across. Wookiees aren’t articulate. Even in silent movies, you had subtitles. Whatever we wrote, it wasn’t tongue-in-cheek.


Thomas Searle via YouTube

Proft and Ripps delivered their script several weeks after the meeting. It focused on a galactic holiday celebrated by all species, with the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk selected to host the festivities that year. Chewbacca’s family—father Itchy, wife Malla, and son Lumpy—were introduced, with the writers leaving gaps for executive producers Dwight Hemion and Gary Smith to insert celebrity guest stars and musical acts. For the latter, Hemion and Smith turned to producers Ken and Mitzie Welch to arrange original songs and enlist talent.

Elle Puritz (Assistant to the Producer): I was working for the Welches at the time. I remember hearing, “OK, we’re going to do a Star Wars holiday special,” and everyone laughing about it. I thought it was a terrible idea.

Miki Herman (Lucasfilm Consultant): Lippincott requested I be involved with the special. I did a lot of ancillary projects. I knew all the props, all the actors. I hired Stan Winston to create the Wookiee family. [Sound effects artist] Ben Burtt and I were there to basically provide authenticity, to make sure everything was kept in context.

George Lucas (via Empire, 2009): Fox said, "You can promote the film by doing the TV special." So I kind of got talked into doing the special.

Ripps: Lucas told us Han Solo was married to a Wookiee but that we couldn’t mention that because it would be controversial.

Herman: I do remember Gary Smith saying they wanted to have Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ann-Margret involved, high-caliber people that were popular.

Puritz: Ken and Mitzie called Bea Arthur. They wrote a song with her in mind.


Thomas Searle via YouTube

Ripps: It never occurred to us to get Bea Arthur. We spent just that one day with Lucas, then got put in touch with [director] David Acomba. Our notion was Acomba was very much Lucas’s guy, so he spoke for Lucas.

Acomba was a Canadian filmmaker who had coincidentally gone to the University of Southern California around the same time as Lucas, though the two never crossed paths at the time. Lippincott knew him, however, and hired him to direct the special in keeping with Lucas’s spirit of finding talent outside the Hollywood system.

Larry Heider (Camera Operator): David came out of a rock 'n' roll world, a documentary world. Smith and Hemion had three different projects going on at the same time, so I think they felt they wouldn’t have time to direct just this one thing.

Puritz: David wasn’t used to shooting television. Using five cameras, everything shooting at the same time. He was very indignant about his own lack of knowledge, and he did not get along with the Welches.

Ripps: I got the impression it was not what he wanted, and had turned into something he didn’t want to do. I don’t want to say he was overwhelmed, but it would’ve been overwhelming for anyone.

II. FORCING IT


Thomas Searle via YouTube

With a budget of roughly $1 million—the 1977 film cost $11 millionThe Star Wars Holiday Special began filming in Burbank, California in the summer of 1978 with a script that had been heavily revised by variety show veterans Bruce Vilanch, Rod Warren, and Mitzie Welch to reflect the Smith-Hemion style of bombastic musical numbers and kitsch. Chewbacca was now trying to race home in time for “Life Day,” with his family watching interstellar musical interludes and comedic sketches—like a four-armed Julia Child parody—on a video screen. 

Ripps: Lucas wanted a show about the holiday. Vilanch and everyone, they were wonderful writers, but they were Carol Burnett writers. In the litany of George’s work, there was never kitsch. Star Wars was always very sincere about Star Wars.

Herman: Personally, I was not a fan of Harvey Korman, Bea Arthur, or Art Carney. That wasn’t my generation. But they had relationships with Dwight Hemion and the Welches.

Heider: Bea Arthur was known for being a little cold and demanding. When she was asked to do something a second time, she wanted someone to explain what was wrong. When the script wasn’t making sense for her to say something, she had a hard time translating all of that. She was pretty much [her television character] Maude.

Bea Arthur [via The Portland Mercury, 2005]: I didn't know what that was about at all. I was asked to be in it by the composer of that song I sang—"Goodnight, But Not Goodbye." It was a wonderful time, but I had no idea it was even a part of the whole Star Wars thing … I just remember singing to a bunch of people with funny heads.

After shooting the Cantina scene, it became apparent that Acomba was an ill fit for the constraints of a television schedule.

Heider: David was used to a single camera—run and gun, keep it moving, a real rock 'n' roll pace. This show was anything but. There were huge sets, make-up, costumes. It was slow-paced, and it got to him.

Ripps: I didn’t go down for the filming, but Pat went down. He has a story.

Proft: Took my kid for the Cantina scene. All the characters from the bar were there. However, they forgot [to pump] oxygen into the masks. Characters were fainting left and right.

Heider: Characters would walk around onstage with just their shirts on to stay cool. We were shooting in a very warm part of the year in Los Angeles, and it was difficult, especially with the Wookiees. They took a lot more breaks than they had calculated.

Ripps: I knew how frustrated David was. It wasn’t his vision. He phoned me up and said, “I’m not going to be working on this anymore.”

Acomba left after only shooting a handful of scenes. A frantic Smith phoned Steve Binder, a director with extensive experience in television—he had overseen the famous Elvis ’68 Comeback Special—and told him he needed someone to report to the set the following Monday morning.

Steve Binder (Director): I was between projects and got a call from Gary basically saying they had completely shut down in Burbank and there was talk of shutting it down for good. The first thing I realized was, they had built this phenomenal Chewbacca home on a huge film stage, but it was a 360-degree set. There was no fourth wall to remove to bring multiple cameras into the home. I would think it would be impossible for a crew to even get into the set to shoot anything.

Puritz: I think David was part of that plan.

Heider: I remember when that happened. I don’t think it was David’s idea. It was the way it was conceived by producers on how to make this look really cool, but it didn’t work. You have no lighting control. Steve got it. He’s really a pro. There’s no ego.

Binder: They FedExed me the script. The first thing I looked at was, the first 10 minutes was done with basically no dialogue from the actors. It was strictly Chewbacca sounds. The sound effects people would use bear sounds for the voicing. It concerned me, but there was no time to start changing the script.

Ripps: We had concerns about that. But George said, "This is the story I want to tell."

Binder: The Chewbacca family could only be in the costumes for 45 minutes. Then they’d have the heads taken off, and be given oxygen. It slowed everything down. The suits were so physically cumbersome and heavy. The actress playing Lumpy [Patty Maloney], when she came in, I don’t think she was more than 80 or 90 pounds and she a lost tremendous amount of weight while filming.

In addition to guest stars Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman, and Art Carney, Lucasfilm approached most of the principals from the feature for cameo appearances. Feeling indebted to Lucas, they agreed to participate—reluctantly.

Puritz: They had made this big movie, and now they’re doing a TV special. Carrie Fisher did not want to be there.

Herman: They didn’t love doing TV. At that time, movie actors didn’t do TV. There was a stigma against it.


Thomas Searle via YouTube

Heider: Harrison Ford was not happy to be there at all. Carrie Fisher, I think part of her deal was she got to sing a song, and that was her draw to it. Because Lucas was involved, and if another movie is coming out in two years, there’s pressure to keep going. So they showed up, on time. Mostly.

Binder: My recall with the whole cast was that there was a little mumbling going on with a few of the actors who felt they should’ve been compensated more for the movie. I think Lucas did do that after the special, giving them small percentages.

Heider: We were doing a scene where Ford was sitting in the Millennium Falcon and he just wanted to get his lines done and he made that very clear. “Can we just do this? How long is this going to take?”

Harrison Ford (via press tour, 2011): It was in my contract. There was no known way to get out of it.

Heider: Mark Hamill was a good guy. He just had that normal-guy-trying-to-work vibe.

Mark Hamill (via Reddit, 2014): I thought it was a mistake from the beginning. It was just unlike anything else in the Star Wars universe. And I initially said that I didn't want to do it, but George said it would help keep Star Wars in the consciousness and I wanted to be a team player, so I did it. And I also said that I didn't think Luke should sing, so they cut that number.

Herman: I worked with the actors on a lot of the ancillary stuff. Honestly, they were just all so dopey.

III. BUILDING BOBA FETT


TheSWHolidaySpecial via YouTube

 

Before Acomba departed the production, he and Lucas reached out to a Canadian animation company, Nelvana, to prepare a nine-minute cartoon that would formally introduce one of the characters from The Empire Strikes Back: Boba Fett. The bounty hunter originated from a design for an unused Stormtrooper by production designers Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie; he was intended to make public appearances in the interim between films, initially popping up at the San Anselmo County Fair parade in September of 1978.

Michael Hirsh (Nelvana Co-Founder): David knew me personally. Lucas watched a special of ours, A Cosmic Christmas, that was just coming on air at the time. He asked people on his crew, including David, who we were. David said, "Oh, I know these guys." We were not a well-known company at time.

Clive Smith (Nelvana Co-Founder, Animation Director): Lucas supplied a script that he wrote. I think I probably had about two weeks to storyboard, then start character designs.

Hirsh: Frankly, I think the cartoon was more along the lines of what Lucas wanted to do in the first place—if he did the special, there was a possibility Fox and CBS would fund Star Wars cartoons. The variety show itself wasn’t something he was particularly interested in.

Smith: We ended up shooting slides of each storyboard frame. There must’ve been 300 to 400 frames. I loaded them up, put myself on a plane, and went down to San Francisco and did a presentation with a slide projector. I was in this room of people who were absolutely silent. Things that were funny, not a whimper or murmur. But at the end, George clapped.

Hirsh: CBS wanted him to use one of the L.A. studios, like Hanna-Barbera, who did most of the Saturday morning cartoons. But Lucas, from the beginning of his career, had a thing for independent companies, people who weren’t in L.A. The style of animation was modeled after [French artist] Jean “Moebius” Geraud, at Lucas’s request.


TheSWHolidaySpecial via YouTube

Smith: A lot of the designs and characters were inspired by Moebius, who did a lot of work for Heavy Metal magazine. We thought it was a good direction to point ourselves in. At the time, there was no Star Wars animation to follow.

Hirsh: There was a big deal made about the introduction of Boba Fett.

Smith: We needed to design Boba Fett, and all we had was some black and white footage of a costumed actor who had been photographed in someone’s backyard moving around. We took what was there and turned it into a graphic idea.

Hirsh: I directed the voice sessions. Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) had the most dialogue, and the other actors came in for short sessions. Harrison Ford and the other performers generally came in and nailed lines, whereas Mark Hamill was anxious to try different things. [Hamill would go on to a successful career in voiceover work.]

Herman: Michael got upset when I told him Princess Leia wore a belt. It was part of her costume, and they didn’t have it. Redoing it was going to cost them a lot of money.

Hirsh: That’s possible. Lucas was happy with how it turned out. After the special, we stayed in touch and we were developing a project with Lucasfilm and the Bee Gees. Nothing ever came of it.

IV. SPACING OUT


Thomas Searle via YouTube

Nelvana had a relatively smooth journey to the finish line compared to the live-action production team. By the time Binder was prepared to shoot the climactic “Life Day” celebration with the entire cast and a group of robed Wookiees, there was virtually no money in the budget left for a large-scale spectacle.

Binder: No one ever mentioned there was no set for the closing. I was told by the art director we had no money for it in the budget. So I said, "No problem, just go out and buy every candle you can find in the store." We filled an empty stage with candles. I had experimented with this on another special, maybe a Victor Borge ice skating show. Candles in a dark environment give off an incredibly creative effect.

Herman: The sad truth is, everyone was so overwhelmed. Ken and Mitzie knew that last scene was a disaster. They came to me saying, "Help us." But George was out of the picture. It was a runaway production.

Ripps: Acomba and Lucas had walked away from it. They weren’t there to fight for anything.

Lucas: It just kept getting reworked and reworked, moving away into this bizarre land. They were trying to make one kind of thing and I was trying to make another, and it ended up being a weird hybrid between the two.

Heider: They were spending a lot of money for stage rental, lighting, a TV truck, and everyone was putting in really long hours. It translated into a big below-line budget problem. 

Herman: Honestly, a set wasn’t going to save that scene. All the Wookiees were wearing [consumer licensee] Don Post masks.

Premiering November 17, 1978, The Star Wars Holiday Special was seen by 13 million viewers, a significant but not overly impressive audience for the three-network television landscape of the era. It came in second to The Love Boat on ABC for its first hour, with a marked drop-off following the conclusion of the cartoon at the halfway point. Gurgling, apron-clad Wookiees, low-budget Imperial threats—they do nothing more sinister than trash Lumpy’s room—and an appearance by Jefferson Starship proved too bizarre for viewers.

Binder: I felt you have to open with a bang, really grab the audience, make it worth their time to sit and watch. The opening scene going on as long as it did was a killer for the TV audience.

Ripps: I had no idea what had happened to it. When it was broadcast, I had a party at my house and ordered catering. After the first commercial, I turned it off and said, "Let’s eat."

Binder: The day I finished shooting, I was on to other projects. It’s the only show I never edited or supervised the editing of. The Welches had the whole weight of the unedited special in their hands, and I questioned how much experience they had at that given they were songwriters.

Heider: Somebody made choices in terms of how long each scene would be on TV, and it's really painful.

Herman: I remember I was moving to Marin County the next day. I was staying at a friend’s house, and their son was a Star Wars fan. I had given him all the toys. Watching him watch it, he was really bored.

Binder: What I realized was, the public was not told this wasn’t going to be Star Wars. It was not the second movie. It was going to be a TV show to sell toys to kids. That was the real purpose of the show. It had nowhere near the budget of a feature film. [Lucasfilm and Kenner produced prototype action figures of Chewbacca’s family; they were never released.]

Heider: I didn’t watch it when it was on, but I do have a copy I bought several years ago on eBay. It’s not a great copy, but it’s enough to show how it was cut together. I haven’t been able to sit through whole thing at one time.

Herman: George hated it, but he knew there was nothing he could do about it.


Thomas Searle via YouTube

Binder: I never met Lucas, never got a phone call, anything. Which was disappointing to me. It was his show, he developed it. To totally walk away from it and critique it negatively was, I felt, not cool.

Ripps: One of the reasons I took the job was I thought it would be an annuity. Every year, I’d get a check for Star Wars.

Hirsh: I did watch it. I was happy with our contribution. It was a phenomenal opportunity for our little company. We got to work on the Droids and Ewoks animated shows later on.

Ripps: I still go out to dinners on the stories. Once, at a dinner party, one of the waiters had Star Wars tattoos up and down both of his arms. When he found out I wrote the special, we got better service than anyone in the restaurant.

Lucas: I’m sort of amused by it, because it is so bizarre. It's definitely avant garde television. It's definitely bad enough to be a classic.

Herman: The interesting thing is, the day after the special aired was the day of the Jonestown Massacre. It was just a bad time for everyone.

Dwight Hemion (via NPR, 2002): It was the worst piece of crap I’ve ever done.

This article originally ran in 2015.

YouTube Is Now Streaming Free Movies—as Long as You'll Sit Through Some Ads

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iStock.com/hocus-focus

If Netflix doesn’t have that movie you’ve been wanting to watch, try searching YouTube instead. The popular video platform is now streaming feature-length movies for free, but you’ll have to endure ads “at regular intervals,” The Verge reports.

The selection is limited to just 100 films for now, but YouTube plans to expand its offerings at a later date. They’re mostly older action films and rom-coms, but there are some crowd-pleasers on offer, including the first five Rocky movies, The Terminator, a few Pink Panther films, and Legally Blonde.

You can find these gratis selections in YouTube’s “Free to Watch” category, which was quietly rolled out last month. It falls under the Movies & Shows section, which was previously reserved for renting and buying movies.

"We saw this opportunity based on user demand, beyond just offering paid movies,” Rohit Dhawan, YouTube's director of product management, told AdAge. It’s also a good opportunity for advertisers, he added. This could pave the way for companies to start sponsoring movies, resulting in exclusive screenings for YouTube viewers.

According to Gizmodo, YouTube's ability to offer free movies stems from its already-existing partnerships with major Hollywood studios. And YouTube isn’t the only company trying to become a bigger player in the streaming market. Nickelodeon launched its NickSplat channel earlier this year, and Disney plans to release its Disney+ service in 2019.

Meanwhile, Amazon's Prime Video has grown to become a worthy rival of Netflix. As of September, it had the largest movie library of all the major streaming platforms, with more than 10,700 films in its collection.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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