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

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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