10 Interesting Things I Learned from The Making of Return of the Jedi

Eric Geller | October 1, 2013

The Making of Return of the Jedi

Today sees the release of J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Return of the Jedi, an epic tome chronicling the years of hard work that went into the last film in the original Star Wars trilogy. Rinzler, executive editor at Lucasfilm, had unprecedented access to the source materials, concept art, and handwritten notes in the Lucasfilm Archives, and his extensive research shines through in the pages of this book.

It’s a safe bet that most readers of this blog know that Blue Harvest was the code name for Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. When it comes to Episode VI trivia, however, Blue Harvest is just the tip of the iceberg. Even 30 years after Jedi hit theaters, there are still little-known factoids and stories waiting to be discovered in this book. To celebrate its release, I want to share 10 interesting things that this book taught me about the making of Return of the Jedi. While I was working on this post, io9 published their own list, but several of their factoids were fairly common knowledge already. Hopefully you will find that this list digs a little deeper.

1. Director Richard Marquand and writer Lawrence Kasdan designed most of the plan to free Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt.

Thanks to a transcript of a story conference that included George Lucas, Richard Marquand, Lawrence Kasdan, and producer Howard Kazanjian, it becomes clear that most of the mechanics for how Luke, Leia, Lando, Chewbacca, Han, and the droids would make their escape from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt came not from Lucas but from his producer and his writer. (Pages 66-68)

MARQUAND: Can I suggest that Lando is actually in Jabba’s in disguise, that he has infiltrated?

KASDAN: The real problem is to figure out a plan; if you figure out a plan you can stick those people in anywhere you want.

MARQUAND: What if the next arrival is Chewie in chains, with a bounty hunter, which is in fact Leia dressed up. Luke’s not there yet.

LUCAS: I could go with that.

KASDAN: Then it’s a great Shakespearean court scene: girl dressed up as a boy. To work back from the skiff, I was wondering if Artoo, when Luke says these droids are my gift to you, instead of putting Artoo to work as a janitor, which is not doing that much good for us, what if Bib says, “We need a translator and Artoo is perfect for our barge where we lost our Artoo unit,” which is part of Luke’s plan.

[…]

KASDAN: How do you feel about [Leia] being the one that causes Jabba’s death?

LUCAS: That I could go for. She could strangle him.

MARQUAND: With the chain.

[…]

KASDAN: Why don’t the guards just shoot Luke? How is he fighting them?

LUCAS: Well part of it would be fun if he could fight them with his lazer sword, except I don’t know how he could get his sword in the middle of all this.

KASDAN: But that could be part of his plan — what if Artoo had it secluded in his —

LUCAS: That would be a good idea.

MARQUAND: That is brilliant. I love it.

KASDAN: Luke’s plan gets better and better, because Artoo is on the deck and he goes over to this little cubbyhole and ejects the lazer sword.

2. There was breastfeeding in production meetings.

Costume designer Aggie Rodgers had given birth to a boy shortly before she started working on Return of the Jedi. “She used to bring her baby, James, to the production meetings and breast-feed him,” Jedi co-producer Jim Bloom recalled. “It used to drive Howard crazy, to have this baby boy sucking this woman’s breast in the middle of a production meeting. He used to complain about it, but she would say, ‘Well, what am I supposed to do? My son is hungry.’” (Page 80)

3. Mark Hamill wanted a girlfriend for Luke.

Rinzler writes that “Hamill had given Lucas a coffee-table science-fiction book and in the inscription had asked him to choose Luke’s girlfriend from the tome. He’d figured if Luke wasn’t going to get Leia, his character should have a romance with somebody else.” (Page 86)

It really makes you wonder how different Jedi might have been if Lucas had acquiesced. Ironically, in the Expanded Universe, one of the Emperor’s top servants was secretly watching Luke during his visit to Jabba’s palace: Mara Jade, Luke’s future wife.

4. Fan speculation was just as intense (and occasionally absurd) back then as it is now.

During preproduction on Jedi, “a nonstop deluge of letters” flowed into the offices of the official Star Wars Fan Club, which ranked the rumors that fans had proposed. The most popular of those were: “Darth Vader kills Luke; Luke turns to the dark side; Luke kills Vader; and Han is rescued, then killed.” (Page 89)

These don’t sound so crazy, right? Well, then there was this: “Fans also thought that the Emperor might kill Luke and that Boba Fett was either a beautiful woman, Luke’s father, or, perhaps, Luke’s mother.”

Imagine for a moment if Luke had used the Force to grab Boba Fett as he spiraled to his death in the Sarlacc pit, whisked him back onto a skiff, and then pulled off the man’s helmet to reveal –– “Mom?!” Talk about a bad time for a family reunion. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s really the only way to make Luke Skywalker’s family soap opera more dramatic.

5. Thank Richard Marquand for everybody’s favorite Rebel military leader.

Admiral Ackbar concept art.

Admiral Ackbar started as an anonymous alien in a concept sketch by Nilo Rodis-Jamero.

During a production meeting where Lucas, Marquand, and others divided up their coterie of aliens between foreground and background creatures, Lucas offered Marquand the chance to create a legend:

“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.’ I said, ‘George, I think this should be your decision. He’s one of your new characters here.’ And he said, ‘No, you choose.’” (Page 59)

Marquand proceeded to select “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.” It was a painting by concept artist Nilo Rodis-Jamero.

According to Marquand, “One or two people around the table, who shall be nameless, said they thought it was a terrible idea: ‘People are just going to laugh when they see this guy.’”

Well, at least that never happened.

6. Salacious Crumb was basically everyone’s favorite part of the movie.

Richard Marquand “talks” to Salacious Crumb (presumably the hidden puppeteer could hear).

Richard Marquand “talks” to Salacious Crumb (presumably the hidden puppeteer could hear).

Sometimes magical things can happen in a model shop. “One day I came in and here was Salacious and I fell in love with Salacious,” George Lucas said. (Page 102) Anthony Daniels echoed that sentiment when he said, “Salacious Crumb is my favorite character. This little glove puppet was keeping me amused during the endless waits between takes.” (Page 140) Jedi chief articulation engineer Stuart Ziff succinctly summarized the cast and crew’s feelings about Crumb when he telexed a message from the London set to Industrial Light & Magic back in the United States: “Salacious stealing show.”

Bonus trivia: Salacious Crumb got his name from a combination of sources. Jedi puppeteer Phil Tippett and his crew went out to lunch one day and downed “a couple pitchers of beer.” As he was bending down to tie his shoes, he told the group, “Wait a minute guys while I tie my soolacious,” tipsily mangling the word “shoelaces.” After initially rejecting the name for the creature, Lucas changed his mind, but not before making a final modification. He changed it to Salacious Crumb, “in homage to the underground adult comic book artist Robert Crumb, known for drawing well-proportioned women.” That guy probably would have had a lot of artistic inspiration in Jabba’s palace. (Page 101)

7. Gandhi auditioned for Palpatine and Snape auditioned for Jerjerrod.

Ben Kingsley, who played the title role in the 1982 film Gandhi, read for the role of Emperor Palpatine and “was considered ‘very English.’” (Page 116) I’m not sure if any actor could handle the whiplash of going from nonviolent disobedience one year to planet-destroying megalomania the next.

Alan Rickman, who was admittedly still 20 years away from playing Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series, auditioned to play Moff Jerjerrod supervising construction of the second Death Star with a “big, slow, low voice.” (Page 117) One imagines him whipping those engineers and contractors into shape by barking orders such as, “Turn to page 394.”

8. Mark Hamill was the original Wars partisan in the battle of the Star franchises.

It’s no secret that Industrial Light & Magic did the visual effects work on many of the Star Trek movies. Indeed, in its early years, ILM stayed financially solvent by taking on several outside projects at a time, even as its graphics wizards prepared for the final film in the original Star Wars trilogy. What wasn’t known until the release of this book was that Mark Hamill took notice of ILM’s equal-opportunity space franchise work and brought it up with George Lucas:

“When Hamill heard ILM was working on Star Trek II, he protested to Lucas, ‘You traitors! George, how could you do that?’ To which Lucas replied, ‘It’s a business kid.’” (Page 118)

Some readers may be tempted to assume that Hamill’s disgust was real. I would only remind you that Hamill is quite good at joking.

9. Principal photography on Jedi got off to an inauspicious start.

Return of the Jedi's deleted sandstorm scene.

Shooting the sandstorm scene are Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), on Monday, January 11, 1982—the first day of principal photography at Elstree Studios.

I’m sure that anyone who was there for the first day of filming will always remember what it was like when production officially commenced. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because everything went as planned. The first scene to be filmed involved the heroes trekking back to the Millennium Falcon in a huge sandstorm after escaping Jabba’s sail barge. But when Marquand shouted “Action!” for the first time, according to The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi author and on-set documentarian John Philip Peecher:

R2-D2 veers off course and careens into a rock. The first camera team doesn’t hear the “action” command over the noise of the wind machines and is still waiting to start. And, finally, the sand blow is so successful it obscures almost everything anyway. (Page 123)

10. “By Madine’s Beard!” The Rebel general’s facial hair was dictated by a Kenner action figure.

Dermot Crowley did not have a beard when he walked onto the set of Return of the Jedi to film his scenes as General Crix Madine in the Rebel briefing room. “The very first morning I was presented with this beard,” Crowley recalled later. “People were quite insistent, so we went with the beard.” Why had the crew been so insistent? As Rinzler writes, “Kenner had already begun preproduction on his character…and the toy had a beard, so Crowley had to match.” (Page 147)

Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you to pick up The Making of Return of the Jedi by J.W. Rinzler. Not only is it a fantastic conclusion to Rinzler’s trilogy of behind-the-scenes volumes, but it’s a fitting way to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Jedi’s release.

In fact, with Star Wars Reads Day II happening this Saturday, October 5, that would be the perfect time to head down to your local bookstore –– they might even be hosting a Star Wars Reads Day event –– and flip through this book. As you enjoy this literary “return to Jedi,” you’ll discover new and interesting stories about the making of the movie.

All images © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Eric Geller is a college student with a political science major who co-hosts The ForceCast podcast, manages social media for TheForce.Net, and writes The Clone Wars reviews for TFN. You can follow him on Twitter and read his TCW reviews here.

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