Movie Talk

The 'Return of the Jedi' That Could Have Been

Movie Talk

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'Revenge of the Jedi' alternate title poste

'Revenge of the Jedi' alternate title poster (Photo: Everett)


This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the movie that was, then wasn't called "Revenge of the Jedi."

Oh, that George Lucas.

The filmmaker who has seemingly never stopped making his own films first showcased his talent for fiddling on "Revenge," sorry, "Return of the Jedi."

When the movie hit theaters on May 25, 1983, the third and then-concluding chapter of the adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han had been known to audiences longer by its original title than its revised one thanks to ample exposure to "Revenge"-accented posters, teaser trailers, and merchandise.


It was only two months before the summertime release (timed to the fifth anniversary of "Star Wars") that "Revenge" became "Return"; it was said Lucas acquiesced to fans who found vengeance a motive unbecoming a Jedi. (Now Siths on the other hand...)

Here's a look at more "Return of the Jedi" could-have-beens (and shouldn't-have-beens):


Han Solo Gets Killed (or, Possibly, We Don't Get the Joke)

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Han Solo

Han Solo, right, and Lando Calrissian (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Everett)


While doing press amid the 1997 rerelease of "Jedi," the press-adverse Harrison Ford claimed he wanted his character, who was frozen at the end of "Empire Strikes Back," to die at the end of the second "Star Wars" sequel.

"I thought it would give the movie weight and resonance. But George Lucas was not sympathetic," Ford said, and unfortunately the oft-quoted quote doesn't let on if the actor's tongue was planted in his cheek.

There is this clue, perhaps: The sound bite ends with a jocular — too jocular? — reference to the Ewoks. Quipped Ford of Lucas: "He didn't want me killed by those teddy-bear guys."

Then again, there's also this: Ford hasn't really stopped talking about how he wanted his alter-ego offed. In 2010, he told ABC News that, unfortunately, Lucas saw no future in "dead Han toys."

(By the way, apparently you should take zero stock in the story that Lucas did want to snuff out Han's pal Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams — IMDb.com calls the notion a "Star Wars urban legend.")


Luke, Leia ... and Laura Palmer?

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Dune

'Dune' movie poster (Photo: Universal/Everett)


David Lynch ("Twin Peaks") offered that he passed on directing "Jedi" because, as it was reported at the time, "he didn't think he'd have any leeway."

Lynch wound up putting his imprint on another epic fantasy/sci-fi flick, albeit one that failed to reach the lofty heights of "Jedi" — 1984's critically assailed "Dune." (Anyone else think that film's signature monster, the sandworm, would look right at home on Tatooine?


'Return of the Psychologically Twisted Jedi?'

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 'The Fly'

From 'The Fly' (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Everett)


In 2007, David Cronenberg ("The Fly") told MTV News 9 that he, too, had gotten a nibble about directing. But in a (brief) phone call with one of Lucas' producers, he recalled, "I wasn't enthusiastic enough obviously. I didn't get a chance to think about whether it was a good idea or not. I blew it right away."

(Anyone else think Cronenberg's Brundlefly would fit in with the gangsters and bounty hunters packing Jabba's palace?)


'Return of the Guy Who Started It All?'

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George Lucas, right, and C-3PO

George Lucas, right, and C-3PO (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Everett)


Lucas, who stepped out of the director's chair for "Empire Strikes Back," also had a shot at "Jedi," but he passed. On himself.

"I was stopped by the amount of work," Lucas told People in 1983.


Luke, Leia ... and Spacehunter?!

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'Spacehunter' film poster

'Spacehunter' film poster (Photo: Columbia Pictures)


According to the same People profile on Lucas and "Jedi," Lamont Johnson, who'd directed a host of TV-movies as well as the 1983 summer entry, "Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone" (starring a pre-"Sixteen Candles" Molly Ringwald), was the runner-up to eventual directing hire Richard Marquand.

(Marquand, a journeyman director whose only major pre-"Jedi" credit was the 1981 Donald Sutherland spy drama "Eye of the Needle," would go on to direct just three more films. The most notable of those: the 1985 box-office hit thriller "Jagged Edge," starring Jeff Bridges and Glenn Close.)


Planet Wookiee

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Ewoks!

Ewoks! (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Everett)


Per "Star Wars" lore, Endor, the planet where the sun sets on the Empire, originally was to be populated by armies of Chewbacca's towering kind until it proved easier to populate the set with armies of much smaller creatures. According to some fan allegations, the Ewoks were an intentional cash grab — kid-friendly characters "designed purely make money."


The 'Poignant' Finale

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Alternate ending of 'Return of the Jedi'

Alternate ending (Photo: Screengrab/LucasFilm)


The ending that "Jedi" audiences got in 1983 was marked by smiles and Ewok song. Lucas, though, was apparently unhappy. He has famously tweaked — and tweaked — the ending through the various "Jedi" rerelease and special-edition iterations: inserting Hayden Christiansen here, excising the Ewok song there, and adding a much-despised Darth Vader "Nooo!" to protest Luke's torture at the hands of the Emperor. If only perhaps Lucas had stuck with the original plan. According to "Star Wars" and "Empire Strikes Back" producer Gary Kurtz, the original plan entailed Luke going off with Vader "to make some amends," and Leia staying on her own to rule — and, oh by the way, in that version, Luke and Leia aren't brother and sister. "His sister was someone else way over on the other side of the galaxy," Kurtz told Film Threat in 2000. "...So the story was quite a bit more poignant." At least Han lived, though.

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