Study Guide

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Behind the Scenes

  • Director

    Richard Marquand

    No Extra-Terrestrial Experience Required

    Welsh director Richard Marquand was primarily a TV director before Star Wars creator George Lucas handpicked him to direct Return of the Jedi. How did Marquand snag such a primo gig? Lucas caught a rough cut of Marquand's film Eye of the Needle, a WWII spy drama that had absolutely zero aliens in it.

    Still, Marquand was precisely who Lucas was looking for to wrap up his beloved trilogy. "I fit the bill in that it seemed like they were looking for a younger man who has a great deal of experience, can work hard and fast, make up his mind and stick to it, and run a crew very quickly," Marquand told Starlog magazine (source). With Marquand at the helm, Return of the Jedi's production was officially off and running like a speeder bike.

    First Director, Second Fiddle

    While Marquand's work ethic landed him the Jedi directing job, it was his ability to take direction that helped him keep it. Lucas, who co-wrote the film with Lawrence Kasdan, was a constant presence on set. Marquand handled the main action, shooting the principal cast, but Lucas was never far, far away—he shot second-unit footage like scenery and stunts. "It is rather like trying to direct King Lear—with Shakespeare in the next room!" Marquand joked about the experience (source).

    Since Return of the Jedi was the third film in a trilogy, the cast and crew were used to working with (and taking notes from) Lucas, even if it wasn't his butt in the director's chair. "You know, I don't really have much memory of Richard," special effects wizard Dennis Muren told

    "I remember him being around. I'm sure we had communications on things, but the communications were pretty much with George because he knew us all and Richard didn't… Richard was very nice and deferred to him, at least in front of us." (Source)

    Making his Marq

    Marquand may have known when to get out of Lucas' way, but that doesn't mean he just hung out doing crossword puzzles and snacking. Marquand was involved in Jedi's pre-production, even pulling up a chair in the writers' room. In fact, the director made several super-important contributions to Return of the Jedi's story itself.

    Marquand told Starlog:

    "There were a number of things I wanted to introduce, characters I wanted to bring into the movie. In every way, George was absolutely ready to listen and Larry [Kasdan] and I saw eye-to-eye about many new things we wanted to do." (Source)

    Chief amongst those characters Marquand wrangled into the movie is Yoda. Marquand insisted that the little green guru make an appearance in the film to confirm for Luke that Darth Vader is his dad (source).

    Totally Jedi

    Ultimately, Marquand would go on to direct just three more films after Return of the Jedi before dying of a stroke at age forty-nine, but the director left a lasting mark on the Star Wars universe.

    Marquand said:

    "The actual Star Wars saga from chapters one through nine is a total symphony… You know what I mean. I'm not making a sequel. I'm doing the third movement of a piece of music." (Source)

    Sacrificing ego for the greater good? How totally Jedi.

  • Screenwriter

    George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan

    A Restless Red Pen

    Luke Starkiller. It's got a nice—albeit kind of sinister—ring to it, right?

    Star Wars creator George Lucas is famous, and downright infamous, for making revisions to his screenplays. In early drafts of the first Star Wars film, Episode IV: A New Hope, Luke was originally a Starkiller, which sounds significantly less Jedi-riffic than the Skywalker that he would become in later drafts. Lucas' writing and rewriting efforts, which span all six of the first Star Wars films, prove that it's never too late to change your mind and flip your script.

    Third Time's the Charm

    By the time Return of the Jedi rolled around, Lucas had already knocked out two Star Wars films: A New Hope, which he wrote and directed, and The Empire Strikes Back, for which he has a story credit, which means he didn't write the script, but he came up with a heck of a lot of ideas.

    Lucas returned to full-on screenwriting with Return of the Jedi, and enlisted the help of Lawrence Kasdan. Odds are, Kasdan has written some of your favorite movies—and some of your parents' picks, too. Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Big Chill. The Bodyguard. All Kasdan screenplays.

    By the time Kasdan and Lucas got down to business on the Return of the Jedi script, they'd already collaborated twice before: on the aforementioned Raiders of the Lost Ark, as well as on Jedi's predecessor, The Empire Strikes Back. In other words, when it comes to a certain galaxy far, far away, these two dudes knew what they were doing.

    Lucas and Kasdan's past successes didn't take the pressure off the Jedi writing process—we mean, they were still trying to tie up all the loose ends of a monstrously successful trilogy—but they did squash at least some of the stress.

    "We'd proved we could [write a sequel], so now it was just a matter of doing it again," Lucas told author J. W. Rinzler. "And the second one had done really well, so we knew the third one would do really well. By then a lot of the uncertainty had been taken out of the process."

    Hundreds of millions of dollars and adoring fans worldwide will do that for you.

    Say It Ain't So-Lo!

    Lucas and Kasdan may have known they had the goods, but that doesn't mean they didn't have to duke it out over a few plot points. For example, Kasdan wanted to bump off Han Solo early in the script in order to amp up the tension and show audiences that no character was safe. Lucas said no. We all know who won that fight. Kasdan may have co-written Return of the Jedi, but, at the end of the day, the Star Wars saga is Lucas' baby.

    To Revise or Not to Revise, That is the Question

    For Return of the Jedi's rereleases in theatres and on disc, Lucas and Kasdan continued making revisions to the flick 14+ years after its release, proving that there's no such thing as "too much time" when it comes to letting your drafts cool between revisions—you know, as long as you don't have your English grade on the line.

    Take the galaxy-wide victory parties after the Rebels defeat the Empire, for example, where we see celebrations on a handful of different planets. Those scenes were added to the movie for the 1997 Special Edition rerelease, but Lucas and Kasdan had wanted to include them all along.

    Why didn't they? They couldn't think of a name for the planet that would ultimately be called Coruscant, so they junked the entire idea. "It was only after Timothy Zahn came up with the name in his Heir to The Empire novel that the Imperial Capital had a name," explains Wired's Graeme McMillan.

    Wait—there's more! Lucas made a boatload of other revisions to Return of the Jedi, like adding more musicians to Jabba's funky palace band and swapping in Hayden Christensen's young Anakin for Sebastian Shaw's older Anakin in the film's finale. Some fans were delighted and happily rolled with the changes.

    Others, not so much. In fact, some fans and critics have accused Lucas of straight-up ruining the Star Wars trilogy with his rewrites. Others have taken it upon themselves to personally restore the films to their original versions.

    Lucas' response? "It's like this is the movie I wanted it to be," he said of his revised rereleases, "and I'm sorry if you saw a half completed film and fell in love with it, but I want it to be the way I want it to be."

    In the end, whether you love Lucas'senthusiasm for revision or you loathe the Star Wars mastermind's constant tinkering with his scripts, one thing remains rock-solid. It's Lucas' movie, and he'll revise if he wants to.

  • Production Studio


    Lucasfilm is the production company behind Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and, honestly, not much else. Then again, when you're the home of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, what else do you need?

    Putting the "Special" in Special Effects

    Founded in 1971 by filmmaker George Lucas, Lucasfilm is synonymous with special effects. When production on the first Star Wars film, Episode IV: A New Hope, kicked off in 1975, Lucas started Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), a visual effects company and division of Lucasfilm that's been blowing movie buffs' minds ever since.

    Remember when the Avengers saved New York? What about when the dinosaurs ran wild through Jurassic Park? How about Davy Jones' tentacled face?

    That's all ILM, folks. The effects studio has racked up a Death Star's worth of awards including an Oscar for Special Achievement in Visual Effects for Return of the Jedi… plus fourteen other Oscars to keep the little golden guy company. It all started with Star Wars and Lucas' desire to create visual effects that nobody had ever seen before.

    Darth Mickey?

    In 2012, Lucasfilm—including ILM—was bought by Disney for $4.06.

    No, wait. We meant $4.06 billion. That's a whole lotta lightsabers.

    When news of the deal broke, the first question on film fans' minds from Detroit to Djibouti was, "But what about Star Wars?" They weren't left wondering for long. Disney's very first order of business was to announce a new Star Wars movie trilogy to pick up where Return of the Jedi left off. There was much rejoicing.

    Lucas' first order of business? Turning his attention to smaller, independent films, with nary an Ewok in sight—and taking a cozy position as a creative consultant on Episodes 7 through 9. If you prefer your numerals to be Roman, Episodes VII through IX.

    "I'm doing this so that the films will have a longer life," Lucas explained of his decision to sell off, well, everything. "I get to be a fan now... I sort of look forward to it. It's a lot more fun actually, than actually having to go out into the mud and snow" (source).

    For $4.06 billion, we'd think you could pay a team of singing unicorns to carry you through sloppy terrain, but that's beside the point. Whether he's writing, directing, or merely consulting, George Lucas will always be guy who created Lucasfilm, and Lucasfilm will always be the production company that gave the galaxy Darth Vader, Han Solo, and (yes) the Ewoks.

  • Production Design

    Special Effects

    We're going to give it to you straight: At times, the special effects in Return of the Jedi look a little dated by today's standards. But back in 1983, audiences were floored by the movie's mix of practical effects, makeup, costumes, puppetry, and pre-computer graphics.

    Third Time's a Charm

    With two Star Wars movies already in the can, the creative minds at Industrial Light and Magic were seasoned special effects pros.

    ILM's Dennis Muren explains:

    "By the time we got to Jedi, we had done a lot of work, and we had a lot of equipment. We were really set up and we knew how to do it, and then it was a matter of doing it."

    Their experience shows. Everything from the Rebels' assault on the Death Star to the speeder bike chase on Endor is seamless.

    The Perks of Being a Slug

    Creating Jabba the Hutt and his coterie of butt-ugly creatures was another story. But the visual effects team at ILM used Jabba's, um, "unique" look to their advantage. Muren said of Jabba and his cohorts:

    "There was nothing really to compare it to. There were no examples out there of what a hundred percent real creature might look like. So people were prepared for things that didn't look a hundred percent real, and you can kind of fall in love with them."

    Jabba and his gang are hardly lovable, but in their mix of rod-puppetry and elaborate makeup, they're utterly beguiling. And gross. So beguilingly gross.

    Crafting a convincing giant slug presented a distinct set of challenges, but Muren and his team used those to their advantage. Muren told's Dan Brooks:

    "We were all struggling to make the designs and the artistic side compelling enough that you wouldn't notice the limitations […] The fact that a big thing like Jabba can't move very quickly works because he's so fat. Whereas if he weren't fat, you'd be saying, "How come the guy isn't moving around," or if he is, "Why does he look kind of funny?"

    In other words, the visual effects production took Jabba's rolls and, well, rolled with them.

    To Infinity and Beyond

    Ultimately, when it comes to special effects, movies like Return of the Jedi just aren't made anymore. The Hollywood Reporter gushes, in their 1983 review:

    It looks terrific. Its special effects advance the [state] of the art by a couple of light years, [its] settings are not only huge but hugely impressive, and the costuming is rich and imaginative.

    In short, the visual effects in Return of the Jedi aren't just used to elicit a gasp or two, and they're not even used to build a world… they're used to create an entire galaxy.

  • Music (Score)

    Lush, bombastic, orchestral scores are kind of John Williams' jam. Don't believe us? Just check out the composer's resume: Jaws. E.T. Jurassic Park. Indiana Jones. Superman. Harry Potter.

    That's just the tip of the musical iceberg. Over the course of his career—which spans a whopping seven decades—Williams' name has become synonymous with blockbuster soundtracks, and he has the awards on his mantel to back it up, including twenty-two Grammys, four Golden Globes, and five Oscars. (Don't worry; John Williams probably has a really big mantel.)

    This is the Remix

    With Return of the Jedi, Williams had his work cut out for him: namely, he had to incorporate themes and motifs from his scores for the previous Star Wars movies without simply repeating them. Take "The Imperial March," for example. Originally created by Williams for The Empire Strikes Back, the theme appears three times in Return of the Jedi.

    The first two times are when Darth Vader, and later the Emperor, drop by the Death Star. In these two instances, we hear "The Imperial March" in its standard, instantly recognizable form. It's big, it's bold, it's menacing. It would definitely be Darth Vader's walk-up music if he played major league baseball.

    The third time "The Imperial March" is used, however—when Darth Vader kicks the bucket—Williams tweaks the theme to fit the scene. The formerly confident march is tiny, sad, and more than a little bit spooky. It doesn't just echo what's happening, narrative-wise, as Darth Vader asks Luke to help him remove his mask; it intensifies it. In his score for Return of the Jedi, Williams makes old new again.

    Toot Your Own Horn

    Of course, he also just makes new stuff, period. Return of the Jedi sees Williams adding a handful of brand-new themes to his well-established Star Wars jukebox, including themes for Jabba the Hutt, the Ewoks, Luke and Leia. All of these tunes heighten the intensity of the scenes they accompany.

    Jabba's theme, for example, is heavy on the thick, almost gassy sounds of the tuba. Makes sense, right? A delicate flute accompaniment for Jabba and all of his slimy, hedonistic machinations simply wouldn't do. A bouncy, honking tuba tune, on the other hand? Farty perfection.

    Whether he's conjuring up new music, or simply revamping his greatest Star Wars hits, Williams' Oscar-nominated score adds gravity (pun only slightly intended) to Return of the Jedi's interstellar action and grounded human drama.

  • Fandoms

    Return of the Jedi retains a small, but vocal fan following on the Internet, primarily on MySpace.

    Juuust kidding.

    The Star Wars fandom is huge. When we say there are more Star Wars fan sites on the web than there are trees on Endor, we're only slightly exaggerating.

    The HTML is Strong With These

    Sites like, Jedi News, and The Star Wars Underworld present one-stop shopping for would-be Jedi and Sith alike, featuring more news, interviews, opinion pieces, fan art, cosplay, and podcasts than you can shake a lightsaber at.

    What's more, they're not just limited to Return of the Jedi and the other Star Wars films; they cover the television series, video games, books, and graphic novels that make up the Star Wars universe, too.

    Of course, for the young Padawan who really wants to take a deep dive into all things Star Wars, there's only one place to be: Wookieepedia. This Star Wars wiki is exhaustive in its content—in a good way. If you ever wanted to know what the orbital period of Tatooine is or Jabba the Hutt's last name—no, it's not "The Hutt"—then this site's for you.

    How to Train Your Jedi

    Creating and maintaining a Star Wars fan site takes a ton of commitment, but you know what takes even more devotion? Jediism. That's right; some Star Wars fans are so faithful to the Jedi way that they've started their own religion.

    "Jedi followers, ministers and leaders embrace Jediism as a real living, breathing religion and sincerely believe in its teachings," explains the Temple of the Jedi Order's website, which also features a nine-lesson Initiate Programme for becoming a Jedi Knight and 21 Maxims to which all Jedi Knights must adhere. Predictably, none of them include zapping dudes with Force Lightning just because you feel like it.

    May the Fourth Be With You

    If you can't squeeze formal Jedi training into your schedule between school and soccer practice, don't worry. You don't have to be an ordained Jedi Knight to celebrate Star Wars Day, which takes place every year on May 4th—as in "May the Force, er, Fourth be with you."

    Every spring, Star Wars fans costume up, throw parties to rival the Rebel's victory bash on Endor, hold movie marathons, nosh on Star Wars-themed food, and indulge in some light Vadering. (It's like planking, but with Force Grips.)