Friday, 12 July 2013

Chapter 7, Part 1 - Harrison Ford: Contract Player No More

From ‘Get me Harrison Ford’ to ‘Get me a Harrison Ford type!’

‘Harrison Ford is a pure cinema actor, there is nothing theatrical about him – it’s just him. He doesn’t mind if his shirt’s out or his hair’s ruffled or his profile isn’t beautifully lit. What matters is what he’s doing.’ Richard Marquand, director of Return of the Jedi

The close of The Empire Strikes Back left Han Solo (Harrison Ford) sleeping the sleep of the living dead, frozen in a block of carbonite and on his way to the palace of Jabba the Hutt, an alien criminal mastermind, to suffer the penalty for dumping a cargo of illegal spices belonging to Jabba. Some of the more imaginative Star Wars fans put this fact together with the knowledge that Harrison Ford had only signed for one Star Wars picture at a time and began to circulate rumours that neither Ford nor Solo would be appearing in the third Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi.

Some speculated that Harrison Ford would be
frozen out of
Revenge of the Jedi.

But shortly after the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford went on record in the American magazine Starlog to put paid to such wild speculation. ‘If I hadn’t been able to do some of my other movies I might have felt differently about doing Return of the Jedi. As it stands, I’m delighted to be coming back. Han, Luke and Princess Leia were created to tell this story, so I’m glad to be in on the third act.’

Yet, just how Han Solo would return was a closely guarded secret. Nobody involved with the production would talk without the express permission of Star Wars creator George Lucas. Then Lucas himself broke the silence in a pre-Return interview – though he was giving nothing away. ‘The original (Star Wars) idea kind of got segmented, and the fact that the story is a fairy tale got lost, especially in the beginning, because the science fiction took over. I think that Return for better or worse, is going to put the whole thing in perspective.’

The opening shot of Return of the Jedi - as the cast
is assembled for the final chapter of their adventure.

Originally, George Lucas had intended to tell the story of Luke Skywalker’s struggle against the Empire in just one film. But as he completed the first draft of the tale, he realised that he had far too much story to fit into one two-hour movie. So he simply cut the story in two and continued to work on the first half. Before long it became apparent to Lucas that even two feature films would be too little screen time to tell the story in and three films would be needed.

Though Lucas wrote and directed Star Wars: A New Hope, the tremendous success of the film meant that Lucas’s energies were divided between running Lucasfilm and overseeing the flood of merchandising which followed in the Star-wake, as well as supervising preparations for future Lucasfilm movie projects. In short, there was no way Lucas could write or direct any more Star Wars films ... even if he wanted to.

For The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas had hired Lawrence Kasdan to craft the screenplay and Irvin Kershner to direct. With Return of the Jedi, he resolved to use a new writer/director team.

Yet, well-laid plans, particularly in the movie business, have a habit of going awry. The October 1981 issue of Starlog magazine carried a story under the title of "Kasdan Gets Revenge" (Revenge of the Jedi was the shooting title for Return of the Jedi and Fox even went to the trouble of printing teaser posters bearing that title – I know because I was given one by someone at Fox at the time).

The two versions of the Jedi one-sheet - don't know if the
"Revenge" version is valuable, but it's a nice souvenir
of my
Starburst days.

‘It’s a big surprise to me that I’m writing Revenge of the Jedi,’ said Kasdan. ‘George Lucas called me on the phone and asked me to do the script as a favour to him. I told George that I hadn’t planned on doing any more ‘just writing’ on films.’ He said, “Aw, come on. I’ve done it. Paul Schrader did it for Martin Scorcese. What difference does it make?”

‘I’m doing the script because I feel I owe George a lot. Besides, I like working with him. There’s also a certain satisfaction in finishing the trilogy. Additionally, writing Jedi will be very rewarding financially.

George Lucas had, as with The Empire Strikes Back, roughed out the plot of the movie first, embracing the main story-points and character developments. He was looking to Kasdan to bring pacing and humour to the final script. Kasdan, Lucas and director, Richard Marquand, spent a solid week discussing the thrust of the story and settling any differences of opinion they had as to the direction Return of the Jedi should take. From there on it became Kasdan’s baby.

Revenge of the Jedi’s basic thrust is to wrap up the trilogy’s story,’ Kasdan revealed in the same interview. ‘You can assume that Jedi’s structure will be like that of Star Wars and Empire, cutting back and forth. You could probably guess which of the characters will be returning. There will also be some new characters.’

Because of the suddenness of Lucas’s request, Kasdan was left with little time in which to complete his assignment. ‘It’s a similar situation to the terrible time problem we had on Empire, but I think this time I’ll have a much freer hand, because the Jedi screenplay George gave me isn’t nearly as far along as Empire’s was.’


The search for the man to direct Jedi was every bit as exhaustive as Lucas’s original Star Wars casting sessions had been. Lucas started out with a list of literally hundreds of British and American directors who could, conceivably, direct the third part of the trilogy. Lucas’s first choice was Steven Spielberg, who had to turn the offer down because of the threatened Director’s Guild strike. Another director in the frame was David Cronenberg, who probably would have made a very interesting Star Wars movie ...

After cutting away others who couldn’t do the film because of scheduling, prior commitments and lack of enthusiasm, the list fell to just two names, one of which was Richard Marquand whose previous credits included a horror movie called The Legacy and the war-time adventure movie Eye of the Needle.

Richard Marquand directs a strange blue elephant thing-y

‘George Lucas told me he wanted a director who could work fast, somebody – possibly from television – who could think on his feet, improvise quickly, and work with actors. Finally – and I think this is the most important thing – somebody who could work with him,’ said Richard Marquand. ‘Finally, there were only two of us left in the running. This was about April or May of 1981.’

Though most people associated with Return of the Jedi have been reluctant to discuss who didn’t get through the selection process, Mark Hamill did let it slip in an interview that Marquand’s rival for the job was David Lynch, director of The Elephant Man.

‘David decided he didn’t want to do a George Lucas movie,’ explained Hamill, ‘Because he felt he couldn’t be constantly answering to another producer. George didn’t want to restrict somebody that original, so they came to an amiable parting of the ways. Ironically, David left to make Dune for Dino De Laurentiis.’

With Marquand selected to helm Return of the Jedi, preproduction work got underway with a vengeance. Marquand was far more than a puppet director, and had a healthy input into the way the movie would shape up as a kind of punch-line to the first two films.

‘I had a whole plan of the way I wanted to present each character, each new character,’ Marquand told me in February 1983, ‘to make Jedi slightly different from the other films. Empire ends in a kind of explosion – everyone’s going off in different directions. I thought it would be nice if we opened Jedi with a tremendous sense of mystery. A ‘where is everybody?’ sort of feeling. We know that Vader and the Emperor are really on the Rebel’s tails after Empire, which ended on a kind of dark note. I thought it would be nice to pick up on that. All the heroes are scattered to the four corners of the Galaxy and then I could bring in each one in an interesting way. George liked that idea. Larry (Kasdan) picked up on it and turned it into something terrific. Then I was talking about killing off one of the major characters. George wouldn’t have that.’

This almost certainly would have been the Han Solo character. As Ford revealed in a later interview, ‘I thought it would give the myth some body. Solo really had no place to go. He’s got no papa, he’s got no mama, he’s got no story. But that was the one thing I was unable to convince George of.’

Richard Marquand’s next step was to get together with the principal actors and hash out how the main characters would develop in the film. “‘You know this character. Tell me what this character’s got to offer in terms of the public and the box-office and the story,” I said. I discovered some nice things about the characters, which we were able to inject into the film.’

Marquand has nothing but praise for Hamill, Fisher and Ford. ‘Carrie Fisher has made no secret of the fact that she’s this sort of boy in girl’s clothing,’ Marquand told me, ‘who marches up and down and shouts at everybody. She felt her character could do with a bit of development. And that happened to coincide exactly with my feelings. In the last movie, the Princess became such a bitch, she really was a drag. I was sure there was a lot more depth there we could use. And more comedy, too. Turn her into more of a woman. So I worked with Carrie on that. She’s a very sexy, attractive lady and in this film we’ll get to find that out.

‘Mark’s character, Luke Skywalker, is the one that develops through the whole series. That’s the area of jeopardy. Will Luke move towards the Dark Side of the Force? He does; you see the darkening as he is led in this direction.

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) sported a whole new look
Return of the Jedi.

‘Billy Dee Williams had all sorts of ideas about Lando Calrissian. His past, and where he had come from, the kind of skills he had. We realise that he was the first owner of the Millennium Falcon. We didn’t really get to know him in Empire, we just learned to distrust him.

‘Harrison Ford’s great, he really is. He’s a very professional actor. A man who is now quite a major box office star. He gets on with it. Doesn’t suffer fools gladly. If you don’t know what you’re going to do on the day, he gets a little confused and upset. But he’s terrific as an ally, someone who understands the craft of being a movie actor.’

Next: The shooting starts

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