After learning about Gary Kurtz (the producer) not being involved with Return of the Jedi, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had he stayed. He wanted it to be a darker film. Han Solo was to die at the second act, leaving Luke Skywalker alone at the end like a gunslinger who rides off to the sunset. Having the biggest battle in the second act reflects on where big scenes were placed in previous installments. The first film had one at the end whereas the first sequel had one at the beginning.
Had he not been dismissed, Kurtz could’ve swayed David Cronenberg to be the director (as planned). He is primarily remembered for The Fly. Prior to the making of Return to the Jedi, however, Cronenberg was known for a quadrilogy of other body horror films – Shivers, Rabid, The Brood and Scanners. Five months after the release of the latter, George Lucas finished his first draft of what was originally known as Revenge of the Jedi.
This raises a good question about the mood that he originally had in mind for what could have been the darkest film of his franchise. On the surface, Return of the Jedi was too twee for a hardcore director like Cronenberg. On further inspection, there is a lot of material that lends itself to be construed as a nastier story. Han Solo suffering from frostbite after being encased in carbonite for an entire year. In the finished product, Han is like someone momentarily under an avalanche.
It’s too fitting to describe this as the tip of the iceberg. On the other end of the sordid spectrum is seeing Anakin Skywalker’s corpse being burned in a funeral pyre on Endor. Prior to his death, his electrocuted body and amputated hand would have facilitated some effects. One potentially gruesome sight is the reveal of Darth Vader as a dreadfully aged man whose injured head has been enslaved in a helmet for far too long.
Also noteworthy is the gritty sight of Luke Skywalker replacing his hand with a mechanical one (this ties in with the biomechanical theme that would later be found in Cronenberg’s future work such as Videodrome and eXistenZ). The grisly sight of Jabba the Hutt licking Princess Leia had the potential to deter audiences with his saliva. The special effects crew had the ability, were they permitted, to have him spew a long stream of vomit to reach the other side of the room. There’s also the matter of how his choking scene would have resulted or how far that Leia would have been portrayed as a sex slave.
One has to contend with how Rancor, Jabba’s basement pet, would have been more grotesque. Because of how he lives (useless prisoners) and how he dies (fallen gate), one can only infer if Lucas had chickened out on making an R-rated movie (for those aged 16 and above). This is a franchise-ruining shame considering the many 10-year-olds who saw Star Wars in 1977 grew up to be 16 in 1983. Also, Alien proved that there was a sizeable market for R-rated Sci-Fi.
Imagine the grim sight of people being eaten by Sarlacc – the creature who resides in a huge sand pit. One has to ponder about how much vomit would have come from Leia’s mouth after learning the ghastly truth about Luke. I’ve saved for the best for last as the Ewoks, even in the final version, are depicted as creatures who eat their prey. Imagine the gory sight. If George would have been okay with Return of the Jedi being rated R, we would have been treated to a sex scene where Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher consummate their affair in outdoor fashion.
Even on a message board circa 1984, a film fan had this to say:
I recently saw Once Upon A Time In The West, the Sergio Leone movie. This is not a review of it. This is a thought that came up after seeing that movie. There is a scene missing in ROTJ. The final confrontation between Han and Boba Fett ends up being comic relief rather than mythic adventure. It happens so fast, and so much is happening that it is easy to miss altogether. This is not very satisfying. I find it a general problem that ROTJ isn’t very satisfying. The movie should have had some elements of Greek tragedy. Instead we get the Ewoks, cartoonish fights on Jabba’s barge, and several death scenes that just don’t wrench at the heart.
I think the problem is that Lucas had to make a PG movie, but the material demanded a much harder edged treatment. This resulted in artistic compromises. I’m going to propose a slightly different end to the Han/Boba grudge match. Boba should have escaped the giant euphemism buried in the sand. After this, he rides after Han, no longer for a bounty, but now just to blast Han out of space. He shows up at the new Death Star, where Vader sends him down to harass the rebels. Instead of the ridiculous scenes in which cute furry things use wood to defeat the best fighting troops in the galaxy, we have a scene where Han and Boba stare at each other for minutes. Han draws faster and blasts Boba right through the faceplate.