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Saturday, 2 February 2013

ROTJ AT 30: REQUIEM FOR A SANDSTORM

Lando and Luke assist a wounded Chewbacca back to the sandstorm battered Falcon, as Leia and Han, plus the droids, follow close by. A deleted scene from REVENGE OF THE JEDI.


The legendary deleted scene of the Tatooine Sandstorm from RETURN OF THE JEDI would finally be unearthed in a very raw state from the Lucasfilm archives for release on Blu-ray in 2011. But, before then, fans had enjoyed debating  what had and hadn't been filmed for the important sequence back in January 1982. When the 25th Anniversary of JEDI was originally being celebrated in 2008 by AFICIONADO, here was my personal take on what we might expect from the mysterious footage, based on what knowledge was then available from varying sources...

Over the years, the infamous lost scene of STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI-the Tatooine sandstorm-has evoked an atmosphere of imagery and moments that we can only dream about until it’s hopefully release on DVD-there’s a certain kind of Lawrence of Arabia-ness to it as our heroes emerge from the white and yellow mist and swirling dust towards home: the sturdy and welcome shape of theMillennium Falcon and two Rebel Fighters-the first signs of escape from the hostile wilderness around them. Our favourite gang of Star Warriors have reunited once again, for the first time since the beginning of EMPIRE, and it's great to see them all together. But, despite their previous victories, the escape from Jabba’s palace has not been without incident as a weary, almost Sarlaac eaten Lando Calrissian (having more than paid back his emotional dues to his comrades for selling them out at Bespin to Lord Vader), alongside the black robed Luke Skywalker, carries an injured and hobbling Chewbacca (brandishing a heavy bandage/cloth wrapped around his blaster wounded leg) towards the Falcon’s main hold area for later treatment. Our heroes are tired, but the battle is not yet over-another far greater conflict lurks in the Sullust system as the Rebel Fleet gathers to launch its do or die attack on the newly built second dreaded DEATH STAR.

Lando activates the Falcon's exterior lights and main hatch

As well as it’s visual flavour, which we have only seen depicted in numerous images within STAR WARS INSIDER and a few other select publications over the years, the unseen Sandstorm sequence also reveals other important facets, including a nice moment of firm friendship between Luke and Han as the latter thanks the “kid” face to face for coming to rescue him- a scene that, if it had made the final film, would have given it some emotional weight, not only to both those characters but to the improvement of the movie itself-after their strong friendship developed at the end of STAR WARS and the beginning of EMPIRE (we really care about these characters by now, especially after this three year wait and it’s an emotional payoff scene I always wanted to see-I’m always moved by that brief goodbye moment between Han and Luke by the FALCON at Hoth in EMPIRE-beautifully played by the two actors)-and much better than the later re-shot X-wing voice over where Han says something as important as “thank you” to Luke, for literally saving him from a fate worse than death, and re-uniting him with his loved ones, over the intercom!!! It’s almost as if the writers (presumably Lucas and Kazanjian, rather than Kasdan-who by this point had probably gone on to other projects) had treated this important moment as an afterthought. An important character/emotional moment, and a feeling of family between the characters, has been lost, with only the strong moment of celebration in the Ewok village bringing the familiarity of good friends, almost an older and younger bother scenario, back to some of the tarnished emotion. In the filmed and cut Sandstorm sequence we got that feeling of family even more clearly. And then there's Han's friendship/attitude towards his “old friend” Lando Calrissian. Strained, understandably, after the end of EMPIRE-I mean, Lando had just betrayed him to the Empire and condemned him to a living death as a Carbonite slab in front of a merciless Jabba the Hutt. In this lost scene, the bitterness by Han towards Lando is relevant but soon grudgingly evaporates when he realizes what Lando has done and sacrificed to try and make amends. There is also a nice moment where Lando dryly responds, “Figured if I left you frozen like that you’d just give me bad luck the rest of my life, so I might as well get you unfrozen sooner or later.”  Another nicely written line from Kasdan, which hints that the pair will become friends again…sooner rather than later (and leading to some nice later banter between the pair on the Rebel Cruiser), with Leia, breaking the ice, telling Han, “He means you're welcome”- a line I can imagine Carrie Fisher saying well on-screen.

Luke parts company with Han and Leia.

Han’s loyalties and new commitment toward the Rebel Alliance truly begin with this lost scene-he’s no longer the guy who can’t wait to get away from them, as seen in the beginning of EMPIRE, and he now knows that, sooner or later, he’s gonna have to fight the Empire. His love for Leia, established in the Carbon Freezing Chamber in EMPIRE, is also another strong factor, as is his friendship to Luke. He had avoided friendships before and that is now a thing of the past. Though we would assume his loyalties would cement themselves in the film anyway, the loss of the Sandstorm conversation, where he tells Luke that he’s been thinking things through, ultimately robs us of the build up to his becoming a dedicated fighter-a General- for the Rebel Alliance.

A more somber and serious Luke Skywalker. A Jedi Knight.

And then there’s Luke. Despite Han’s earlier misgivings about his friend having “delusions of grandeur”, the first serious test (well, to us movie goers anyway!!) of Luke’s abilities as a Jedi have finally paid off and Leia’s worried looks as her friend was prodded onto the Skiff plank by the Sarlaac pit have now disappeared. With the entire destruction of Jabba and his private army, the young Jedi’s skill and physical prowess in the Force has proved himself worthy of the title of Jedi Knight-not only to his family of friends but to himself. He truly is the New Hope for the Alliance. But, as he looks once more to his damaged robot hand in the still photographs that exists of the scene, he wonders if he can truly shake off the stigma of his almost death at Cloud City, at the hands of the cold Dark Lord-Darth Vader. And those savage five words that have taunted his life and feelings ever since: “No. I am your father.” The unease in Luke’s face, as he worries whether he is losing his humanity in the same way that Vader did, is another pertinent character moment once more consigned to the cutting room floor and the re-shoot in the X-wing, where he covers his hand with the glove doesn’t quite have the same impact as the way he is seen looking at his hand and putting on the glove in the outdoor sequence. More than ever, with the also lost Vader telepathic communication scene to have originally started the movie, Luke also knows that he cannot run from his Father, if he indeed is his father. That he cannot avoid his destiny, no matter how hard he tries to not think about it.

Though the scene has lost vital moments for our hero characters, one other valuable member of the team/Saga, a different kind of character, also loses its last opportunity to shine: the Millennium Falcon. Sadly, the cut scene sees the one and only time the original starship prop, specially built for EMPIRE, would be utilized-it’s uses in the film fairly redundant until the final special battle, where it’s ILM model/matte painting counterparts take over. This last moment to see the prop in all it’s glory has been denied us for too long. The same can also be said for the poor old Y-wing fighter-last seen briefly at the end of EMPIRE, and another under-rated, nicely designed spaceship that would have been nice to have seen on screen again.

As our heroes depart (and Chewie even gets a nice little moment to growl affectionately at Luke, “mussing his hair like a proud uncle!!”)-Luke to a distant location (“a promise to keep..to an old friend”), the others to a rendezvous with the Rebel fleet- the scenes on the Falcon continue off screen in the RETURN OF THE JEDI radio play, where there are some further nice character moments written by Brian Daley-including a well- drawn, in character scene of Leia and Han in the cockpit (where she tries to get a “thank you” out of the smuggler, and Han asking her if she’s keeping the slave girl outfit!), as well as an explanation as to why the gang haven’t been captured by the Imperial Forces (in one early draft of the REVENGE screenplay, Luke was kidnapped on Tatooine, after Han’s rescue, by Imperial Spies and brought to Vader).

Luke and his trusty pal Artoo prepare to leave for Dagobah.

And let’s not forget the rest of the visual side-the sandstorm itself-fierce yet surely beautifully photographed (from what we can see in the appetite whetting few seconds of one of the earliest REVENGE trailers from 1982) by respected British Cinematographer Alan Hume and his team. And then there is the unusual look of our heroes-now cloaked and wearing goggles and blasters as they navigate their way to their ships. And also the droids too- another little lost moment, as Threepio wishes Artoo goodbye and good luck as the Astro Droid accompanies Luke to his X-wing.

The cut scene, despite its not feeling right in editing after the events of the ultra fast paced Sail Barge battle, has become one of the shiniest of the lost jewels amongst the many STAR WARS deleted sequences, containing stand-out little character moments and polished dialogue that feels like the characters we’ve come to know and love. It is a scene that RETURN OF THE JEDI, though emotionally packed with it’s Luke/Vader storyline closure, could have done with a lot more of with regards to pumping up the characterizations of our other hero leads, and giving them more emotional weight in its two and a bit hours running time. The scene may be short but, in the best screenwriting tradition, is well structured and each line is important.

If a cut scene DVD release, as part of a massive box set, ever does happen, then the Sandstorm must be one of the first things to be put on the top of the list for restoration. And with the action figures from the sequence about to be released by HASBRO, could this be an indication that something will be released sooner rather than later?

Let's hope so!!

With thanks to Chris Baker and "Adywan" for selected images.

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