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Friday, 15 March 2013

ROTJ AT 30: REMEMBERING 'REVENGE'!



1982. To pinch some dialogue from a classic Frank Sinatra song-“it was a very good year”. To me, as a 12 year old in secondary school in the UK, nothing was more eagerly awaited in my mind than the next chapter of the STAR WARS SAGA-REVENGE OF THE JEDI. I had remembered back in May 1980, when Mark Hamill, in an interview on the BBC1 Children’s question and answer/request series, ASK ASPEL, revealed the title of the next STAR WARS movie for, I assume, the first time to anyone in the world. I remember thinking, “Wow, what a title!!” At that time in my young life, the morals and discipline of what would become the Jedi code determined by EPISODE VI and the Prequels-the Light Side of the Force- had not yet been ingrained in my imagination-I still thought of the Jedi Knight in many respects like Shaolin Monk policeman types-basically going out and kicking intergalactic evil ass without any kind of worries whatsoever!! With so very little known in the era between 1980 and 82 about the Jedi Knights within the George Lucas universe, and how Luke would be involved with them, the idea of the ancient guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic, or a Jedi as in Luke, enforcing revenge for what had happened to them didn’t strike me as odd or unusual at all!! Especially after the catastrophic events that happened to our heroes in EMPIRE, the revenge, at least by Luke at least, seemed justified-that, in this young mans eyes, we were in for a rollercoaster of a finale with the heroes vanquishing the villains, or at least the majority of them-mind you, in 1980 I didn’t see REVENGE OF THE JEDI as the end of the saga either-I still believed in nine films (or twelve..Whatever!!). It didn’t feel important to me that the Jedi taking revenge might be inconsistent with their ethics and code. All I knew was that the film would uphold the STAR WARS tradition of good versus evil, superb action scenes and special effects, and that, with the word “revenge” in the title, perhaps we could see Luke finally become the hero we all wanted him to be, as well as perhaps seeing more Jedi too (were there still some alive in the universe and were they going to team up with Luke, I wondered!!). 

The film, with REVENGE in the title, also promised a further duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker (which, at that time, I knew what was going to happen between the pair in EMPIRE) - whatever else happened in the new film, that second conflict between possible father and son had to take place at least near the very end of it-but the idea of Vader being killed? Well, that hadn’t occurred to me-at the very least I thought he would probably be injured or escape again for further films (little did I know, eh?). It was all so mysterious and exciting, wasn’t it-just the fact that the film was titled REVENGE OF THE JEDI- continued to conjure up other mysteries and questions that needed solving. Then the Drew Struzan picture hit the theatrical boards in England late in 1982- that distinctive poster that I would see in the coming soon area/foyer of the DOMINION THEATRE, Tottenham Court Road, in the West End of London (by the mighty steps that once led into the over head auditorium (you hadn’t seen STAR WARS as theatrical experience in those days unless you had seen it at the DOMINION I can tell ya!)). Then… within a couple of months, Xmas rolled by, my STAR WARS presents had mounted and the countdown into the new year, for REVENGE OF THE JEDI, had begun-the May release of the movie was not long now...
By early 1983, however, I was silently surprised and dismayed; all in one go as a matter of fact, to discover that my beloved REVENGE OF THE JEDI title had undergone a change. And a pretty serious and drastic one at the time, I thought. REVENGE had changed its title to one that, like Howard Kazanjian opined in a documentary in 2004, I felt was weak. RETURN OF THE JEDI. RETURN? What exactly did it mean? Though the title could still imply that there was the potential to see Luke as a heavily involved in the action Jedi Knight, as well as the exciting possibility of seeing more, and new, Jedi Knight characters to come, I was worried about what the movie might bring to the table story-wise and what differences might have been made to the film and the saga that I might not have previously known about. Just changing that title possibly meant a major alteration to the story, and it was several months before the famous anecdote that “Jedi’s don’t take revenge” would reach me in an interview with the film’s director, Richard Marquand, to STARBURST magazine.

Those first few months of 1983 soon gave way to the Spring holidays, and by then the news began circulating that the newly christened film, whose title I was grudgingly getting used to, was going to be the last film in the series. No more STAR WARS! One friend of mine at school had even heard, or started a rumour, that the Millennium Falcon would crash-land in the new movie and that many of our heroes would be killed (it seems that this rumour was quite a common one at the time, as I discovered years later talking to other fans-where did it come from?). Fortunately, nothing quells the heart more than when the first proper images for the film started to be released to newspapers and magazines. Having not been lucky enough to see any of the early teaser trailers for the movie (Xmas 1982/January 1983), titled either REVENGE or RETURN, until the late nineties in fact, these black and white shots in BANTHA TRACKS, along with those early tasters of Ralph McQuarrie’s concept/ pre and post-production paintings, soon helped sooth any worries-as if I ever really needed to!- and my thoughts that RETURN OF THE JEDI would be the STAR WARS film to end all STAR WARS films in the spectacle stakes had been re-affirmed. This film was going to deliver the goods! And it was now, with those pictures, that the title of RETURN OF THE JEDI was starting to grow on me. It wasn’t the same as REVENGE- it didn't have the same adrenaline feeling to me that REVENGE had- but I could live with it (even now, years later, I still personally prefer REVENGE OF THE JEDI. Even if does go against the grain of the characters and the story-probably because, for two years, I was so used to it as the film’s title. Whereas, with RETURN, I had only four months to let it sink in). Years later, history would seemingly change at LUCASFILM, with everyone referring to REVENGE as having always been a working title only. Sorry, I’m afraid I just don’t buy it-the title was just too well ingrained in the public’s consciousness for so long to be just a working title that would change at the very last minute of release!

By May of 1983, and the arrival of a RETURN OF THE JEDI exhibition in London’s famous HARRODS department store-where I saw my first Imperial Bike Scout and Emperor’s Royal Guard action figures from PALITOY- the final RETURN OF THE JEDI pre-release trailer- with the deep voiced narrator (later, I found out, respected actor Malachi Throne!!) saying“the circle closes!!”- on permanent loop on a video player and television screen had me spell bound from the moment I saw it-it blew me away-I literally saw that trailer 14 times in about an hour, and every time I loved it.

RETURN OF THE JEDI was now sounding pretty good to me!!

And so the film came- I loved it -it made me laugh, it made my heart skip a beat with it’s action and the how are they going to get out of this moments, it made me sad, and it me made me cry when Darth Vader died-amazing for a film to so effectively bring a human being to experience such a wide variety of emotions in just two and a bit hours like that!! And by the end of the movie, I was laughing and crying at the same time once our heroes had joined the Ewoks at their village celebrations. I left the cinema and I hoped for more. I also hoped that, one day, the word REVENGE, which indeed didn’t suit the story that I had just seen, might yet return to us as part of another STAR WARS film some day, used for a point where it’s relevance in the title was so key and so iconic. Though things had looked bleak for a while after 1986, my interest in STAR WARS, though it had slightly diminished, was still enthusiastic and I eagerly awaited and looked out for new developments, however small, regarding future news on the saga, and when the Prequels were first announced you could have seen me leap off the world if I was somewhere where there was a zero gravity environment (and you should have seen me telling the small world around me that it was coming back-at home, to certain workmates, kids, anyone who mentioned STAR WARS was told that it was coming back!! The LUCASFILM publicity machine would have been proud!!)- my years of telling people, hoping with fingers crossed (many a time actually!!), that STAR WARS would eventually return finally having the ring of confirmed truth to it. As with REVENGE OF THE JEDI, these new Prequels inspired my curiosity-just how dark would they be and how involved in the story would Darth Vader become? It had been hinted at by Lucas for several years in the late nineties, and now it looked like his words about the Dark Lord appearing in either EPISODES II or III were likely to happen. With the news that the proceeding episodes would get darker in tone after the film that would eventually become known as THE PHANTOM MENACE, a little place inside of me hoped that one of the remaining episode titles might have the word “revenge” in it. If we have something like THE BIRTH OF THE EMPIRE, or THE RISE OF EVIL as an EPISODE II title, then surely the third film might be called VENGEANCE OF THE SITH, or, even possibly, have REVENGE in it’s title.


Stephen Sansweet at COMIC CON. Image: STARWARS.COM.

Saturday 24th July 2004 finally ended the speculation and anticipation. Stephen Sansweet, ever the master manipulator in ways to rival ole’ Palpatine himself (I mean that in a good way, of course!), unleashed the EPISODE III title, via T-shirt and specially made official video, to the STAR WARS fan community at the US San Diego COMIC CON- REVENGE OF THE SITH!

From the fans reaction, the title seemed almost universally popular and I felt very vindicated about my feelings to REVENGE-it was finally nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who had missed the word REVENGE in that originally 1983 movie all those years ago!

To me, STAR WARS, now with an episode title that had the word REVENGE in it, had come home!


Check out the early REVENGE OF THE JEDI deleted scenes here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B80ITjM31EVRY0I2VHdWVUdoeWs/edit?usp=sharing


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