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Monday, 2 September 2013

ROTJ AT 30: A HISTORY OF (STAR WARS) VIOLENCE


Dinner time for the Sarlaac!

As anybody who loves behind the scenes stuff on the STAR WARS saga knows, when planning the final film of the original trilogy, George Lucas was determined to make RETURN OF THE JEDI even bigger in scope and adventure than anything previously attempted in the saga. Bigger meant a more spectacular space battle, bigger meant a huge array of alien creatures within the throne room of Jabba the Hutt and bigger meant…well big in everything! Obviously, one of the stand-out moments of the film has to be the Sail Barge action sequence. Alongside one of the biggest standing set props ever created for location filming -something that could just never be attempted again for pure cost reasons- the sequence also boasts, for the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy at least, the largest collection of British and American stunt artists ever assembled portraying various intergalactic thugs, as Luke Skywalker finally comes into his own as a Jedi Knight and, against tremendous odds of villainy, begins the rescue of his friends in one of the film’s greatest crowd pleasing moments. The sequence was choreographed and co-ordinated by the filmmakers (Lucas, Richard Marquand, Robert Watts, Jim Bloom and Howard Kazanjian) in co-ordination with British Stuntman (listed at Stunt Arranger for JEDI) Peter Diamond (who had worked as Stunt co-ordinator on the first two movies) and STAR WARS newcomer Glenn Randall (whose work on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK two years previously had more than spoke for itself when he was hired, and someone who worked well with Harrison Ford). Alongside their team, the two stunt experts would also take on a variety of stunt roles in the film, as did the other brave souls jumping in and out of the two skiff transports and into the Sarlaac pit built at Yuma, Arizona for shooting during April 1982 (a sequence filmed that was not only dangerous on screen but dangerous if you fell into it from the wrong direction and weren’t able to manoeuvre your body the correct way as you descended).
The classic image of our captured heroes on the skiff.

Over the years it has been debated which UK and US stunt men have played what aliens, and for what part of the sequences, during the US filming of the Tatooine action, with some artists doing double duties on the action, not only for the Sail Barge scenes in Yuma but also for the later in the month filmed Endor sequences in the Californian Redwoods (where they would play both Rebel and Imperials). When putting together the 25th Anniversary JEDI issue of AFICIONADO in 2008 we ambitiously tried to piece together who played who and when in what parts of the action sequences, all of which were filmed and edited in and out of order, especially for the ambitious Sail Barge scenes- in doing so, we were able to find out from a variety of sources, talking to both stuntmen, background artists and reputable fan sources, a lot of new compiled info, which we’ve checked for accuracy as best we can, and of which we now have the ability to correct certain errors or myths about which stuntmen/background artists took part in the shooting that have built up over the years. In particular, we finally put to bed the information presented over the years that Jeremy Bulloch played Boba Fett on location at Yuma. He didn’t-all of his filming was studio bound, done within eight days over a three to four week period at the beginning of 1982, at ELSTREE on the Jabba’s Palace stage. Simply put, as Fett’s scenes on location were all stunt work, it would not have made practical, or budgetary, sense to send the actor out to Yuma when all of his work would have been handled by a stunt man. 


Glenn Randall gets suited up to play Boba.

In this instance, Fett was doubled by at least three stunt men, one of which was Glenn Randall (location filming footage of him exists, wearing almost Elvis-like sideburns!, getting ready in costume to film his scenes) and Dickey Beer. Additionally, some of the UK people who have always been associated with the US filming did not necessarily go out there, and in some cases some official production info has been wrong-for instance, extra/stuntman Malcolm Weaver is supposed to have been in the US filming but when we personally asked him if he went and who he played he said he never made it to the US filming for reasons that weren’t totally clear. Over the years there has also been mis-information or inaccuracy about the role/s Peter Diamond played in the Sail Barge-we had heard he played the first Weequay (not necessarily the one with the vibro-axe) to go into the pit (as is shown in a clip from JEDI in the EMPIRE OF DREAMS 2004 documentary) but we have since also discovered, from a fan conversation with the late great action talent at CELEBRATION 2, that he also played a human guard (wearing a black veil) on the skiff at one point, as he and other stuntmen, depending on the filming schedule, took turns to play the alien parts. The scene still photos taken on location of the veiled human from the heroes skiff are hard to see close-up but we don’t think they are of Diamond as that character there, and that they show another stunt actor and not the recognizable features of Diamond (so again, this must have been a situation where Diamond and the other stuntman alternated on playing the part on different days, with the latter photographed on the day the location shots were done-the only way to be sure is to look at test costume reference stills of that character shot in April 1983 and, as of this time, I haven’t seen any released by LUCASFILM).

Luke fights a Klaatu (either played by Corey Dee Williams or a stuntman).

Additionally, resident UK stuntman (and veteran of many JAMES BOND films) Dickey Beer revealed a few years back that, when the stuntmen got to Yuma to start rehearsals, the first day a number of them got hurt. The people who didn't get hurt had to wear more costumes and perform more stunts than what was originally planned (Even Billy Dee Williams son, Corey, would don his father's costume after Pa got hurt on set, as well as play a top deck Klaatu). Dickey was the stunt double for Luke Skywalker for part of the skiff fight (Colin Skeaping, the main Mark Hamill Stunt Double, having twisted his ankle at rehearsals) and would also go on to play Barada, and a Gamorrean Guard on the barge (and later a Rebel Commando, a Stormtrooper, and a Biker scout at the Redwoods).
Returning to Fett, Beer joined Glenn Randall in Stunt Double work for the Bounty Hunter in Yuma (Glenn, being the USA location Stunt Coordinator, particularly wanting him to do some of the stunts), with Beer doing the scene of Boba flying from the skiff into the barge. When Boba Fett crashes into the barge and falls into the Sarlacc, and a view of the other shots, that’s also Dickey. Outside of the location filming, another stuntman, Bob Yerkes, played Fett for a last minute shot added to the film in late post production editing.
Intriguing behind the scenes angle of the skiff fight.

So, at the end of the day, we’ve done our best to present the available behind the scenes information on the Sail Barge shoot as accurately and fact checked as we can within the pages of our MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI special issue. Are there still gaps, corrections and more amazing things to be discovered even now, after twenty five, now thirty, years-yes, I’m sure there are, and where we can get the information we’ll continue to present it as fairly and correctly as we can. Where there has been evidence that may contradict certain pieces of information then we’ll continue to present those as well for completist, as well as debatist’s, sake. If, however, there has been any information that cannot be confirmed at all, then we always opt to leave it out until such time/opportunity comes for us to go back and address it with the full facts. And if you feel we’ve missed anything important out (well, you never know!), then all of you guys and gals out there PLEASE GET IN TOUCH and let us know-we’d love to hear from you!

Corey Dee William talks about his JEDI filming: Interview With Corey Dee Williams, a.k.a. son of Lando Calrissian, a.k.a. Klaatu In Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi | blastzoneonline

With thanks to Chris Baker for his help in the writing of this blog.

For more information on the entire amazing shooting process at both Yuma and the Redwoods, check out the special issue of STAR WARS AFICIONADO dedicated to THE MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI. Get hold of it here: STAR WARS AFICIONADO ISSUE 14 - THE MAKING OF "RETURN OF THE JEDI"

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