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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

omg: Han Solo shoulda died in ‘Return of the Jedi’

In a piece on Gary Kurtz — an early producing partner of George Lucas — Geoff Boucher at the Los Angeles Times blog Hero Complex dug out this fascinating tidbit on why Kurtz quit Star Wars after The Empire Strikes Back:

After the release of “Empire” (which was shaped by material left over from that first Lucas treatment), talk turned to a third film and after a decade and a half the partners could no longer find a middle ground.

“We had an outline and George changed everything in it,” Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”

The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.

Kurtz said that ending would have been a more emotionally nuanced finale to an epic adventure than the forest celebration of the Ewoks that essentially ended the trilogy with a teddy bear luau.

More emotionally nuanced? Hell yes! What a film that would have been. And much more appropriate to that awesome original title: Revenge of the Jedi

Don’t miss the whole Hero Complex piece. Kurtz blasts the prequels, insists that “the popular notion that ‘Star Wars’ was always planned as a multi-film epic is laughable,” and much more. It’s a great read.



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  • In the DVD documentary that came out in ’04, Lawrence Kasdan speaks very candidly about his advocacy that a major character should have died in the first act of ROTJ, just to raise the stakes for the rest of the film. Even Harrison Ford said he wanted Han to be the one to go, because he had no obligations or attachments, like most of the rest of the main characters. (He was probably wary of having to do more sequels, too.)

    Then there’s the long-rumored footage of Lando dying with the Falcon in the second Death Star raid. Lucas vehemently denies that this was ever shot, but then, Lucas often has trouble getting his story straight — he still won’t formally acknowledge the existence of the holiday special.

    Also, I don’t get why a character dying would necessarily hamper toy sales, unless Lucas harbored thoughts of doing further sequels with the original cast at the time.

    But anyway, wow. I would have loved to see the ending Kurtz talks about. It’s much more reminiscent of something like the morally complex Dune series, whose clear influence on Star Wars is not often acknowledged by Lucas. Oh, well, if “if” were a skiff . . . we could all cruise the Dune Sea.

  • Jeff

    Harrison Ford wanted his character to die. He has said this for years…

    http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2006/03/02/harrison_ford_wanted_han_solo_to_die

  • DaveTM

    I don’t know if it was ever shot but I think it was in the script at one point. At a Con many eons ago I bought a draft of Revenge of the Jedi and the Falcon didn’t make it out. While this could have been faked it was so many years ago I don’t see why someone would and if they did it was a masterfull job.

  • CB

    Also, I don’t get why a character dying would necessarily hamper toy sales, unless Lucas harbored thoughts of doing further sequels with the original cast at the time.

    No, no, it’s obviously untenable to make toys of a character who died. Who’d buy them? It’d be pointless to even try.

    That’s why there aren’t any toys of Qui Gon or Darth Maul.

  • MaryAnn

    I know I’ve heard Ford say he wanted Solo to die, but he bitches about lots of stuff. :->

    I’ve certainly never heard that there was an actual plan to have killed off Solo, till the plan itself got killed.

  • Ide Cyan

    Here’s another interesting Star Wars-related article:

    In Tribute to Marcia Lucas
    http://secrethistoryofstarwars.com/marcialucas.html

  • CB

    I’ve certainly never heard that there was an actual plan to have killed off Solo, till the plan itself got killed.

    Yeah, well, according to Lucas the plan shot first!

  • @CB *snerk!*

  • JoshDM

    I heard the reason that Calrissian and that blue midget guy were piloting the Falcon was because it was supposed to be sacrificed in the second Death Star.

  • Jurgan

    I wonder. It does seem like the characters got off too easy. Killing Han would have been a blow, certainly. I personally think they needed a lot more Ewoks to die. Everyone bitches about the Ewoks beating the Empire’s best troops, but they could have overwhelmed them by sheer numbers. But we only saw a single Ewok die, which contributes to the overly cutesy feeling people complain about. On the other hand, the ending we have is so iconic to me that I can’t imagine it. When I want to describe a euphoric happy ending, I just say “Ewoks dancing.” It may not be better, but it’s hard to imagine it any other way.

    I really hate the title “Revenge of the Jedi,” though. Revenge is antithetical to everything the Jedi stand for- they defend themselves and help others, but they never act out of anger. Return of the Jedi makes much more sense.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve certainly never heard that there was an actual plan to have killed off Solo, till the plan itself got killed.

    Just to be clear, I was proclaiming my ignorance here, not doubting any of the other comments.

  • Shadowen

    Well, part of the reason why Revenge of the Jedi wasn’t used as the title is plainly that revenge isn’t terribly Jedi-like.

    As for the other ideas suggested by Kurtz: Leia being “queen”…uh…no? I mean, okay, the prequel gave us 14-year-olds being elected as queens, but it was quite clear that the tall woman in the white dress (Mon Mothma, but you wouldn’t know her name from the movie) was in charge of the Rebellion. And they were trying to restore the Republic. Also, she was a princess of Alderaan. Which was blown up. I mean, I guess she could become queen of the survivors…

  • I mean, I guess she could become queen of the survivors…

    Well, in the expanded universe, she became the head of the state of the New Republic. (Not a queen though).

  • Yeah, I don’t know about “queen” for Leia, but the rest of that ending sounds fantastic. I’d need to read a script, though, because it sounds like it could easily be made melodramatic instead of legitimately nuanced. With a great screenwriter, it would have made the Star Wars trilogy even more amazing.

    I used to think that ROTJ was the best film because of its big climax. My friends always said Empire was better. It took me more viewings, but eventually I saw the error of my ways.

  • vucubcaquix

    I, of course, salivate at the thought of a more bittersweet and downer Star Wars trilogy, but how would it have affected the biggest fan demographic at the time?

    My uncle was eleven years old when ROTJ was in theaters and my sister was nine, and seeing the trilogy in the cinema was a bonding experience for them. I can’t help but wonder how this piece of contemporary mythology would have affected them if it were played much more tragically.

  • @Ide Cyan: Fascinating article. Thanks for posting!

  • Yes, thanks, Ide Cyan, for the link. The woman who was actually responsible for the excitement-building edits and many of the humanizing touches in Star Wars; who suggested that Obi Wan should die and that Indy and Marion should actually be together at the end of Raiders; and who was in short an important reason why Lucas’s early films work as well as they do–and we’ve been told next to nothing about her? Why am I not surprised?

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