As the world screens the George Lucas' first prequel, STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE - Sci-Fi Station thought it appropriate to ask our friend and business associate Howard Kazanjian to personally introduce his experience as the Producer of the third installment of the STAR WARS Trilogy - RETURN OF THE JEDI.
We proudly include George Lucas as part of the Sci-Fi Station - Sci-Fi Masters Series.
-Arnold Leibovit, Director Sci-Fi Station
(C)1998 Lucasfilm Ltd. STAR WARS(R), THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (R), RETURN OF THE JEDI (TM) and THX(R) and associated elements and logos are property of Lucasfilm Ltd. All content (e.g., clips, stills, designs, artwork, etc.) is protected by intellectual property laws and any use other than for private, non-commercial purposes is strictly prohibited.
As I am able to update this introduction in 1999, I can look back at how movies were made yesterday, and how they are made today can see the large studio effects movies costing $80-200,000,000 each. What the megabudget effects pictures lack, and what the three Star Wars films have, is a story interwoven with effects. A story with characters you cared about, and a story you could remember years later along with the spectacular effects. Many of today's films leave us only remembering the effects and not the story. The Star Wars trilogy is a fantasy that has a place in the hearts of two generations of moviegoers. Few films can boast of this.
Star Wars was to redefine film technology and film-making as we know it today. It established new highs with its wonderful characters and story, the number of special effects shots, the music, and the editorial pacing. It created a new film genre that has remained popular ever since. With these films George Lucas was to make a turning point in 20th-century cinema.
Return of the Jedi is the third film in the Star War's trilogy. It is the third act of a three-act play. In structure, the third act can be the most difficult to write, as all questions and situations created in the first two acts must be satisfactorily resolved. Return of the Jedi would have to answer who the 'other' was, how Han Solo was to be rescued, and whether Luke would turn to the dark side and join his father Darth Vader. New characters and exciting situations had to be created and interwoven into the story. And there needed to be an exciting conclusion- the wrap-up of all the elements and fragments that would bring the characters and story to a triumphant closure.
Kazanjian between Blue Screen & Star Destroyer Model
George asked me to produce Return of the Jedi while I was doing preproduction on The Empire Strikes Back. At this time in 1981 we were scoring Raiders of the Lost Ark - which I also produced in London. While there, I was to begin meeting with key personnel at EMI Elstree Studios for Return of the Jedi.
George came to London in the fall of 1981 to see the sets, props, Ewoks, and of course, Jabba the Hut. He would return again with his family a week before shooting and he remained on the set until the last day.
George had daily input in every area of production. He lived every part of the movie with diligent preparation leaving his fingerprints in each department. In the morning he would check with Raply McQuarie on his conceptual designs, or with Joe Johnston and other artists on storyboads, props and sets. In the afternoon there would be a costume design meeting and a visit to the creature shop. Then George would return to his study and continue to enhance the script. This continued for months until the official full-time preproduction began in the United States and London with sets. In late 1981 nine giant soundstages were built in London with sets. Construction in Northern California (Endor) and Southern (Tatooine) was well under way, and special effects was moving forward in San Rafael at ILM. Prinipal photography began in London in November, 1981.
Lucas and Kazanjian overlooking "The Sarlacc Pit" (Tatooine Dune Sea) Scene from RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
The Sarlacc Pit (Tatooine Dune Sea) with Jabba the Hutt's barge was the largest set ever constructed in California. Construction began eight months prior to shooting with the first ship of 1 X 1 X 30-foot-long beams arriving in Buttercup Valley on the Callfornia/Arizona border. Our first shipment of nails alone weighed 11,000 pounds. When we began shooting, each morning 7,000 tons or sand would be needed on the elevated set floor to replace the sand the desert winds would blow away each night. It took a crew of about twenty men each day to maintain our Tatooine Dune Sea.
Another tremendous set was the Endor Forest. A year in advance of shooting we began preparing the forest in Northern California- the very area where Steven Spielberg would shoot much of ET. Bulldozers would be needed to terrace the land, remove surface roots, and clear paths for the Ewoks to run. Tens of thousands of ferns would be planted and we would wait the winter out so the plants and trees would look natural when we returned the following early summer of 1982.
Many other challenges arose. We had to raise the set of the Ewok village twenty feet off the ground, During construction, illustrations and video were sent to George Lucas from me in London chronicling our progress. An immediate casting call was put out throughout Europe, as well as in the United States. We needed Ewoks on two continents.
Costumes would have to be made from scratch to fit the individual wearing the Ewok costume. Molds of their feet and hands were taken so the fur-line feet and hands would fit comfortably and to avoid later spills in the forest. Teaching the Ewoks to walk took weeks of rehearsal, along with exercise to build their endurance. Twenty-Four costumers would be needed on the set to help the Ewoks remove their heads between shots. Dozens of portable, battery-operated hair dryers would be used by costumers to force air into the heads of the Ewoks and other creatures between shots.
(Left) Phil Tippet (Stop Motion Animator), Kazanjian, Tom Smith (then manager of ILM who has since produced Honey I Shrunk the Kids among others) - study articulated armature for Jabba the Hutt's monstrous pet Rancor (Pictured below)
Jabba the Hutt was designed in the U.S. at ILM creature shop by Phil Tippett and his crew, and models were sent to Stuart Freeborn at Elstree where his large crews began the intricate fabrication of Jabba himself. Yoda would have to be remade, as the head used in The Empire Strikes Back was deteriorating. Thousands of human hairs would have to be hand sewn onto Yoda, but tens of thousands would have to be hand sewn into the new Chewbacca costume. Four new C-3P0 costumes, four R2-D2 units, and two new Darth Vaders would be created, as well as fifty new stormtroopers. In the U.S. the Emperor's Royal Guards, speeder bikers, and 400 additional costumes including helmets, shoes and boots, hand weapons and accessories would be manufactured. Over 100 models of creatures would be approved from hundreds of illustrations, and sixty different creatures would be built each with props, yet each very different. Some would be men in costumes; some, as the Gammorrean Guards (Pig Guards), were built with extended arms and wire-controlled hands and faces.
Sy Snoodles would be created to operate from under the stage floor and from marionette wires from above the set. All these creatures would be rehearsed in the United States, and many of the puppeteers and mimes would come directly from the U.S. to operate them in London.
The amazing speeder bike sequence would be created at ILM; the bikes were built nearby. A new handheld VistaVision camera would be designed and built to shoot the plates in Crescent City, California, the redwood forest.
The Empire Stikes Back contained more effects than any picture in the history of the movies. That number would be dwarfed by Return of the Jedi, which reached high in the 900s. The technology and craftsmanship would be the greatest ever done and would bring an Oscar to ILM/Lucasfilm.
The majority of these special effect shots would be orchestrated at ILM. We were the cutting edge of technology. But even then we would have to hand paint 15,000 frames of laser swords. We did not have today's computer graphics to help us out. The only computer-generated material for Return of the Jedi was the holographic model of the Death Star that appears in the Headquarters Frigate (the main briefing room scene where Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar prepare the Rebel forces for the Death Star attack). Constant communication between the shooting company in London and ILM outside of San Francisco, California, was necessary. Time delays were eight hours and the fax machine did not exist.
All of our preparation in London, Northern California, Southern California/Arizona border, and San Francisco would be made under the strictest secrecy. The Lucasfilm production office in Marin County was under heavy lock and key. Buildings were alarmed as were individual offices such as mine. Millions of fans around the world were curious to find what would be revealed in the third film. Even the title of Revenge of the Jedi was changed to Return of the Jedi only months before the release. The first one sheets appearing in theaters boldly said Revenge of the Jedi.
During the entire production, only three full and complete scripts existed. George Lucas's, Director Richard Marquand's, and mine. Richard continually wrote in his and it got quite beat up. I do not believe it existed much after production. Until years later when scripts were printed for other reasons, George and my scripts were the only full and original copies.
Crew members did rally around and keep any secrets they did know. We all wanted to surprise the waiting audience. When shooting in the United States we called the film Blue Harvest. Camera slates, invoices, hotel reservations, call sheets, production reports and crew hats and T-shirts all read Blue Harvest. So when a visitor would ask what are you shooting and we said "Blue Harvest," they went on their way. Can you imagine what would have happened, if we had said, "we're shooting the next film in the Star Wars trilogy?"
In postproduction, Ian Bryce, who was then one of my production assistants, sneaked into my office and carefully removed my script from my desk He substituted another look-alike script from my desk. Ian's plan was to have my script nicely leather-bound and embossed and then presented to me on my birthday. He had left a note on the false script in my drawer not to panic, but to see Ian. When I opened the gift, I smiled, and then laughed, because the script I had locked in my' desk was a fake script. Ian had bound a fake script!
Even the cast were not told about certain scenes until the day they were to shoot them. And then only the actor reading the line would get that information. Darth Vader (David Prowse) never got any information. For delicate information lines he would simply count 1-2-3-4, or read a fictitious line similar in character to the real dialogue. Only at the ADR (dialogue looping) session with James Earl Jones would James then be given the line. When it came time to shoot the removal of Vader's helmet, a very small second unit crew with George Lucas directing, photographed Sebastian Shaw playing the aged and dying Darth Vader.
The entire Jedi project from conception to U.K. and U.S. shooting to postproduction and worldwide release, took three years. Return of the Jedi still holds its own today.
Clearly George Lucas has made his mark and place in cinema history. I'm proud to be the producer and right-hand man for this most exciting cinematic adventure.
Thanks Howard and George!
- Arnold Leibovit, Director Sci-Fi Station
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