Did Action Figures Save Han Solo from Death in Return of the Jedi?
Estranged member of the original group that put Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back together, producer Gary Kurtz has some strong but ultimately unsurprising words for The LA Times, regarding George Lucas and the creative motivations behind the later Star Wars movies.
Instead of bittersweet and poignant [Lucas] 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.
Well, we can’t say that we don’t prefer Han alive at the end of the trilogy, but gee, George Lucas makes bad writing decisions for the wrong reasons?
We are shocked.
We’ve heard of major changes to the Return of the Jedi script before (like that Endor would have been Kashyyyk, and the ewoks would have been wookies), but never this one, although it’s so unsurprising it’s almost familiar. George Lucas has done an incredible job of handling merchandising for Star Wars, and for what its worth Star Wars figurines are a ridiculously comprehensive line, but it’s all too easy to extrapolate from this and theorize that the switch from a race of hairy warrior men to a race of fuzzy teddy bears was also made with toys in mind.
On the other hand, we have that original “bittersweet” ending:
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.
Would we really have found that ending as compelling? Sure, we can complain about ewoks singing and Coruscanti workers tearing down statues to some upbeat Enya, but I’m willing to put up with that for some Han/Leia make outs and the Vader cremation scene. The reason why Empire Strikes was so dark was because it was the second act. RotJ had to actually end the story for us.