What with all that we've learned in the past 24 hours about the latest release of Return of the Jedi, I thought now would be a good time to look back and see what the director himself had to say about the film. The following is an interview conducted with Richard Marquand by Lee Goldberg for Starlog magazine.
A total fan and complete filmmaker ventures into the "Star Wars" universe for a spectacular finale to this battle against The Empire.
Richard Marquand loves the Star Wars saga. And it's a good thing he does. It wouldn't look too good if the director of Return of the Jedi would prefer working on a cinematic version of The Love Boat or Fantasy Island.
You might say that Marquand, a youngish and affable Englishman, is a movie publicists' dream. Why? Because he can say quite a few good things about a film without giving away any of the surprises or letting anything embarrassing slip out.
And in the case of Return of the Jedi, that's been unusually important. The pre- premiere interest in such plot essentials as "Who is The Other?" "Is Darth Vader really Luke's father?" and "What happens to the Leia/Solo/Skywalker romance?" has been rather intense. So intense, in fact, that Lucasfilm officials had given actors phony scripts and the like to keep plot twists secret until they absolutely had to be revealed to the cast and crew.
So, it's no big surprise that Marquand is tight-lipped when it comes to Return of the Jedi. But when it comes to Star Wars in general, the man can talk forever.
"When I went to see Star Wars, I was completely bowled over by the experience, by the mythological storyline as well as the incredible creations in the story and the way it was technically made," Marquand says, relaxing in his sparsely-decorated digs at Lucasfilm's San Rafael headquarters. "I had never seen anything like it as an emotional human being or as a moviemaker."
In short, he didn't ask for his money back.
"I felt an enormous surge of pleasure when I discovered there was going to be another one. It was as though a group of long-lost members of my family had phoned to say they were stopping by the house," he says. "I don't think it would have been possible to do what I've done on Jedi for two years of my life so intensely without being a total fan."
He may be a total fan, but he doesn't relax around the house in Star Wars pajamas.
"When I say 'total fan,' I don't say I'm the type of person represented by many of your readers who are total fans. I don't put myself in that category. I couldn't indulge to that extent. I like the films and stories as they exist on the screen; I don't need to take it further than that."
Earning the Assignment
How did a director, whose previous credits include a handful of TV projects (Search for the Nile, Birth of the Beatles) a chilling box office disappointment (The Legacy) and the film adaptation of the Ken Follett bestseller Eye of the Needle get the chance to planet hop with Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca and friends?
"I've almost come to the conclusion that it's better to ask somebody else that question," Marquand explains, "because I always end up extolling myself, which is something I don't like to do."
He was aware that producers George Lucas and Howard Kazanjian had assembled a list of potential directors and were talking to various agents. Marquand's agent called the director, asking him to seriously consider helming the third Star Wars adventure.
Marquand didn't think he had a chance, not until he heard what Lucas wanted.
"I fit the bill in that it seemed like they were looking for a younger man who has a great deal of experience, can work hard and fast, make up his mind and stick to it, and run a crew very quickly," he explains. "I knew then what George was searching for was not the old school movie director who would wait for the weather to get the shot he wanted. He wanted someone who could improvise, think on his feet."
Although his name was eventually added to the coveted list, Marquand forgot the whole process until winter 1981 and a phone call from George Lucas.
"George was in London doing the music for Raiders of the Lost Ark at the time and it was a very convenient moment for him to come see what was then a rough cut of my Eye of the Needle," Marquand recalls. "His people called my cutting room and asked if I would screen it for him. I said by all means. At that stage, you don't particularly want to show your movie because it's still in a very embryonic stage. But, I thought, he's a moviemaker who I admire so let's show it to him. And I was proud of Eye of the Needle. I felt I had achieved, for the most part, what I wanted to achieve."
Lucas sat through the whole movie and asked Marquand if they could get together and chat that evening. It may have been short notice, but Marquand accepted the invitation.
"When we met, I felt extremely comfortable. It was one filmmaker talking to another filmmaker. It was very good," he says. "We talked about our films and how we dealt with certain problems. It was not in any sense an interview or the kind of thing that happens in Hollywood where you must put on a tremendous performance to impress somebody.
"Then came a series of different meetings during which I supplied Howard Kazanjian with films of mine and also began to be aware of the other names on the list. There were many names. And the number slowly whittled down until it was just me and an American director. At that point, I realized that I must get this job and I really cared about it."
He got the assignment. Then, the question became: could he actually do it? After all, Marquand had never really been involved in a film which required the special-effects knowledge or the broad production scope necessary for a venture into the Star Wars universe.
"I told George that, if I was going to direct this adequately, I would need loyalty and support in the areas that were new to me," Marquand says. "In a way, being the director of a film of this size is rather like being the President of the Ford Motor Company. You don't necessarily have to know how to weld a car door, but you must make damn sure the guy who is doing it for you is someone you know, that you know his skills and that he'll do a good job."
The Star Wars galaxy really does belong to George Lucas, the man who conceived the cosmos, but retired from actually directing the films. As producer, he wields a great deal of power, but on Jedi, Richard Marquand was the man in charge.
"If you are the director," Marquand says, "you are really the man who says what goes. There are always stories in the movie industry about directors getting pushed around by producers. But, all those producers are people who really don't understand how movies get made. You can only really have one person doing that job. The good thing about George Lucas is he knows that fact."
Weaving the Story
Marquand leans forward on his desk and plays with a pen. "All you can do is tell the story your way, the best that you can. I must say I like the way George made Star Wars, the way he set it up and did it was extremely clever. He made it seem to have a very simple surface, but, in fact, it had a very dense, complex background to it.
"I preferred that surface naiveté to the much more sophisticated way [Irvin] Kershner told his story. His style very much suited this rather more dark, metallic second section of the saga. I think this third segment has a different kind of glow and flavor to it. But, I tried to make it simple because the textures in Jedi are so very, very complex. There's a world of new people and some of them are incredibly difficult to appreciate at first meeting."
Marquand says he made a "considerable" contribution to the story while it was still in the writing stages.
"Once George and I selected a writer [Lawrence Kasdan], we then locked ourselves in a room for about two weeks. It was very exciting. Larry, George, Howard and I literally just gave our ideas. Each of us had a different way of seeing how the story could be structured and slowly it was built up.
"There were a number of things I wanted to introduce, characters I wanted to bring into the movie. In every way, George was absolutely ready to listen and Larry and I saw eye-to-eye about many new things we wanted to do."
He contributed to the writing out of necessity and notes, "You could not, as a director of this extremely complicated saga, go away to England and start working unless you had examined the screenplay very closely. If you work on the script, you know it."
He may know it, but he isn't telling what he knows.
What Richard Marquand withholds in the way of facts, however, he more than makes up for in unrestrained enthusiasm. . .
. . .And a seemingly endless stream of superlatives to describe Return of the Jedi:
"This is an extremely unusual film. I don't think there's ever been a movie quite like this before. . .
"It's big in scope, big in dimension, big in the extraordinary multiplicity of the characters. . .
"It's just amazing, a huge, huge, huge movie. I can't think of anything quite like it. . .
"It's like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back rolled into one. . .
"It's not a cartoon serial, for me it's more akin to an agnostic religious experience. . .
No kidding. Marquand doesn't seem to think there's a danger of building up the film too much, of prompting fans to expect an epic that's just too huge, too amazing, too big, and too breathtaking an experience to be true.
But, maybe he's right. Maybe that's what the fans want to hear. And in the absence of any real facts about the movie, maybe they're willing to suspend their disbelief and be immersed in the pure joy of looking forward to Jedi.
Leaking the Secrets
Has Lucasfilm gone overboard in security consciousness? The film lensed on location under a nom de plume, Blue Harvest, to avoid publicity, high-prices, gawkers, and the like. Script pages for certain scenes were given to actors in sealed envelopes just minutes before they were to go before the cameras. Phony scripts were passed around.
Marquand smiles awkwardly, looking as though he might say "I'm sorry, you know too much," pull out a gun from his desk drawer, and sigh: "I'm afraid it's time for you to die."
"The actors who needed to know knew well in advance of shooting what was going to happen. They had their scripts," he replies quickly, defensively. "Any actors who we felt were security risks were given other [fake] scripts. There was one particular actor who gave an interview to the English press about the movie's plot, which extremely upset us. But we knew that actor was a security risk and had actually not given him the correct lines of dialogue. He fell completely into the trap.
"And there he was, having lunch with the English press one day. The next morning, the paper came out, having printed all this totally misleading information."
Marquand says producer Howard Kazanjian called the actor into his office for a talk, explaining that there were certain secrets which must be kept in order for the story to remain "fresh."
"We were very disappointed that he did it," Marquand continues, "He was very apologetic and he said that he was a very weak man. When the press phoned him, he found it very hard to turn them down."
There was a silence. Was the man, ah, eliminated?
No, security wasn't that tight. The actor finished his work on the film. Unharmed.
Carrie Fisher's performance as Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi is something which particularly pleases Marquand.
"She gives a tremendous performance in this film," he says, "and I, as an actor's director, really pride myself on being able to help actors over what are problematic areas. I actually feel that she and I together brought out depths in Princess Leia's character hitherto unseen.
"She had become very well-rounded, metaphorically and physically as a character in this movie. At last, you will see what a good actress she is. In the past, by necessity, there often wasn't very much room for depth of character. She really has some emotionally deep scenes which she handles wonderfully well."
Handling the Direction
Marquand calls himself an actor's director because he says he is "very interested in directing actors—many directors direct cameras. I think the actors felt very lost and almost neglected on Empire. The special effects sort of rode through that movie in terms of the actors being left alone.
"I was lucky in this film. The major actors who carried the story and dialogue were by now very experienced at this nightmarish way of working. They were used to it and knew how to deal with it."
Unlike most directors, Marquand films some of his rehearsals.
"The reason I do that," he says, "is because it makes the crew suddenly realize we are actually shooting film. There's a different quality to the way people act when they know film is going through the gate than if it's just a rehearsal and we're moving the camera around."
He says the performances given during a rehearsal are often very different from those he elicits when they enter into the now-we're-filming-quiet-on-the-set mode.
"Very often you find that the first take has a quality to it, it's a sort of an angst, that the adrenalin is really pumping and often you get some wonderful stuff. It's money well invested to get as much on the negative as you can in one day."
With the principal photography in the cart, Marquand was hard at work "every day and every night shooting more special effects. We have a colossal space battle in this movie which, for me, is a tremendously stretching experience."
Marquand doesn't view Return of the Jedi simply as a science-fiction film. "Many people get completely carried away by the superficial, the science-fiction aspect of the movie. That's like being completely enthralled with the frame around a Picasso. Science-fiction is not really what it's about. It happens to be set in that world because that's where the saga works best.
"I don't want to get pompous here, but Jedi does set up some echoes in your mind and in your heart. It deals with life and death of man, which is very important stuff."
Marquand doesn't see Return of the Jedi as just a sequel, either.
"There are sequels and there are sequels," he says, "Is this a sequel? What this film does is end the third chapter of a coherent story. Superman III isn't the coherent end of anything, it's just a remake of the same movie. James Bond is merely a remake of an old movie, too. You just hope that this time they can re-manipulate your characters and come up with something slightly different.
"The actual Star Wars saga from chapters one through nine is a total symphony, if you like, though it's actually just a movie. You know what I mean. I'm not making a sequel. I'm doing the third movement of a piece of music. The themes are being developed and ended here. That's why it's satisfying. I don't know if I could do a sequel."
And what does the end of Return of the Jedi mean for fans? For Richard Marquand, it will mean the end of the hardest job of his filmmaking career, a "profoundly rich experience for which I am very grateful.
"There are some deeply sad moments. Not everything ends as you necessarily expect it to end. There are such interesting revelations about the characters and there are still open endings for most of them. And there are places to go for those who don't die."
OH NO! He didn't slice Luke Skywalker into little Space Food Sticks, did he? C'mon, he wouldn't melt down R2-D2? Will Han Solo's next adventure take place six feet under? Will Chewbacca be the new rug at Darth' s summer home?
Marquand won't say.
But he will say that filming the ending, which was the first sequence shot, wasn't easy. "It was an enormous responsibility getting the ending right. Endings are always a problem," he states. "This film has such a complex ending that your problem as a director is to make it clear, make it work, and make it emotionally satisfying. Your job is to enable the audience to overcome some of the sadness of the film. And there are some deeply sad moments in this movie."
With Return of the Jedi behind him, Marquand will soon be off to Paris, where he will direct a low-budget romance starring Karen (Raiders) Allen. And then? Are there more space epics in his future?
"I would like to do one of the early ones in the Star Wars saga," he says, "I'm already fascinated with them, the way the society works in those early ones is something that appeals to me very much. It sounds like a very intriguing world."
It's a world where Richard Marquand, like George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Gary Kurtz, Howard Kazanjian and the Star Wars cast will always belong, light sabers at the ready, waiting for Return of the Jedi.
Stepping softly in a danger zone…