Star Wars: A New Hope... Amazing! Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back... Incredible! Star Wars: Return of the Jedi... Ewoks? As much as I enjoyed Return of the Jedi it was the point where the Star Wars film franchise started going down hill. There's a reason for this, and produce Gary Kurtz gives it to us.
Kurtz was a producer of the first two Star Wars films and worked very closely with George Lucas on the films. In 1980 the two of the parted ways due to creative differences. Kurtz wanted to make a movie with a great story and characters, Lucas wanted to make a movie built around toys. After 30 years it's been revealed that Lucas' creative decisions on the Star Wars franchise were influenced by the toy business!
Kurtz recently told the Hero Complex that after The Empire Strikes Back, he and Lucas couldn't agree on where they wanted to take Return of the Jedi. Kurtz explains,
I could see where things were headed. The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It's a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It's natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that's not the best thing for making quality films.
The first film and Empire were about story and character, but I could see that George's priorities were changing.
So what would have Return of the Jedi been like had Lucas not let the toys drive his creative decisions? It would have been a darker film, with a not so happy ending. "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." Here is what could have been.
We had an outline, and George changed everything in it. 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 ending of the film Kurtz wanted 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."
Now that would have been a great ending!
Make sure to head on over to The LA Times to read the full article, it's really interesting.