Richard Marquand, the director of Return of the Jedi, was born in Cardiff, Wales which is just down the road from where I live. It may be because of this that I have a fondness for the Welshman but another reason may be the need to get the recognition out there for the talented director’s work on Jedi.
It’s often said by fans that George Lucas really directed Return of the Jedi and at times Marquand was out of his league. Well let’s look at the evidence and see if that statement is really true.
What had Marquand directed up to Return of the Jedi to catch the eye of George Lucas? Well Marquand’s directing career began in TV with Edward II way back in 1970 and a couple of episodes of a TV mini-series called The Search For The Nile. Marquand’s first feature film came in 1979, a horror film called The Legacy starring Katharine Ross and Sam Elliot. Five powerful people meet at an ancient and rather spooky mansion to hopefully get their grubby hands on an inheritance. You can imagine what happens next. If you ever played the CD-ROM game, The 7th Guest you will have a good idea what this movie is all about.
Marquand’s next movie, you could say were his first steps into a big franchise as he directed the biopic film, Birth of the Beatles. Only nine years after the band broke up this movie was released, but it was his next movie that caught the eye of a certain Star Wars creator, George Lucas. That movie was Eye of the Needle, a spy movie starring Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan. Lucas said
“<Marquand> had done some great suspense films and was really good with actors. Eye of the Needle was the film I’d seen that he had done that impressed me the most, it was really nicely done and had a lot of energy and suspense.”
It’s interesting that George Lucas picked up on Marquand being an actors director. Marquand himself admitted this in an interview he did with Jules-Pierre Malartre in 1984.
“I think a lot of actors recognize a sympathy in me for them. It doesn’t necessarily get a good performance or movie. A lot of actors complain about the fact that the director doesn’t even speak to them. They say it was hell, and that they don’t know how the film worked. It is just a different way of working. I like to explain to the actors how to do it.”
It’s common knowledge that Marquand wasn’t his first choice to take the director’s chair. David Lynch was approached who had won an Academy Award for the excellent The Elephant Man starring Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt. Lynch declined in favour of Dune. Horror specialist David Cronenberg was also approached but favoured Videodrome. Mark Hamill attended a Film Festival back in 2013 and talked about why he thought David Lynch wouldn’t have worked as director of Return of the Jedi:
“It’s like Lennon/McCartney. You have the sweet with the sardonic. You would have had that mainstream commercialism of Star Wars with that really skewed view. I think he might have chaffed at the idea of someone looking over his shoulder and this was really George’s baby. I didn’t understand at the time why he didn’t direct all three, but I came to love Irvin Kirshner and I came to love Richard Marquand.”
George Lucas was in the UK with Steven Spielberg and John Williams recording the music for Raiders of the Lost Ark. While in the country George Lucas asked to see what Marquand had done and in particular a rough cut of Eye of the Needle. He was impressed with what he saw and felt he could work well with the Welshman. George Lucas said
“I was very impressed with the directing. It’s very tight, very clean, strong movie with narrative, character and just getting the most emotional value out of a concept.”
So Marquand was eventually chosen for Return of the Jedi and filming began early 1982. With a budget of just over $32 million, George Lucas was determined the movie would not go over budget. George Lucas knew Marquand didn’t have experience with a movie that relied heavily on complicated special effects so was on set to assist Marquand. But Marquand brought out the best in the actors. Lucas even saying in a later interview that Marquand was a “very nice person who worked well with the actors.” Marquand joked at the presence of George Lucas once saying “It is rather like trying to direct King Lear – with Shakespeare in the next room!”
That is not to say in any means that Marquand didn’t bring anything to the table in regards to having input into Return of the Jedi. Thanks to the excellent and highly detailed book by J.W. Rinzler, The Making of Return of the Jedi, we get a valuable insight into exactly what input the Welsh director brought. Here’s just a list of examples with the relevant page number from the book:
During a Story Conference. July 13th to 17th 1981.
Page 66: Marquand suggests that Lando is in disguise at Jabba’s Palace and Chewie arrives in chains. He also suggests Leia be the Bounty Hunter who presents the captured Wookiee to Jabba and ultimately gets found out and turned into a “dancing girl.”
Page 67: Richard Marquand thinks it would be nice to have a chain around Leia that Jabba is holding onto. Lucas reveals he likes this idea and could then kill Jabba. Marquand suggests with the chain.
Page 70: “I had an idea about these Death Stars, which Larry doesn’t like. I wonder if this is a great thing for the Emperor to know: That these half-built Death Stars do work and they are complete” suggests the director.
Page 76: It seems at some points Marquand was a mediator between Kasdan and Lucas. After a lengthy discussion between the two regarding the ending and the ultimate fate of Skywalker (whether he has some of The Emperor’s powers or if he rules the galaxy) Marquand steps in “I am surprised at you guys – You spend a lot of time throwing scorn on each other’s ideas. I must say this, that what you have got to get to is an agreement.”
Page 77: Marquand thinks the movie needs more of the Falcon. Kasdan then suggests Lando could pilot the Falcon.
Other Notable Mentions.
Page 59: George Lucas asked Marquand who should play Admiral Ackbar. The Welshman says it should be a creature so Lucas asks him to pick a creature. Marquand picks this wonderfully big calamari man. There was much objection to his choice during the meeting but obviously he prevailed.
Page 117: Richard Marquand casts Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor.
Page 119: Marquand tried on most of the outfits and costumes to see how they worked and the limitations for the actors. (Probably left the Slave Leia outfit.)
Page 157: Marquand played torture chamber droid, EV-949. Anthony Daniels said he was impressed with how Marquand performed.
I’m sure I’ve missed out some other glaringly obvious examples of how Richard Marquand contributed to the making of Return of the Jedi on top of his wonderful directing. It’s no secret that George Lucas was there on set and at certain times would be calling the shots in regards to the story and effects. But the main director was Marquand. He brought the most out of the cast and gained their respect. That is shown on screen and has produced some of the most memorable performances in cinema history.
Sadly, on September 4th, 1987 Richard Marquand died of an embolism that was brought on from a stroke. He was driving his children home when the stroke occurred. Paralyzed down his left side and unable to speak he managed to get his children home. He died in Hospital aged 49.
It’s sad that Marquand was taken away so early, for his family and friends and for all the Star Wars fans out there. Marquand was once asked if he would like to work with the Star Wars team again to which he replied “Oh Yes, if they asked me.” We must never forget the contribution Marquand gave to the Star Wars universe.
diolch i chi Richard.
Below is a video tribute I did to the director of Return of the Jedi, Richard Marquand.
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