Richard Marquand interview: Return Of The Jedi, Star Wars

A previously-unpublished interview with Return Of The Jedi director Richard Marquand...

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Return Of The Jedi. A book on the making of the film is to be released this autumn, and I’m looking forward to delving through the previously little known facts, pictures and artefacts about the movie that author J W Rinzler has discovered while writing the book. I recently unearthed some forgotten Return Of The Jedi lore myself when I packed my things for my upcoming move. Imagine my surprise when, going through some old papers, I came across an interview of Richard Marquand I did back in 1984, barely a year after the release of Return Of The Jedi.

Marquand, fresh from his Return Of The Jedi directorial experience, was in Montreal to promote his latest movie, Until September, a romantic comedy starring French comedian Thierry Lhermitte and Raiders Of The Lost Ark’s Karen Allen.

As I read through the transcript of the interview, printed on a very bad, circa ‘82 printer, it hit me that I had never published that interview. Back then, I was covering the World Film Festival in Montreal, and the station ended up with so much material, that a lot of it never made in on the air.

Of course, the point of the interview was to discuss Marquand’s latest movie, Until September, but as a true Star Wars geek, most of the questions I prepared were related to Marquand’s turn at sitting in the Star Wars director’s chair.

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How did you feel when you learned that you were going to direct the third and final chapter of the Star Wars saga?

I was a great admirer of George Lucas’ work. I really loved American Graffiti and Star Wars. That was already a good step because it meant I was going to work in a friendly, collaborative atmosphere. Secondly, I am a tremendous Star Wars fan; I know the story means an enormous love to me. I love the characters. In a way, I felt like a young man who knows the music of Beethoven extremely well, and who is finally asked to play it with the London Symphonic Orchestra.

So, obviously, you’re scared, but fear is a very necessary part of what you do. But, at least, you feel it is your chance, because you know how it should fit, because you know what you’re doing − or you’ll find out in rehearsal, with the orchestra, and so on. It was a great feeling.

What was your special contribution to the Star Wars saga? What did you put into Return Of The Jedi that wasn’t in the other two movies?

Before I answer your question, there’s something I should say about Star Wars that a lot of people seem to forget: Star Wars meant a lot to young people around the world – young people who were around six, seven and eight years old, and older as well. Those people grew up. So when they saw The Empire Strikes Back, they were a little bit more mature. By the time I came along to direct Return Of The Jedi, they were 18. 19 and 20.

Yes. About our age.

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That’s right! That’s how I recognised you guys when I saw you standing in the lobby out there. I know who you are. I know ‘the look.’ I know these are my people. So, therefore, I was very acute[ly aware] of this.

I have a son who’s about your age and part of the Star Wars generation. So he was my most intimate link to the Star Wars saga.  So that meant that what I was able to bring to the Star Wars saga, which the other directors couldn’t since they were dealing with a younger generation, was a certain kind of modern maturity, which you couldn’t have had in Star Wars [Episode IV], because you would have lost a lot of people. I was able to entertain the little kids with the Ewoks and all the stuff that made them feel safe, but I was able, at the same time, to give young adults the kind of things they’re looking for, which is a lot of excitement, a lot of showmanship. But they are also looking for true relationships and genuine emotions. I think that’s what has always been in the Star Wars saga, but I was really able to bring that out and make it work. I think that’s what Return Of The Jedi had that the others didn’t have. I’m not criticising the others: they simply weren’t ready for it.

[Irvin] Kershner was absolutely perfect for the middle film, which is a dark, troubled and anguished film. That’s the kind of character Kershner is himself; he’s very amusing socially, but his mind is full of dark torments and worries. George was the perfect man for Star Wars because he understands gags. He’s got a great story sense. He’s got tremendous appreciation of all the little gags and jokes. But I think I was probably the right guy for the third film, because I like the great virtues: I love loyalty, friendship, love…

… happy endings?

Yes. I love happy endings. [laughs]

How did you feel about having to work with robots and masked characters? I imagine it gets problematic when it comes to showing emotions through make-up and foam latex?

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The nearest I ever got to that was working with masks in the theatre. I’ve always been fascinated by masked figures, because you don’t really know what’s going on, but you can project your interpretation of the emotions unto that mask. That was the nearest I got.

Then, working on film, which is frequently a media of close-ups, there is nothing blanker than a close-up of Darth Vader. Why do you put a person in it? But you realise you have someone under, and that is why emotion does get through, if the movement is right. If you really work at it, it does work.

It’s the same thing with the robots. You have to try to achieve some realism.  A good example is the torture droid in that cavern where all those tortures are going on. We invented him in London. He stands up. He speaks. He gestures, and his eyes are flashing, and his mouth is moving. He’s very simply made, but it was necessary to try and give him some kind of reality, somehow.

Jabba the Hutt was the same thing. He’s a huge lump that just sits there, completely dead. Then, the guys get inside and we start going. In the end, after shouting, screaming, studying and running video tests and so on, it starts to turn into something we could recognise if it was walking down the street. It starts to have some real dimension. It is hard work.

R2-D2 was the worse. He’s a pain. When there’s a man in it, it’s great.

Is it because R2-D2 doesn’t speak?

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Yes. There you are, trusting what you’re going to do in post-production. Post-production on R2-D2 is very important, because Ben Burtt adds all those signals and sounds. So you know you’re going for some kind of comedy thing, but you’re not quite sure exactly how it’s going to be.

When R2-D2 is running just on his electronics, he’s a beast. He’s the most rude and ill-behaved actor you’ve ever worked with in your whole life. He would just turn around and walk out of the door. I love him, though, because he’s so good in the end.

A lot of people who made science fiction movies don’t realise the work you have to put in to make it real. It doesn’t work if it’s not real. If it’s tongue–in-cheek, it’s not worth doing. It has to be something you really believe in. A lot of critics and other people who are old in their heads have missed the point of what this is all about. They think it is just a cartoon strip, kid stuff.

Is there a type of movie you prefer?

I think what binds all theses movies, apart from the fact I directed them all, is that they’re all for the heart. I guess I’m a very romantic person. I think the values that I hold are not necessarily intellectual values. I don’t think they would ever stand up on a political platform. But they have something to do with trust, loyalty, and friendship − that kind of thing. I think the true expression of honest emotions is very important.

Very often, you don’t quite get that in cinema. You get the image of it. You get the pretence of it − you know, the ‘good buddy’ kind of thing. You don’t get that moment when people really get to grips with each other. The way they do in Star Wars. The way they try to do in Eye Of The Needle, or the way they do in Until September.

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So long as I can do films like that, I don’t really mind whether they’re science fiction or just little love stories.

What is your personal trademark? What do you think will make people say ‘this is a Richard Marquand film’?

I’ve often thought about that. I’ve been told by others what it is. I truly don’t know. I have a very weird way of making films. It’s different with a younger generation of filmmakers now working in America. I see movies to enjoy myself. I’m not a film buff. I couldn’t tell you who lit Casablanca. My son could. He knows everything there is to know.

I know what I don’t like in films. I know technically what makes my films different. If you look at the three Star Wars movies, you can see they’re very different. Their look and approach to action and camera work, and so forth, are very different.

I love to gain a tremendous simplicity. I like to make it look as though it’s tremendously easy, as though there wasn’t a camera around very much. I don’t love flashy work. I like to make it look like it just slid in and happened. I work very close to the actors, which a lot of directors don’t.

I heard that you were an ‘actor’s director.’

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I think a lot of actors recognise 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.

Which directors were you influenced by?

There are a few. One of the reasons I like them is because I can’t do their kind of work. For example, Fellini, for me, is a great director, and there is no way I could possibly even approach the mad genius of Fellini. I like the films of Steven Spielberg very much. Again, it’s partly because I know I can’t do what Spielberg does. I don’t have that way of looking at life that Steve has.

So those are the directors I like because there is no way I could emulate them.

One of the great directors I admire is David Lean, who also has a tremendous simplicity. He has a fabulous eye. You look at his movies, and you don’t necessarily know it’s Lean, but you know it’s one of a group of four or five… and Lean is its king. I loved his early black and white movies for their look, their passion, and their simplicity. In Lawrence Of Arabia and The Bridge On The River Kwai, they had compelling stories, with nothing flashy, told with great ease.  The camera didn’t seem to be there. Those are quite fabulous stories told by a very emotive man.

How do you think people will react to the ending of Until September?

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I think it’s an interesting point for people to discuss after the movie when they’ll go for a hamburger. I’m glad [Thierry] Lhermitte did what he did because I think that’s what people would like to feel that they could do. I think a lot of people feel trapped in their job or relationship, or by the city that they live in. Society, more and more, is telling people that they should be good and wear nice clothes, and go to work, earn money and all.

Lhermitte is a guy who finally realises that this is all ridiculous, so he runs after his girlfriend to the airport. He did it, and I believe in him. I did actually run out on my first wife, so it’s slightly biographical. I was deeply in love with another woman, and I suddenly realised my situation was ridiculous; I was sitting in the living room and, like that, I suddenly got up, took my car, and went away. Very, very wicked, but it’s my life. I only got one and it’s very short. You don’t get long, so…

Do you think you’ll ever go back to television?

Television is great. One of the reasons why it’s great is because a lot of people watch it. One of the reasons why it’s bad is because people don’t really watch it. If you’re interested in communicating with people, it’s much better to persuade them to leave home, buy tickets and go somewhere dark and watch your movie. They sit there and it requires a little more concentration. The killing thing about television is that it’s set in a room that’s lit, and there’s always a lot of talking going on.

Television thought me a lot. I made many documentaries, which was a tremendous training in terms of getting to a room, seeing the actors, setting the camera, trying to get what I want. But television is a problem for me. It really is.

What are your future projects?

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I’ve got a lot of things I’m looking forward to doing. My next film is for Columbia Pictures, and it stars Glenn Close [Jagged Edge, co-starring Jeff Bridges]. She’s a fabulous actor who you probably know from The Big Chill and The Natural. I’ve also seen her on stage. She plays a lawyer who’s given up criminal law because she finds it detestable. She’s hired to defend a man [Bridges] who’s accused of a Charles Manson type of murder. The whole thing is a very high-tension courtroom relationship.

After that, I have a very big science fiction movie. It takes a very long time to figure out, though.

What kind of science fiction movie?

It’s more projected into the world of Blade Runner and Alien than into the fantasy world of Star Wars.

Is it set in the far future?

I think it probably is, because the writer and I are only doing research right now. It will take some time because we want to make it real again. We want to have it really rooted into some form of reality.

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Is it based on a book?

No. It is a completely original story.

How about the stage? Do you ever consider doing some more?

Yes. I’d love to go back and do some more. That’s something you see different in Return Of The Jedi than in the other three movies. It’s something that I brought. It’s rather theatrical. It’s a lot like an opera. I love big, theatrical settings with entrances and exits, and big moments…

… like Darth Vader’s cape flying in the wind?

Yes. I like that very much. I also enjoyed the way we set the whole Ewoks battle in that magic forest, with big, long shots, and big close-ups. It was sort of… operatic.

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I heard you were interested in directing one of the Star Wars preludes?

That’s right. One, two and three are going to be very interesting − if George is ever able to start writing. Steven [Spielberg] and I would like to. It’s a very interesting part of the saga, the early days. The youth of Ben Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker is really important. It’s a very different world. Technology is different, means of communication are different. Sentiments are different. But it will take a long time, I’m afraid so. It’s just a fact we will have to face. Good things come in threes, and all good things come to an end. That’s just one of the realities of life. Your kids may see it.

I guess that’s about it, Mister Marquand.

Good. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s good talking about those things.

Unfortunately, we never got to see if Marquand would have been selected to direct one of the Star Wars prelude. He died of a stroke and heart attack in 1987. He was 49. Jagged Edge was released in 1985. His last film, Hearts of Fire, starring Bob Dylan, Rupert Everett and Julian Glover, was released in 1987, posthumously.

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George Lucas once commented that Marquand was hired to direct Return Of The Jedi on the strength of his work on Eye Of The Needle, which Lucas felt had a lot of energy and suspense.

We can only guess which of the Star Wars preludes he could have ended up directing. Given his work on Return Of The Jedi and his candid musings on the values of friendship, loyalty and other human values during this interview, we can imagine what kind of input he would have had on any of the prelude movies.

It is also a shame that he never got around to doing that science fiction movie. It would have been interesting to see his personal take on science fiction. Somewhere out there, there is a pile of research, and possibly a partially finished script for a sci-fi movie possibly blending dark elements from Blade Runner and Alien with showmanship from Return Of The Jedi and the jagged tension of Eye Of The Needle thrown in for good measure. I would have loved to have seen that movie.

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