RICHARD MARQUAND – Before the Jedi returned
It’s an astounding 35 years since Return of the Jedi brought the original Star Wars trilogy to its epic conclusion, and to commemorate, Insider brings you this fascinating archive interview with the movie’s director Richard Marquand.
George Lucas has been called a 20th-century mythmaker, and he created the Star Wars saga to be a contemporary fairytale. How do you feel about directing a mythological tale?
I think that any successful drama contains an enormous amount of myth. Otherwise, what is it? It’s superficial, of no significance. My previous experience with this aspect of drama has to do with working as a theater director with the Jacobean plays of Marlowe, or Shakespeare. These men were the greatest mythmakers of their time. As for today, I do think very much that the Star Wars saga does carry a huge barrel of myth with it. The more that movies go back in time or far out in space or into some legendary land, the stronger the chances are of wielding a magic wand and making a real myth. The Star Wars saga seems to invite comparison to other tales and histories, but the fact is—completely on its own terms and not looking for parallels—it is a true saga. It holds up in its own right. It taps a deep response in the audience. This very strong mythology is why, although they don’t quite realize it, people go back to Star Wars time and time again for succor, for nourishment, relief… like an oasis when crossing the desert.
What attracted you to the saga as a director?
First of all was the magic we’ve been talking about: The Jedi myth, the dark side, the threat to your individuality and your soul, whether one can survive as an entity or not. I like the inherent message in there. Although these are not message movies, they tell a lot about love and sacrifice and danger, about individuality and aggression and good. Also very fascinating to me is the subtle definition of evil in Jedi, which is sort of interwoven into the skein of the film. There is a suggestion as to what evil really is. The other thing for me, just purely as a director, was to get the chance to put that on the screen using all the techniques that Lucasfilm has at its disposal. That was irresistible. So it was the magic that attracted me, and the chance to put my hands on it. This is pure filmmaking—the ultimate in film techniques. The movie experience is practically three-dimensional.
Did you see Star Wars when it was first released?
I’ve always been an ardent movie fan, and I’ll never forget when I first saw Star Wars. My son, who was then a young 12-year-old going to school in Boston, had seen it five, six, seven times. He said, “Dad, this movie is amazing. It’s something you’ve just got to see. It’s on a par with all the great westerns, with Robin Hood.” So when I was next in New York I found it was still running and I saw it. I was completely knocked out by it. I was astounded that it was possible to do that on film. It was hard to imagine how anybody had the brilliance to consider doing it, and to present it as an absolute reality. A lot of people who’ve tried to do the Star Wars thing have not succeeded because they’ve missed this point. It cannot be campy, or put-on in any way. It has absolutely got to have the smell of reality. That sense of real, real truth has to be kept throughout the saga. In Jedi, we have pushed that sense to the danger point—absolutely to the brink—because we have all these extraordinary creatures.
How do you direct the creatures?
Do you think of the people inside Jabba the Hut who articulate the creature? Do you direct an Ewok, or an actor in an Ewok suit? Well, you don’t direct an actor in an Ewok suit. You’re dead if you do. And actually as a director you are talking to Jabba himself, or to Wicket, or Admiral Ackbar, or Bib Fortuna. You’re telling them what to do. Oh, in the early stages when you are casting the people who will later put on the outward show of these characters, you are thinking of them as the manipulators. At that point you are interested in their shape and personality and temperament—whether or not they can stand being in costume for any length of time, and what ideas they have about the character. But once that is set and they are in costume: Yes, I defi nitely deal with Jabba!
Must the actor playing the part forget his humanity and be an Ewok, or a Pig Guard?
It’s a very schizophrenic exercise being an actor in a costume, inside a mask or an outfit that doesn’t look like you, or feel like you. The actors need to see themselves and get used to themselves in their new persona. Masks are very rich and magical, and can give out a whole lot more than you can imagine just seeing them hanging on a wall. The actor needs to get the sense of this—to see what he looks like again and again in that mask or costume— before they can be that character.
How can this be accomplished on set?
If the creature is huge like Jabba, you organize it so that a small television monitor screen inside the body of the creature can be matched with a camera outside pointing back at him, like a mirror. This way the people inside can see what the creature they are articulating looks like as he makes this or that movement. For small creatures like Ewoks, with one person per costume, you make sure they have holes in the eyes of the headpiece of the costume. Then you set up mirrors wherever they go so that as they are walking along, they see that they are actually Ewoks; they are not people anymore. Each Ewok actor has to see [themselves] as an Ewok or they will never come off as one.
Can the audience tell right away in Jedi whether a creature has good or evil intentions?
One of the incredibly important things about the saga, or the way it’s presented, is that it demonstrates that the man in the white hat is not necessarily the good guy—or the bad guy either. I think this is especially relevant for the young people who are going out to live in the society of the future, which seems to be heading toward increasing uniformity in people’s lives. People often judge quickly. I’m reminded of the first time I saw Chewbacca in the cantina. The first impression is definitely—from everything we’ve been taught in the way of prejudice and cliché—“Uh-oh! Look out! Chewbacca is a very big, dangerous creature.” And, of course, he is a very emotional character as we come to know him, but he’s not like one would expect. You don’t always know which way he’s going to go, but he does have a heart of gold and all that. So he’s an anti-stereotype. Another example of that is the Ewoks. They’re little furry things, but they’re not teddy bears by any means. On the other hand, there are baddies who are ugly. We sort of mix it up.
What about Darth Vader?
He’s extremely popular, and bad. The Darth Vader thing is sort of different. Vader is popular not just because he’s a baddie—though they are usually the most interesting characters—but because of other fascinating things about him. One of them is that he has a kind of subtle sense of humor, which makes him more attractive than some of the other bad guys. Also in Jedi, he is only really outflanked by the real bad guy, who has an even better sense of humor, as well as being more evil. Vader has a very wry, mean way of looking at life, because he is a wry, mean man. Another thing that sets him apart from other movie bad guys is that he has tremendous power, which is very attractive. If I were an eightyear- old I would like to have him by my bedside. My R2 night-light is sort of nice, but it couldn’t protect me in the middle of the night. Ultimately, the most interesting thing is that you don’t really know who he is. He provokes the same curiosity as the Mona Lisa. Why is she smiling? You keep coming back to it with Vader, too. Who is in there? Who is he?
So you see Darth Vader as a fascinating enigma?
Yes, he takes us off our guard the whole time. People don’t know if he’s lying or not. He constantly pulls the rug out from underneath you. When you look at his face you can have no idea what is going on inside him. Again, it’s what makes that mask thing so interesting. Human faces are much easier to pin down. You can look into someone’s eyes and get a sense of what is going on, of what’s happening in there.
An actor’s eyes alone can express anger, especially in a close-up. How about emotional manifestation in creatures?
The main problem along those lines, in a fast-moving story like we’re dealing with, is that you don’t have much time to develop a deep psychology for everyone. But within the limitations of the amount of screen-time that any given character has got, you have to inject as much as you possibly can of the little bits and pieces that hint at the undercurrents of psychology going on. Jabba, for instance, has a tail, like a cat’s tail, which moves slowly up and down when he is really angry or excited or disturbed. This is an extra useful piece of descriptive action—a little insight into his emotional pattern. You’ve got to keep this attention to detail going. This richness… This reality, if you will. Even with the lesser characters like the Pig Guards [Gamorrean Guards], we attempted to show several levels of behavior. I felt that the Pig Guards were totally unintelligent, neo-fascist types. Their dumb attitude to carrying out order is one level of behavior.
At the same time, we wanted to convey that, just as with the school bully, you can outmaneuver them if you’re smart and they will turn into cowards. This is what happens in the movie. Also, I thought an interesting characteristic for them to have would be for them to relish witnessing the discomfort of one of their own: To enjoy seeing another Pig Guard being given a hard time. We actually managed to get that into the fi lm.
How do you decide on what is appropriate behavior for a creature; what his motivations are?
These are the areas where the collaborative aspects of making these fi lms most comes into play. Motivation, emotional characteristics, physical traits, body language, and movement absolutely require input from the man who invented the universe in the fi rst place. All through pre-production, the shoot, and post-production, George made himself available. A good example of his creative collaboration involved the Ewoks. Early on, during pre-production, I had hired a choreographer to work with the actors, the little people, who were to play the Ewoks. The idea was to get them into some kind of physical situation and some kind of costume as early as possible. Well, at this point we devised a whole set of body language for them—how they would scratch their fl eas, look up, interact with each other, etcetera. George saw one of these early rehearsals and he really didn’t like the way the Ewoks ran. He thought they were too uniform, and preferred that they return to their own methods of running. I said, “Sure, fine.” As it turned out, he was absolutely right.
You seem to see the making of Return of the Jedi as a truly collaborative effort.
This movie has reconfirmed my belief in the essence of collaboration possible between the director, the creative producer, the production office, and the people who actually make the movie. The proof of the effectiveness of this joint effort has really come to me profoundly in this huge film. I have been virtually given carte blanche by George and the producers as far as my selection of people that matter to a director—other actors, cameramen, remaining crew. I was free to choose people whose strengths I knew, whom I could rely on. We were a team. In the business of making movies there are no loners. Everybody is doing it together. There is no one Michelangelo. The effort involves a lot of people mixing paint, preparing the brushes, building the scaffolding, preparing the ceiling, and even doing some sketches around the sides. That’s probably how the Sistine Chapel got painted, and it’s certainly how most movies are made.
Was there anything you learned as a child that relates to what you’re doing as an adult?
I’ll tell you how it all began, because I don’t think I ever told anybody this and I do think it’s rather interesting. When I was 12, I had a very eccentric English master, a Mr. Craddock, who wore a rather strange tweed suit and smoked a pipe. The class had been reading the poem “Locksley Hall” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which is an extraordinary 19th-century vision of what the future would be like, way before H.G. Wells. It goes: “For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.” I was loving it, but some of the boys didn’t appreciate the higher forms of poetic art. We were coming to the end of a semester and there was to be a two-week break at Easter. Mr. Craddock said at the end of the last day: “You’ve got a task to do this vacation. Take any four verses of this poem, and during the vacation write a screenplay based on those verses.” There was a groan from some of the boys, but I thought, “Gee, this could be really good.” He explained roughly how to lay it out—I don’t think he had it exactly right, but that really didn’t matter. The important thing was that that vacation I went off with my four verses and I just wrote a film. I had never really thought before how you could put it down on paper with headings and descriptions. I remember that my brother and I were vacationing on this farm. I loved farming. I’ve always been a country boy. Well, I showed it to my brother, who was then 15, and he read it. “That’s fantastic,” he said, “you’re going to be a fi lm director.” Well, of course, I had no such intentions. At the time I wanted to be either a farmer or an actor. It’s funny—the question has keyed this memory of mine, which I had totally forgotten about for 25 years.
Mythological tales usually end with the triumph of good over evil. Do you think the Star Wars audience will be happy with the outcome?
The difficult thing about doing a film of this nature is that, at the start of it, you don’t want the audience to know how it’s going to end. It’s diffi cult to keep a certain amount of tension going, but this film does it—I think quite brilliantly. We’ve achieved a sense of jeopardy to the very end. You never get the idea that this is a formula idea where the lovers meet and, although they have their ups and downs, you know very well that they will eventually go off into the sunset. We’ve got a really good story here. It’s about individual people. There are no generalizations. We know these people and they know each other. They’re friends, and they’re concerned about the world in which they live. The story becomes more complex as the saga progresses, and going into the third movie—although you hope for the best—you’ve no idea how their overwhelming problems are going to be resolved. I think we’ve managed to keep totally away from the old style in which the good guys are sure to win, because you really don’t know. I mean, you don’t know whether Han is going to get away. You have no idea who will come to get him. And the temptations facing Luke are so enormous that you cannot see how it’s possible to solve them and save him. Luke’s involvement is terribly complex. And George has come up with the most terrible Emperor-like doublecross, which is just incredible. In the movie it just takes your breath away. With each character it’s the same thing: constant confrontations with the twists and turns of fate. At the end—because it’s been such an appalling journey, because you’ve had such a tough ride—you feel wonderful. A tremendous sense of uplift. Oh, it’s a real celebration.
Could you summarize your experience as director of Return of the Jedi?
In the early stages I was so amazed that anybody would consider me as the director of such a rich, rich film, that I almost balked at it. I thought: Hey, there must be someone older, wiser, and with more experience. I didn’t know, going in, that it could be so much fun. Also I don’t think I ever worked so hard. There were times when I wasn’t absolutely certain I could possibly survive. It was really due to the constant encouragement and fellowship of my co-workers that I was able to get through it. There was tremendous support and great loyalty, which is so important in this business. I was very fortunate. I felt, as the director of this movie, like the pilot in the cockpit of a plane about to take off. He knows the ground crew and he trusts the machine. He knows that everything is OK, and that even in an exhausted state he can count on the plane to fl y. That’s a good feeling—a wonderful feeling. And when you land at the other end, as we have now, and it’s still OK…