Welcome to the first official Pastimescapes post. I selected older entries from the archives of The Film Frontier, a website-turned-blog I maintained from 1997 to 2011. With articles from this point forward, Pastimescapes launches into all-new adventures.
May 25 marks the 30th anniversary of Lucasfilm Limited and Twentieth Century Fox releasing Return of the Jedi. I often refer to myself as the “eternal 8-year-old” because I consider 1983, for many reasons, to be the best year of my childhood. Seeing Return of the Jedi was a huge part of that.
For awhile, though, I was not sure I would ever see the conclusion of the original Star Wars trilogy. The weekend after May 25 came and went, but there was no trip to the theater.
My family surely knew I wanted to see the film. I had even taped up newspaper ads touting Return of the Jedi to my bedroom wall. That Sunday afternoon, a friend of mine named Donald called to brag about seeing the movie before I did.
There was no such thing as a “spoiler alert” back in those days, and he immediately started revealing the story. “Stop telling me stuff. I haven’t seen it yet,” I told him.
“Let me just tell you one more thing,” Donald would say and keep revealing secrets.
Looking back, the funniest part of this conversation, besides the fact that I never thought to simply hang up on him, is that many of the plot points he revealed to me turned out to be slightly wrong.
“Luke didn’t blow up the whole Death Star in the first movie!” Donald exclaimed when describing the opening scene.
“What do you mean?” I asked. The fate of the Death Star had seemed irreversible to me. This sounded like a cheat.
“There’s still a big piece of it left,” he said. “Only part of it is gone.”
I started holding the phone away from my ear as he worked his way through a detailed synopsis of the entire movie.
After several minutes, I started listening again. He was finally wrapping things up, going over the last scenes.
“Han and Leia get married, and there is a big party for them,” Donald said.
Looking back, I now wish I had listened to more of his account of Return of the Jedi, because who knows what other comical misinterpretations he made.
Though Return of the Jedi had now been partially spoiled for me, or so I thought, I was still anxious to see it. The week went by and still no trip to the theater.
That second weekend of release, I was in Kmart with my mom. I rushed over to the record section in search of the Return of the Jedi soundtrack. What I found was not the soundtrack but Buena Vista’s Return of the Jedi book and record set, a 7-inch, 33 1/3 RPM read-along record. After just a little begging, I convinced my mom to buy it for me.
Videotapes were really not in wide circulation at this time, so other than catching a random television airing, a book and record set was one of the best ways available for a kid to relive a movie once it left theaters.
In this case, though, I would not be reliving Return of the Jedi, I would be experiencing it for the first time.
For a split second, I considered saving the set until after I had actually seen the movie. Impatient and unsure if I was ever going to make it to the theater, though, I had to know what happened after The Empire Strikes Back.
Would they be able to save Han Solo? Who was really Luke Skywalker’s father? Who would give the toast at Han and Leia’s wedding reception?
As to why I begged my mom for the Return of the Jedi read-along and not for a trip to the movie theater, I have no idea.
We could not get home fast enough and, by the time we did, I already had the shrink-wrap off the set.
I placed it on my record player with care as my brother entered the room. I showed off the book to him. He was in high school and had already seen the movie with his friends. There were distinct advantages to being able to drive and having your own money.
“Don’t you want to wait until you see the movie at the theater?” he asked.
“I don’t care,” I told him. “I want to know what happens.”
“You’re going to spoil it,” he said and left the room. He sounded disappointed.
I lowered the arm of my player onto the record and soon arrived in the Star Wars universe.
“This is the story of Return of the Jedi. You can read along with me in your book. You will know it is time to turn the page when you hear Artoo-Detoo beep like this,” explained the dramatic narrator.
The book moved along at a brisk pace, packing in many of the movie’s major elements. By the end, I knew the overall story. Who needed a movie theater?
Later that afternoon, my brother had a surprise for me. He was going to see Return of the Jedi again with his friends, but this time he was taking me along.
That stupid record! If only I had waited a few more hours. It was the weekend of June 4, 1983, and I was finally going to see Return of the Jedi.
* * *
To prepare for this post, I recently listened to the Return of the Jedi record for the first time in over two decades.
The character voices surprised me most. As a kid, I thought they were the same actors as in the movies, but with dialogue taken from alternate scenes or recorded specifically for the record.
Playing the record today, it is quite obvious that different people are playing the roles. The 38-year-old version of me has seen the Star Wars films many, many more times than the 8-year-old version of me, after all.
There are also a number of plot points that are different between the record and the movie, though none so far off as Donald’s version.
- Threepio and Artoo plead for Han with Jabba, who takes them prisoner [versus, in the film, they are “gifts” from Luke, who wants to bargain for Han]
- The bounty hunter who frees Han is given a name, Boushh [versus never being named]
- Both Leia and Han are placed in prison when the rescue goes wrong [versus Jabba keeping Leia at his side]
- Luke kills Jabba by destroying the sail barge [versus Leia killing Jabba directly]
- Yoda does not die
- Obi-Wan does not appear, nor is the information he confirms about Leia revealed
- It is Luke’s idea to chase the biker scouts on speeders, even exclaiming, “Come on, Leia!” [versus Leia following them impulsively, against Luke’s warning, and Luke hopping on behind her out of fear for her life]
- The Ewoks surround the Rebels without having to rely on a food trap
- Threepio is aware that Luke is using the Force to levitate him to scare the Ewoks
- Lando shouts, “It’s a trap!” [versus Admiral Ackbar]
- Some of the Rebel ships crash into the Death Star shield [for years, I thought this actually was in the movie; when I saw Independence Day on opening day, I even thought it ripped off a similar scene from Return of the Jedi; apparently not]
- Luke never unmasks Vader
- Luke leaves Vader’s body behind on the Death Star
- The Jedi spirits do not appear at the end
Another surprise was that Return of the Jedi was on Disney’s Buena Vista Records. The Star Wars book and record sets, then, marked some of the first collaborations between Lucasfilm and Disney.
Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, can Star Wars: Episode VII live up to the legacy of the original Star Wars trilogy? In two years, answers will be revealed. Meanwhile, this eternal 8-year-old will keep playing his records.