Here’s something that will come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched the Star Wars prequels: George Lucas altered the plot of Return of the Jedi to sell more toys. Here’s something that probably will be a surprise though: Doing so might have made it a better movie.
Talking to the LA Times producer Gary Kurtz revealed that “The original idea was that they would recover 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.” Presumably that’s the Imperial base on Endor where Han, Leia, Chewie, R2D2, and C3PO are saved by the Ewoks in a massive battle with Imperial stormtroopers.
After Han’s death the movie would have ended with Luke walking off into the distance, bitter and alone. A Clint Eastwood-style loner. Princess Leia would have gone off to struggle dealing with new responsibilities. The Luke ending sounds great but “struggling with her new responsibilities” smacks of all the political slog in the prequels which no one cared about and just didn’t work.
You know what? Killing off Han there would have sucked. You can’t bring a character back from the dead at the beginning of a movie only to kill him off thirty minutes later. Han has just survived being frozen alive, unfrozen, and then subsequently fed to a Sarlacc. Now he’s going to die in a raid? Sorry that just doesn’t work. The movie ends with Han and Leia together, their relationship is something that builds throughout all three films, having them together at the end is the payoff. It gives the series emotion and heart, something that, by the way, was missing entirely in the prequels. Maybe Lucas changed Return of the Jedi for the wrong reasons, but I think it was the right move.