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Marquand OMNI

OMNI Magazine

Richard Marquand/Return of the Jedi article.

May 1983

FILM: The Arts - By Mitch Tuchman

Richard Marquand sat on the knee, if not in the lap, of American luxury and professed his astonishment at being part of "all this."  Catamarans drifted across the man-made lagoon whose waters splashed upon the redwood deck of his rented San Francisco Bay Area villa.  He had been with Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.  Now he was with George Lucas in suburban San Rafael.

The wage he would earn as director of Return of the Jedi, the third Star Wars movie, he described first as "pleasant.  I will be able to educate my children," he said, "and despite Maggie Thatcher, I will be able to be an old man without freezing on the street corner."  And then it became "outrageous.  With the kind of money you're talking about in this business, you could build a hospital in Namibia.  Still, one's not going to turn it down if it's offered."

That he had been Lucas's choice at all had baffled film-industry observers.  For The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lucas had chosen *Irwin Kershner and Steven Spielberg, well-known, experienced, American filmmakers.  Marquand, by contrast, is relatively unknown, inexperienced as a director of feature films, and British.  His first two movies, The Legacy and Birth of the Beatles, were unprepossessing, and his third, Eye of the Needle, was as yet unreleased at the time of Lucas's announcement in May 1981.

Asked to explain the procedure that culminated in the choice of Marquand, Lucas replied, "The search for a director was extremely difficult.  We looked for about nine months.  We needed someone who was confident of himself, friendly, and had a sense of humor.  That combined with the fact that we needed a director who was technically very proficient, because it's an extremely difficult movie to make.  We had to get someone who wasn't going to be above the material, who had a genuine enthusiasm for the project, for what Star Wars was.

"I interviewed a lot of directors.  I saw a lot of films.  We made up long lists of all those who could possibly do it," paring those lists by stages to 20, to 4, and then to 2, "both extremely good directors, both good for the project."  It was a rough cut of Eye of the Needle that eventually tipped the balance in Marquand's favor.  "In the process of seeing a lot of movies," Lucas recalled, "that one just jumped out."

For Lucas, Marquand's motivation seemed perfectly clear:  "He liked Star Wars.  He wanted to work with me.  Finally, it's a very good career move for him:  He will be catapulted into the top directors' [category', and his salary will skyrocket."  Yet, Marquand himself seemed curiously ambivalent about this and other elements as he recounted his entertainment career.  From reluctant college thespian to back-of-the-camera superstar, his aspirations and achievements confronted him, and he sought the proper attitude to assume.  Having once marched with civil-rights her King for equality of opportunity, he was too sensible to ignore, or condone, the inequality of opportunity that had favored him,  the son, brother, and former son-in-law of elected officials in Britain.  No goal seemed unattainable; he rejected those that fell too easily within his grasp.  

It was in documentary films that he made his first memorable achievement:  In Search of the Nile.  Part documentary, part drama, it won him an Emmy in 1971.  In 1978 his first chance to direct a feature turned out to be a dreary chiller, The Legacy ("I took the script and started to read it, and my heart sank").  His second, Birth of the Beatles (1980), was less about music than about relationships among musicians -- a key point.  His third, Eye of the Needle (1981), was by far a more accomplished work.  Another British director considered for the job saw the Ken Follett novel as a straight espionage story, but Marquand insisted that "this is not a World War Two story; this is a relationship film,"  and to emphasize his point he doubled (from 24 to 48 hours) the length of the affair between the German spy (Donald Sutherland) and the desperately lonely woman (Kate Nelligan) on the remote Scottish island.

Return of the Jedi, more than either Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back, is going to have to be, like Eye of the Needle, a film about relationships; hence Marquand's appropriateness.  Remember where we left off at the end of Empire?  Princes Leia had just told Han Solo, "I love you," and he had replied, "I know"; so that relationship has to be resolved.  Luke Skywalker had been informed that Darth Vader was his father, but he had also promised Yoda that he would return to complete his Jedi training; so those relationships have to be resolved.  Yoda had told Ben, "There is another," just in case Luke "turns to the dark side."  Who is this yet-unnamed Jedi warrior, and what will his (or her) relationship with Luke be?

The unreliable Lando Calrissian in the unreliable spaceship Falcon had just flown off at the speed of light with the ever-faithful Chewbacca at his side.  The emperor was convinced that Luke had the power to destroy him.  Leia was no closer to restoring her sovereignty over the galaxy, and Han had been transformed into a coffee table.  All these crises have to be resolved, because none of these characters, at least as we have known them, are to return in future episodes.

To the world, Marquand had become the man who would steer a $32.5 million, 23-(....) intercontinental enterprise.  To a handful of actors, each with a proprietary interest in a role that had brought fame and fortune, he was but the new boy on the lot.  And they let him know it.  In a series of meetings with Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Marquand was told, "We are a club.  We are a club of a small number of very important people, and you're now an Honorary member."

"They all said this with a certain note of warning," Marquand remembered.  " 'We hope that you fit in.  Good luck.' "

Lucas was a bit of an enigma as well.  Famous as a screenwriter and director, now he is neither.  Since Star Wars' initial $250 million success, he has relegated the writing and directing of his films to hired hands ("I get to do the fun part: the creatures and the equipment, the toys and the editing.  The director has to do the terrible part").  Nevertheless, Lucas is photographed at the far-flung locations of each film, and when he is absent he views the day's rushes on specially prepared videotapes.  Marquand confessed, "I always had the feeling that possibly I'd find myself in a situation where I was a horse dragging this thing (....) and that George would hold the reins, and I would just be a cipher sitting there."  

His apprehensions were unfounded.  Eventually they settled into a collaborative relationship that Marquand described in terms not of cinema but of music: "George has composed this amazing nine-part symphony, and I am conducting the orchestra; it doesn't make any sense for him to step suddenly to the podium and say.  'I think I'll conduct the next six bars.' "

by Marquand's account, he impressed Lucas right off with a substantial script alteration.  Lucas's one great contribution to the art of motion-picture storytelling emerged in American Graffiti:  It is his ability to sustain half a dozen subplots simultaneously.  He does it largely through deft editing.  Star Wars is a kind of American Graffiti afloat.  To this Marquand suggested the twist of making each character's initial entrance a misleading one.  The audience is thrown off guard.  No one on screen is exactly what he appears to be:  "that includes,"  Marquand explained, "some of the characters that we've grown to hate."  Darth Vader, for example, is forced in Jedi to acknowledge a force greater and darker than he is.  "It will be as if Luke's journey finally took him to a revelation of who everybody is in the movie.

"George was very excited by the idea.  He saw how tremendously dramatic it could be."  The club was equally impressed.  "Each one of these people and each of their characters had a definite reason for really wanting and needing to work very closely with  me,"  Marquand said.  "So, in fact, I had no trouble with the club.

"Mark was playing the character whose development was the main theme of the whole saga; therefore he realized the importance of my participation in the demonstration of that development."

What about Carrie Fisher?  "I was very anxious that she should finally unfold and to a certain extent demonstrate her femininity, which is something Carrie wanted; she felt ready for that.  So that was good."

Lucas and Marquand agreed that "street-wise" Lando Calrissian needed freeing from his somewhat earthbound, black characterization; so Williams "was keen to work with [the director]."  As for Han Solo, whose character undergoes the least change in this episode,  "Harrison [ford] knows that his and the movie's best interests are served if he exposes his weaknesses to the director and asks for help."

The great ticket-buying public, as the cliché goes, decides.  But an abundance of screenplays tumbling around Marquand wherever he goes suggests that decisions on them matter only marginally right now.  "When George said, 'He's good,' nobody was certain.  Now I get this avalanche."

What else distinguishes the post-Jedi Marquand? "I am much more confident, and that affects my private life and my professional life.  My private life is more comfortable, because I'm more comfortable with myself.  In my public life I'm less willing to suffer fools gladly.  I'm more certain now what can work as a movie and what can't.  In the past I have sacrificed quality for the sake of budget.  Now I've realized there are times when you dig in your heels and say, 'Look, guys....' " In Hollywood. that's called The Force.

*mis-spelled in the article.

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