Something to ponder: If Return of the Jedi had never been made, the highest grossing film of 1983 would have been Terms of Endearment. Terms was the only other film that year to hit the nine figure mark, whalloping Flashdance, Trading Places, and even Tom Cruise’s breakout hooker comedy Risky Business. People in ’83 really wanted to watch Debra Winger die (SPOILER ALERT).
Of course, the concept of Return of the Jedi never being made is ludicrous. I recently read an interview where George Lucas was asked what he would have done if Mark Hamill had died in that famous car accident just before Star Wars came out, and King George said something to the effect of, “Oh, I would have introduced another young mystical Jedi person and centered Empire and Jedi around them.” Piss off with your dying, Luke Skywalker. You think you can stop this fucking Star Wars juggernaut? You think being the “main character” means anything? Try again.
I’m sure not even the combined deaths of Mark Hamill, George Lucas, the rest of the cast, and every unnamed talent at Skywalker Ranch would have prevented a franchise. The original SW made too much money—“fuck you” money, as my father would call it. 20th Century Fox would have given us something, even if it was pure z-level schlock that followed Doug McClure around Tunisia as he searched for C-3PO’s evil clone with Chewbacca’s “force sensitive” second cousin at his side. Star Wars was a license to print money. Hell, it still is. How else do you explain those prequels?
Still, I’m fascinated by an alternate universe where, for whatever ungodly reason, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back exist yet Return of the Jedi doesn’t, leaving fantasy film’s greatest cliffhangers forever unresolved. It would have to be the result of some complicated legal thing, right? Some Day The Clown Cried situation? Imagine if our rigid American copyright laws prevented anyone from ever seeing Darth Vader without his mask, from ever meeting and/or complaining about an Ewok, from ever hearing Admiral Ackbar bellow, “It’s a trap!” If you think Star Wars nerds are fussy now…
An even crazier scenario: George Lucas, burnt out from Empire, vows to never complete the trilogy and has it written into his contract somehow that no one else can ever make Star Wars III. I mean, he’d be assassinated like two days later, right? None of Boba Fett’s helmet polishers would put up with that.
The real question is: in a world without Jedi, does Kenner switch their focus to produce Terms of Endearment action figures? I’d buy a Debra Winger toy in a heartbeat. Like a twelve inch doll of her smiling like she is on the poster? Oh, that’s going right next to my Gremlins bubble gum machine.