Return Of The Jedi's Crew Shared Anakin's Attitude Towards The Film's Fake Sand

The opening act of Richard Marquand's 1983 sci-fantasy epic "Return of the Jedi," a film set in the universe of the animated series "Droids," takes place on the desert planet of Tatooine. While there, the stalwart heroes Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), sneak into the criminal palace of the evil crime lord Jabba the Hutt to rescue their imprisoned friend, Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Their plan isn't entirely clear, sadly, and they are all eventually caught. This leads to a scene out in the desert where Jabba forces them to walk the plank into the waiting open mouth of an enormous desert creature called a Sarlacc. Thanks to their fighting acumen, our heroes kill off the bad guys, escape in a jet, and blow up Jabba's desert barge for good measure. 

According to Marcus Hearn's 2005 book "The Cinema of George Lucas," the Tatooine exteriors for "Return of the Jedi" were filmed in the Yuma Desert of Arizona over a mere two weeks. Editor John Philip Peecher's 1983 book "The Making of Return of the Jedi," however, expands on those two weeks with recollections that they were grueling and terrible. One might recall the dialogue spoken by Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) in the 2002 film "Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones." Having been raised on Tatooine, Anakin declares bravely that he hates sand. "It gets everywhere," he says. 

Anakin was right. Even when making movies with fake sand, it still gets everywhere — and shooting in the Yuma Desert was a pain in the neck for everyone. 

'I hope to God it's not carcinogenic, because it certainly gets everywhere'

Marquand recalls the construction of a sandstorm he wanted to film for the movie. The director wanted an elaborate screen test done before he turned on the massive fans and started whipping up sand for real. It seems that real-life sand, however, wasn't adequate on camera, and the filmmakers came up with an odd, perhaps-poisonous mixture in its place. Marquad recalled: 

"We tested everything. We tested the look, the color, the quality of the sand, what we needed to make it look like sand, the fans, what the problems were in terms of everything. The sand is a mixture composed of small balls of styrofoam and a blending of talcum powder. The talcum powder is terrible. I hope to God it's not carcinogenic, because it certainly gets everywhere. The powder is used to give some thickness in the background. We didn't use sand. I mean, hey, why would you use sand in a sandstorm? This is the movies!"

(Talc is not poisonous, but it's certainly not a good idea to inhale it.) 

While the sandstorm looked fine with its styrofoam/talcum powder mixture, Marquand was still concerned that putting his actors in the middle of it might do them bodily harm. The director wanted to outfit his actors in protective clothing and to shield their eyes. Thinking quickly — and creatively — Marquand considered that the "Return of the Jedi" characters might have access to desert survival gear. After that, all it took was a resourceful costume designer. 

'Terrific, spacy-goggly-type things'

In a stroke of mindful continuity, the film's costume designer Aggie Rodgers invented some goggles and cloaks for the main characters. In order to subtly establish how such garments were procured, Rodgers thought to dress other characters in them as well. Marquand said: 

"We came up with the idea that we should probably get these sort of blankety-looking, cloaklike things and some goggles for the actors to wear, just in case. So I telexed back to San Rafael and asked Aggie to make some terrific, spacy-goggly-type things and cloaks which the heroes could have picked off the skiffs. It was at this point that she brilliantly suggested that we give some of the skiffguards some of these things so it will all tie in. They could have grabbed them as they ran, and then that would make some sense." 

So there was an in-universe explanation as to how the characters had their specialty cloaks, in addition to the costumes having a legitimately practical use for the actors. 

The sandstorm only plays a very small part in "Return of the Jedi," added for a sense of place and to give some visual flair. From the way Marquand talks about it, though, there was no desire to film any more of it. Marquand doesn't comment on how long it took to clean up all the powder the crew made, but I would easily believe that, to this day, there are still small piles of the stuff on a set somewhere. Perhaps a crewmate saved some in a bag.