After being saved from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, Han Solo is struck down during a raid on an Imperial base. He dies a senseless death. Although the rebels have triumphed over Vader and the Emperor, their alliance is in tatters as Leia reluctantly takes up her new duties as queen. The hero, Luke Skywalker, recently forced to kill his own father, has grown disillusioned with the fight and walks off into the sunset like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western ...
If you're struggling to remember this dark and emotionally nuanced climax to Return of the Jedi, that's because it never happened. The final chapter of the original Star Wars trilogy actually ended with all the heroes still alive, having a kind of global luau on the Ewok homeworld (they were the furry teddy-bear aliens, created to sell toys). But things could have been very different. "We had an outline and George [Lucas] changed everything in it," Gary Kurtz, the producer of the first two Star Wars movies, revealed to the LA Times last week. "Instead of bittersweet and poignant, he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. George then decided he didn't want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales, and that was a reason."
Return of the Jedi is considered by many fans to be the first disappointment of the Star Wars saga - long before Lucas sullied the franchise with lacklustre prequels and effects-laden revisions to the originals. But had Jedi taken the less-compromising direction Kurtz revealed, perhaps it would be held in higher regard today. Alternative endings are not unusual in Hollywood, however. It's commonplace for a movie's original ending to be reshot after a negative response from test audiences. On one continent cinemagoers may watch one ending, while those in another time zone will see an alternative. In many other cases, like Jedi, the filmmakers themselves will choose to deviate from a movie's planned climax for reasons ranging from the artistic to the commercial. Here's a roundup of a few of the endings that were never to be.
First Blood concludes with Sylvester Stallone's neglected and emotionally scarred Vietnam veteran being persuaded by his former commanding officer, Colonel Trautman, to turn himself over to the authorities - but the movie was supposed to end very differently. The director, Ted Kotcheff, filmed a scene in which Rambo, unwilling to return to civilian life after his ordeal, takes Trautman's pistol and shoots himself in the head. Test audiences in the US weren't keen on the conclusion, though, and the studio demanded it be changed. Verdict: While Rambo's suicide would have spared us a string of pointless sequels, we enjoyed seeing the character choose life over death.
So many different versions of Ridley Scott's future noir exist that it can be difficult to keep track of the story, but the original cut of the movie featured an ending that was heavy on ambiguity. Rather than seeing Harrison Ford's character Deckard triumphantly "retire" all the missing replicants, the original ending had him harbouring the beautiful android Rachael from the authorities and even suggested that he might be a replicant himself. Upset with the bleak conclusion, however, the studio forced Scott to reshoot the film's ending and add a voiceover narration from Ford to tie the story together. Verdict: Thankfully, the various new versions removed the voiceover and reinstated the ambiguity about Deckard's true nature.
To follow the heartbreaking scenes of Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 Terminator being lowered into a vat of molten metal, James Cameron had planned and filmed an elaborate flash-forward to the year 2029. It showed an aged Sarah Connor telling how judgement day had been averted, thanks to the events of the movie. It also showed a grown-up John Connor who, rather than becoming a freedom fighter, is a senator and family man. Verdict: The alternative ending might sound a bit corny, but it would have rendered the film's two dreadful sequels impossible.
The musical comedy has one of the best endings ever to reach the cutting room floor. Lasting 23 minutes and costing US$5 million (Dh18.4m) to produce, it saw the film's protagonists Seymour (Rick Moranis) and Audrey (Ellen Greene) eaten by their demonic plant (dubbed Audrey II); then, not unlike pet rocks, plant offspring become a hot consumer craze across the US.
The film was set to end with giant plants conquering famous American landmarks (spoofing King Kong and The War of the Worlds), signifying the end of man's dominance over nature. Test audiences found the climax too disturbing, though, and a happy ending was written and shot - against the wishes of the director and cast. Verdict: What were they thinking? Plantapocalypse would have been the perfect conclusion to this black comedy.
Blane and Andie's emotional encounter in the car park outside the prom might seem like the perfect conclusion to the John Hughes classic, but the original ending saw Molly Ringwald's character hooking-up with the lovable loser Duckie. When the test audiences said they would have preferred to see rich-kid Blane win Andie's heart, Hughes reshot the conclusion.
The filmmaker later said he was concerned that audiences would read the original ending as a message that poor people and rich people couldn't love each other. Verdict: The revised ending was a definite improvement - who wants to see the geek get the girl?
When test audiences demand a new ending, a few days of reshoots is usually all it takes - but for Fatal Attraction, the process took three weeks. The original ending saw Glenn Close's infamous bunny-boiler character, Alex, slit her own throat and then attempt to frame Michael Douglas's character Dan for the crime. Instead, what was filmed was an action-filled sequence that concludes with the unstable Alex in a bathtub, shot dead by Dan's wife. Close objected to the revised ending and fought the decision for weeks, believing a character as disturbed as Alex would inevitably take her own life and use the act as a way of controlling the lives of others. Verdict: The original ending may be more credible, but the revised one was more exciting.
Set almost entirely in the convenience store where the writer/director Kevin Smith actually worked, the alt-classic had a typically understated ending: One of the characters simply went home for the day. The film's unused ending was far darker, however. It saw the protagonist Dante counting out the money from the register when a robber enters the store and shoots him dead. Smith has since admitted he "didn't know how to end a film", and had believed all successful indie movies had to finish on a downer. Verdict: Scrapping the unhappy ending was a wise move, better suiting the tone of the wry comedy.
Most zombie movies end with their central characters dead or undead and a global zombie apocalypse inevitable, which is why it was a surprise when Danny Boyle's movie had a reasonably happy ending.
But it almost didn't. In one of a number of unused (but filmed) sequences, Cillian Murphy's character dies of a gunshot wound, leaving his companions Selena and Hannah facing almost certain death. In another, he dies giving Brendan Gleeson's character (Frank) a full blood transfusion, keeping him alive to protect his daughter. Verdict: The "happy" ending suited us fine and set-up the brilliant sequel - which ends far less happily.