Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi isn't just the film that ties up the Original Trilogy with a bow — it's also the most grown-up of the original three films, because the series matured along with its audience. That's what director Richard Marquand claimed, in a rare interview, anyway.
Den of Geek posted a previously unpublished interview with Marquand from shortly after Return of the Jedi came out — one of the few that exists, since Marquand died in 1987. In it, Marquand explains:
Star Wars meant a lot to young people around the world – young people who were around six, seven and eight years old, and older as well. Those people grew up. So when they saw The Empire Strikes Back, they were a little bit more mature. By the time I came along to direct Return Of The Jedi, they were 18. 19 and 20...
I have a son who’s about [that] age, and part of the Star Wars generation. So he was my most intimate link to the Star Wars saga. So that meant that what I was able to bring to the Star Wars saga, which the other directors couldn’t since they were dealing with a younger generation, was a certain kind of modern maturity, which you couldn’t have had in Star Wars [Episode IV], because you would have lost a lot of people. I was able to entertain the little kids with the Ewoks and all the stuff that made them feel safe, but I was able, at the same time, to give young adults the kind of things they’re looking for, which is a lot of excitement, a lot of showmanship. But they are also looking for true relationships and genuine emotions. I think that’s what has always been in the Star Wars saga, but I was really able to bring that out and make it work. I think that’s what Return Of The Jedi had that the others didn’t have. I’m not criticising the others: they simply weren’t ready for it.
[Irvin] Kershner was absolutely perfect for the middle film, which is a dark, troubled and anguished film. That’s the kind of character Kershner is himself; he’s very amusing socially, but his mind is full of dark torments and worries. George was the perfect man for Star Wars because he understands gags. He’s got a great story sense. He’s got tremendous appreciation of all the little gags and jokes. But I think I was probably the right guy for the third film, because I like the great virtues: I love loyalty, friendship, love...
... happy endings?
Yes. I love happy endings. [laughs]