You'd think anyone who starred in Return of the Jedi would have an endless stream of royalty checks heading their way. The film, which was originally released in 1983, made $475 million when it first hit theaters, and racked in an additional $88 million when it was re-released in 1997. Considering its production budget was 'only' $32.5 million, surely there is enough money floating around for everyone? Well, no, apparently there isn't.
According to David Prowse, who famously played Darth Vader in all three of the original movies, he hasn't received a cent from the success of Return of the Jedi. The reasoning for this is because Lucasfilm claims Return of the Jedi has never made a profit and so they have no money to give to Prowse. He told Equity Magazine:
"I get these occasional letters from Lucasfilm saying that we regret to inform you that as Return of the Jedi has never gone into profit, we’ve got nothing to send you. Now here we’re talking about one of the biggest releases of all time. I don’t want to look like I’m bitching about it, but on the other hand, if there’s a pot of gold somewhere that I ought to be having a share of, I would like to see it."
Prior to being dubbed over by James Earl Jones, Prowse also provided the dialogue of Darth Vader in his thick West Country English accent:
The Force Is Not Strong with Net Point Contracts
But surely Return of the Jedi must have made money? Well, things aren't always that simple, and often it comes down to the type of contract you have with the studio. Prowse had 'Net Points' written into his Return of the Jedi contract, meaning he was owed a percentage of the net profit of the film, which is the money left over once costs have been deduced. However, studios are very clever to make films appear, on paper at least, to have never made a net profit. Seth, a /Film reader with knowledge of the creative accountancy that goes on in Hollywood, provided the following explanation:
"Unfortunately, Mr. Prowse relates what is almost universally the case with a net profit clause. Studios almost never pay on this clause, as they claim nearly any and every expense possible to keep the film from showing any actual profit. Very few films have ever shown a net profit on the books.
How do they do this? Well first, imagine that George Lucas decided to go to New York tomorrow to talk about showing Return of the Jedi in 3D. And he stayed at the Ritz Carlton, ordered sushi at 3 a.m. from room service and used the hotel phone to call Bahrain to make prank calls.
Well, 26 years after the release of the film, the accountants at Lucasfilm are going to charge $86,000 to the costs of Return of the Jedi. I am NOT joking. This is what they do. If George Lucas utters the words Star Wars and he’s spending money, they’re putting it on the red line for one of those films."
In fact, it turns out actors on Net Point contracts rarely get paid at all. The big money is actually in Gross Points, which is similar to Net Points except you get a slice of a movie's gross profit (the money BEFORE costs are removed). Actors on these contracts are guaranteed to get paid, even if the movie flops. If the movie is a huge success alá The Avengers, you can make tens of millions for one acting job. However, because these contracts are so lucrative they are only ever offered to the biggest names in acting - your Robert Downey Jrs., Johnny Depps and so forth.
Watch Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi have a tussle in this iconic scene:
Prowse turned his experience into a cautionary tale for young actors, adding:
"There is a big difference between having a share of the gross profit and having a share of the net profit. It is a huge difference in just one word. Sometimes, with net profit, with all the expenses and so on, it seems like you end up paying them."
A New Legal Hope?
Luckily, Prowse might be able to get to his cash, and although it won't be easy or clean, Seth thinks he has a good chance. He continued:
"On the flipside, Mr. Prowse would be wise to use the FORCE, aka a lawyer, to get Lucasfilm to cough up. You see, as you can tell by the above, the accounting is utter bullshit. And on a film like Return of the Jedi, Lucasfilm would be extremely reluctant to open its books in open court. Extremely reluctant because of how incredibly embarrassed studios have been in the past when they have made the mistake of doing this. Plus, the ensuing publicity would be embarrassing to Lucasfilm. Can you imagine the headlines if Darth Vader sued George Lucas?"
Now, I don't know about you, but if this is indeed the case, it's certainly not fair in my books. Resorting to expensive legal action to get what's owed to you isn't exactly conducive to an ethical industry. Prowse has continually spoken out about being screwed over by Lucasfilm, but until recently it seems his criticism mostly fell on deaf ears. People love Star Wars so much, they often don't like to hear bad words said about anything regarding the franchise. In fact, in 2010 Prowse was reportedly banned from attending official conventions because he had "burned too many bridges with Lucasfilm."
But remember, this cooking of the books doesn't come from any of the creative elements whose work we actually admire, it's often from the lawyers and accountants who know exactly how to maximize their gains and minimize those of others. I don't know about you, but considering Prowse performed as one of the most iconic characters in movie history, it seems like he should get his dues.