After the release of “Empire” (which was shaped by material left over from that first Lucas treatment), talk turned to a third film and after a decade and a half the partners could no longer find a middle ground.
“We had an outline and George [Lucas] changed everything in it," [Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back producer] Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. 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.”
The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.
Kurtz said that ending would have been a more emotionally nuanced finale to an epic adventure than the forest celebration of the Ewoks that essentially ended the trilogy with a teddy bear luau.
He was especially disdainful of the Lucas idea of a second Death Star, which he felt would be too derivative of the 1977 film. “So we agreed that I should probably leave.”
--Geoff Boucher, LA Times, on how toy sales drove the Empire. HT: Gizmodo
And a just-released deleted scene from Return of the Jedi: