One of the most legendary Star Wars Easter Eggs of all time is the mythical flying shoe in the final space battle of Return of the Jedi. The shoe (and wads of gum) are only in the original non-Special Edition version of Return of the Jedi, but unfortunately they are impossible to see. The shoe appears in the shot known as SB-19, which is the famous shot of the Falcon flying towards the camera through a swarm of TIEs.
I wanted to get to the bottom of the shoe controversy, so I pulled out my Definitive Collection LaserDisc set of the Original Trilogy, and the non-anamorphic DVD releases of the originals to go frame-by-frame to try to find the shoe. You can’t see it. Even on the original editions, the shoe is so small in the background it can’t be seen.
A 2003 issue of Star Wars Insider Magazine delved into this legend, and this is what they had to say complete with quotes from Ken Ralston who’s responsible for the shoe legend:
Which brings us back to Ralston’s tennis shoe – among other things – and the fact that it’s an amazing accomplishment just to see how many ships there are buzzing around the moon of Endor, or how many ships there seems to be. “I was always trying to stick stuff into shots,” Ralston laughs. “JEDI has my tennis shoes and also a yogurt container as part of the ships in the background! Who would know? It’s like there’s all this stuff going on – and I thought, ‘Hey, it’d be fun.’ It was my way of just saying, ‘See what you can get away with?’ Some people noodle this stuff so much, fretting about it, but it’s like, you know, you can’t tell what this stuff is – just stick it out there!”
In Rinzler’s excellent “Making of Return of the Jedi” book, Ralston describes showing the scene to George complete with the shoe, wads of gum, and a yogurt container in it. Lucas vetoed the yogurt container because he said it looked “odd”, but even he wasn’t able to spot the shoe and gum.
What’s happened with this urban legend is people probably heard about the shoe being used via some “Making of” special or book and then they swear they can see it, when you really can’t. It’s one of those legends that is true, but it’s not something that is easily shown because you can’t see the shoe in the finished movie.
Something you can see in the non-Special Edition version of this shot is a minor mistake that has been there since 1983. Two white markers, meant for TIE Fighters that were never added to the shot, can be seen over the Falcon was it flies past the screen:
This shot was fixed in the Special Edition and Blu-Ray release of the movie: