Return of the Jedi went through a number of changes before the final version hit the big screens back in the day. Every draft of the script had something interesting that ended up getting edited out. Even the title was originally Revenge of the Jedi, something that didn’t sit right with George Lucas, as he made it clear that Jedi don’t seek revenge.
Film historian Laurent Bouzereau’s book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays contains information from interviews with George Lucas and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, and the interviews reveal the myriad of changes the film went through, including the near resurrection of one of the most important characters of the original trilogy, Obi Wan Kenobi.
At one point, George Lucas planned on having Ben Kenobi return from the Netherworld of the force to help Luke Skywalker in his final battle against Darth Vader and Palpatine. Not just that, but it would have also seen the return of Yoda’s force ghost. However, in contrast, Kenobi would’ve returned in the flesh and not as a ghost.
The film’s climax would’ve taken place near a lava lake, resulting in Vader and Palpatine both perishing there together. At the end of the film, Obi Wan and Yoda would both have been present to watch as Luke and Leia celebrated the victory over the Empire.
However, Lucas did away with all of this because he felt it took away from Luke’s own character growth. He wanted it to be Luke’s moment, because that’s what all three films were building up to the entire time, and it’s what provided the climax with the emotional weight it required. An excerpt from Lucas’s conversation with Bouzereau explains his precise thoughts on the moment.
"“I felt that one of the major issues in the third film is that Luke is finally on his own and has to fight Vader and the Emperor by himself. If you get a sense that Yoda or Ben is there to help him or to somehow influence him, it diminishes the power of the scene.”"
Eventually George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan decided to make the entire moment about Luke and his father. Anakin was redeemed in the process of saving Luke, and who resisted the pull of the Dark Side. Obi Wan and Yoda did get to see the young Skywalkers celebrating their victory, but as force ghosts, alongside Anakin.
It was undoubtedly the right decision because bringing back Obi Wan Kenobi from the dead would have opened a can of worms, and probably created a lot of issues for future Star Wars productions.
Return of the Jedi is available on Disney+.