Monday, 20 January 2014

The Making of Return Of The Jedi, by J. W. Rinzler

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m a big fan not only of the original "Star Wars" trilogy but also of behind-the-scenes books and so this was an absolute perfect fit for me.  The third in Rinzler’s series - but the first I’ve read - this is an exhaustive account of making the third "Star Wars" film from preparing the script right through to the release.

I thought I knew a lot about the production (last year I read Peecher’s “The Making If Return Of The Jedi” and although that is quoted frequently here, this book is markedly more in-depth) but Rinzler reveals several facts here I’m sure are appearing for the first time (I didn’t, for instance, realise Ralph McQuarrie left the film early, burned out from "Star Wars" and "Empire"), building the story from contemporary interviews (in 2011 and 2012), vintage ones (from Peecher and various magazines and journals) and also production reports in the Lucasfilm archives.

Marquand & Mark Hamill on set
What I liked most about it is that even though this is clearly sanctioned by Lucasfilm, it is remarkably candid.  Interviews are often frank - nobody liked the Ewoks apart from Lucas, Richard Marquand’s filming style annoyed several actors (Carrie Fisher accuses him of treating her badly, whilst fawning after Harrison Ford), the ILM supervisors often clashed heads over equipment and Fisher’s party-girl antics sometimes affected her performance - but all the better for that, as it shows how hard people worked in often trying circumstances.

I particularly found the transcripts of the story conferences fascinating, as Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan (who do most of the talking), Howard Kazanjian (the producer) and Marquand build the script up, piece by piece, often following paths that lead nowhere (an awful lot of design work went into the Imperial stronghold of Had Abaddon until they decided to put the Emperor on the Death Star), putting the story together.  There’s talk of death and sacrifice (even before Harrison Ford signed on), as pretty much every aspect of the film was open to discussion.

Harrison Ford on the "plank" at Yuma (Marquand is wearing the cap, talking to  him)
Moving beyond pre-production, the book charts the progress as sets go up in England (designed by Norman Reynolds), Buttercup Valley in Yuma (the barge sequences - which cost millions and yet appear in the film so briefly that Lucas now regrets not filming it all at Elstree) and Crescent City in Northern California, where the crew got to take over a portion of logging forest.  The actors add fresh angles to the story and, again, the frankness of some of them is refreshing, even if some of the behaviour (from the likes of Anthony Daniels and David Prowse) isn’t.
Shooting at the bunker, as Chewie arrives in the AT-ST
For me, the most interesting part was post-production, as ILM moves into gear and the deadline to release day counts down.  Taking on an unprecedented number of effects shots and with a writer/producer who kept adding shots (with Lucas shooting most of the live action inserts himself as Marquand had moved on to
his next project), the book captures well the frenzied atmosphere of a crew making ground-breaking discoveries whilst not really having the time to do so (especially since most of the crew
were coming off other films, such
as "E.T"., "Dragonslayer" and "Poltergeist").  It also does a good job catching everyone’s reaction on Black Friday, as Lucas threw out a load of shots as not being good enough.  Ken Ralston (space battles), Dennis Muren (speeder bikes and the rancor) and Richard Edlund (everything else) are quoted extensively and clearly convey the scope of work they were dealing with.  Phil Tippett, who designed the creatures with Stuart Freeborn, also lays claim to naming Salacious Crumb when, after a night on the sauce, he apparently said, “Wait a minute guys while I tie my soolacious.”

At Yuma
George Lucas casts a long shadow, involved in the process from the beginning and his comments on hiring Marquand since he didn’t want to do all the work himself quickly come back to haunt him.  Although Marquand did direct the film - his wife and son are interviewed - and Lucas clearly had a great deal of respect for him, he had to be on set virtually every day as Marquand wasn’t experienced with special effects.

The toll on Lucas’ home-life was devastating, with him hiding his impending divorce from most of his crew (both Lucas and Spielberg were involved in divorce during the pre-production of "Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom" (concurrent to this), with both of them blaming their ruptured personal lives for the darkness of that film).  In a nice turn, for a modern book, Marcia Lucas’ role (though slimmed down with this film) is still acknowledged, even if she only makes a couple of appearances.

Frame from the film, with animated AT-ST in the background
The final part of the book deals with the release and reception of the film, as it gobbled up box office records and delighted the paying public, whilst drawing mixed notices from the critics.  There’s also an epilogue, charting what happened to most of the key players after the film wrapped and Lucasfilm went into a ‘two-year hibernation’ and as Lucas himself is quoted as saying, it’s good to see so many people going off and changing the way films are made and perceived.  (The ILM and Lucasfilm group from the early 80s, was probably the equivalent of the Corman outfit in the 60s and 70s).
At Jabba's Palace (Bib Fortuna was played by Mike Carter, the man who was killed at Tottenham Court Rd tube station in "An American Werewolf In London").  Salacious Crumb is next to Leia.
The book is filled with beautifully reproduced photographs - designs, on-set, pretty much every aspect of the production - and Rinzler has done a great job, identifying most of the personnel captured in them.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars and/or Making Of books, then this is a superb read - informative, amusing, frank - and I was sad to finish it.  Very highly recommended.


(previous posts by me on "Return of the Jedi" can be found here (on matte paintings), here (on vintage ads) and here (30th anniversary))

I also reviewed The Making Of The Empire Strikes Back, which you can find here

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