Using mainly contemporary interviews (from late 1977 through to 1980), with a few conducted in the 90s and 00s, this covers the whole of the production from the opening of “Star Wars” (which took everyone by complete surprise) to the opening of “Empire Strikes Back” and touches on pretty much every aspect of the production in between. As with the Jedi book, the research is thorough and extensive, which even extends to captioning pictures and identifying people way in the background. The success of “Star Wars” does help the cause a bit here, since “Empire” benefited from an accomplished unit publicist in Alan Arnold, who later published “Once Upon A Galaxy: A Journal of the making of The Empire Strikes Back”, which I read a couple of years ago. A thick paperback, it was the official making of (there was also a magazine too) and Rinzler quotes from it extensively, whilst also drawing on other interviews Mr Arnold made at the time but which have previously been unpublished. At first I thought this overlap of information might be too repetitive but it isn’t at all, with the longest lift (where Irvin Kershner was miked up on the Carbon Freezing set) being interspersed with later comments made by the principals concerned.
By the end of 1977, George Lucas was already at work on the sequel and brought in Leigh Brackett to shape the screenplay. The script conference transcripts published here only have his contributions (no explanation is made as to why) but they’re very interesting, with the bare bones of the film clearly already in place in his mind (though he gets as stuck here with Vader living in a castle as he did the Empire planet during the Jedi conferences). As it was, Brackett died before she could work on the second draft and virtually none of what she wrote was used, though Lucas ensured she retained a screen credit. Instead, Lawrence Kasdan was drafted in - he’d just written the “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” script - and his approach is clearly like a breath of fresh air, as he questions ideas and motives and suggests (on occasion and usually unsuccessfully) that Lucas might not be right.
|Irvin Kershner talking with Marcia Lucas, George's then wife.|
As well as the pre-production of the film, the book also follows the formation of several Lucasfilm entities, including Black Falcon (the licensing arm, which I only discovered the existence of in the Jedi book), how the various divisions were structured and the plans for Skywalker ranch. Having read “Skywalking” (which is not listed in the bibliography at the back of this), I love that whole late seventies period, as the company sets up and operates out of The Egg Company in LA and ILM hides in plain sight as The Kerner Company in San Anselmo and Rinzler is thorough in his exploration of this period. It’s also interesting to see how the merchandising helped the entire operation, with Black Falcon lending money to both Lucasfilm and ILM to get things moving. Best of all though is the information about the ranch - the plans, the daytrips, the fourth of July picnics - and Rinzler paints a wonderful picture of the era, the atmosphere remembered fondly by all those involved in it, a tight and small close-knit group that felt like a family. But even as the production wore on and the dealings with the banks got more intense and Lucas was pushed into an executive role with his companies (Lucasfilm funded the whole project), things were changing. Lucy Wilson - Kurtz’s assistant and one of the original employees - comments that where once she and Lucas could say hi and chat, she soon had to book appointments to see him. As it is, this seems as troubling to Lucas as anyone else.
|On location in Finse, Mark Hamill is filmed on one of the Tauntauns|
Things were more settled at Elstree Studios in London, though Kershner, working with his DoP Peter Suschitzky to produce the best work possible, played havoc with Lucas’ plans. As his pace upset the schedule and pushed the film over budget, issues with cashflow and the banks kicked in, adding further to the stresses that Lucas was trying to hide from his director.
Rinzler covers every aspect of the production in equal detail (I loved the discovery that the filming was juggled to fit the sets - since the Falcon was built full-size, it pretty much stayed where it was and new sets were built around it) and doesn’t shy away from some of the more candid conversations. Lucas was a large presence on set (but not to the extent that he would be on “Jedi”) and although he takes every opportunity to point out he’s not the director (he didn’t do any of the publicity tours), the very thought of it clearly annoys Kershner, who bristles with journalists who suggest it. For his part, Kershner comes across well, imbuing the material with depth and emotion and working hard with his cast and crew to make things are good as they possibly can be. Working in the moment, having already planned thoroughly, he liked to leave enough room for conversations and discussions with his actors (the Carbon freezing sequence, as mentioned above, shows this brilliantly) that clearly benefit the film.
|The now iconic group shot - Hamill, George Lucas, Carrie Fisher and|
Harrison Ford. The lady shown standing behind and between Fisher
and Ford is Robert Shaw's daughter, who worked on the crew.
|Stuart Freeborn (make-up effects supervisor, on left)|
talks about the Yoda head with Frank Oz and Jim Henson
Another thing I discovered is something I’ve long wondered, that the second and third films can’t have been as much fun for Hamill since Luke was often split up from the other characters. He’s quoted as saying, “It was almost like two separate films were being made. I got nostalgic for the grand old days on the Death Star, when Harrison, Carrie, Chewie and I were all together in the trash compactor.” Hamill ended up working on the film for 103 days.
|Effects Supervisor Richard Edlund, George Lucas and |
modelshop supervisor Steve Gawley with the Medical Frigate model.
|(from left) Dennis Muren (effect Supervisor), Phil Tippett and Jon Berg |
with the Tauntaun puppet
|from left - Irvin Kershner, Gary Kurtz, George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan - on the Hoth set|
Rinzler examines contemporary interviews and one, from Time magazine in 1978, seems particularly pertinent. When asked about his future directing ambitions, Lucas says “I will go back and direct another [“Star Wars”] film, but it will be toward the end of the cycle, about 20 years from now”. The Phantom Menace was released in 1999.
Rinzler also details how perceptive Lucas was with future technology and how it would assist the film-making process, especially with digital images. Sprocket Systems (later renamed Skywalker Sound) had a Computer Research and Development Division set up within it, headed by Ed Catmull, to develop computer aided visual and sounding editing equipment. They also developed the Pixar system, which would later become the Pixar Division and be sold off to Steve Jobs.
The post-production part ends with a section on the matte paintings which Harrison Ellenshaw, Ralph McQuarrie and Michael Pangrazio created. Showing them in progress and often against the final frames, these are gloriously reproduced and a real sight to behold.
|Harrison Ellenshaw's matte painting of Slave 1 on the Cloud City landing pad. The only live action in the shot was Boba Fett and the guards carrying the carbonite block.|
I’m a huge fan of the original trilogy and Making Of Books and this is pretty much perfect, to the extent that I dragged out the last few pages because I didn’t want it to end. Very highly recommended.