on 27 June 2007
Coming out of the cinema in 1978, after my first life changing experience at seeing STAR WARS (not at the time known as A NEW HOPE-this was STAR WARS, just STAR WARS!!), I was a seven year old who was far too young to realize how the film had been crafted by hundreds of actors and technicians. Such was the films believability to me, the "used universe" that it would later be called, that, at that point in my small life, STAR WARS had seemed to have been created almost organically for my own personal enjoyment- I wasn't even aware of the magnitude of dedication and hard work needed to make the film, or, in the years to come, of the nightmare struggles that would have to be overcome to make it a reality for audiences to enjoy for the next thirty years (and beyond). Eagerly snapping up as many STAR WARS items that she could for me on our modest family budget, my mum would, in 1980, go on to buy me the first MAKING OF STAR WARS book, titled STAR WARS: THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE by Larry Weinberg (of which copies are still available to buy on AMAZON), a US import then available at the British FORBIDDEN PLANET store (not that new imposter chain store, we're talking about the original Denmark Street address-now that was a science fiction paradise!!). Pretty much a basic, large type size children's read on the films special effects, monsters and technology created for the film, it was a nice book for the ten year old that I was then. But as the years went on, and I continued to look at that book as an adult, I began to wish that there had been a proper behind the scenes book on the original film. It was going through an old issue of STARLOG (the classic issue 7 with the now famous TIE/X-Wing on the cover) that I discovered that a MAKING OF STAR WARS book had been on the roster for release in 1977/78, to have been written by a certain Charles Lippincott. But what had happened to it? The disappointing lack of that release would be equally compounded by the fact that there would eventually be two STAR WARS making of books released in 1980 and 1983-the superb ONCE UPON A GALAXY: THE MAKING OF THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK by Alan Arnold (the film's Unit Publicist) and THE MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI (edited by John Phillip Peecher), a good but obviously highly edited version of the film's behind the scenes activities.
Now, 25 Years later, my dream has finally become a reality with the release of THE MAKING OF STAR WARS by LUCASFILM Executive Editor J.W. Rinzler-and to my joy and relief, I can truly say that, not only is it a great book on the making of the film, it also happens to be one of the best making of a film books that I have ever read. Period!!
And this is quite a book. Huge to read, this will take up a vast amount of time to absorb and will no doubt improve your muscles and biceps when holding it for a lengthy period. But, boy is it worth the time and trouble...
This is truly a treasure trove of amazing riches.
Of the "lost" Charles Lippincott 1976 interviews, which would help make this book a reality, the best are from the behind the scenes people, including John Stears, John Barry (talking about the sets), and actors Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford (surprising, as he probably wouldn't be seen dead talking about the film now!!). Of the actor's interviews, surprisingly, the least interesting quotes are from Carrie Fisher-many of which would appear in some shape or form in the numerous 1977 magazines of the film's release-if not the exact quotes then something very similar. Outside of the main interviews, there are also some superb selected interview trans-scripts, especially the one where Lucas talks to Effects Supremo John Dykstra and STAR WARS novel adaptor Alan Dean Foster about the two sequels that he hopes to get made. Additionally, let's also not forget one involving Lucas, Gary Kurtz and Director of Photography, Gilbert Taylor, working together on how things like the lightsaber were going to be achieved for the first time.
Additionally from the LUCASFILM archive jewels, intriguing other new material has been discovered, especially on the film's critical editing (which involved Lucas, abandoning his original choice of Editor, John Jympson, to work with his wife, Marcia, alongside Paul Hirsch and Richard Chew on creating a unique new visual, fast paced film watching experience), and the equally important sound creation, with then newcomer, Ben Burtt, handling the creation of the effects but, surprisingly, the actual job of putting the finished results on screen being done by an established film veteran named Stan Shaw.
It's also nice to find out more about the unsung heroes who worked on the film, especially on the pre-production side, and to see some of those individuals, including the original Special Effects designer, Colin Cantwell, get some proper recognition-not only do we finally see what he looks like, but we get to see some photos of him linked to his work on the film. Very cool little prototype drawings by George Lucas for the prototype spaceships also show just how strong his creative mid was for the film.
Amongst the other great bits of previously unrevealed info are gems like the names of the considered Directors of Photography before Geoffrey Unsworth (later replaced by Gilbert Taylor) and snippets from people like the late British Practical Effects man, John Stears.
As well as the intriguing costume sketches and character designs, on the art and photography side, we finally see the intriguing order in which Ralph McQuarrie worked on his production paintings for the film, and discover, in the hardback version only, amazing pre-production action storyboards from both Alex Tavoularis and Ivor Beddoes (including some great storyboard shots from the latter of the Vader/Obi-wan duel, with the intriguing horns on the Dark Lord's helmet (also note, Vader's lightsaber is very much like Darth Maul's from THE PHANTOM MENACE), and an injured Ben Kenobi surviving his encounter.
It's also amazing to see how much of the Prequel Trilogies concepts and ideas existed from STAR WARS original concepts and drafts, especially THE PHANTOM MENACE and REVENGE OF THE SITH. Now, more than ever, we have to accept these three modern STAR WARS movies as part of the saga envisioned by George Lucas.
Great photos are equally abundant in the book, like the filming in Guatemala, and the early Artoo prototype with Lucas at ELSTREE amongst those to be salivated over. Disappointingly, though, a lot of expected Gary Kurtz's superb on-set imagery doesn't appear in the book. The lack of any of his photographic contributions is sad, especially if you see some of his images on the STAR WARS ARCHIVES website. It's a shame that Lucas can't team up with Kurtz on another book involving his images for the film. There are stills thousands of images out there, between both Kurtz, outside private collections and LUCASFILM that could be used. I also must quibble over the use of STAR WARS TRILOGY SPECIAL EDITION images in the book, like the red lightsaber glow on Vader's weapon in the DEATH STAR hangar, thought attempts are made to use shots from the original film, like the X-wings in formation flying towards the space station. Rinzler would tell the author that SPECIAL EDITION images were used when material from the original film wasn't available or in good enough quality for reproduction.
As you continue to read the book, it's amazing to discover the myths that are de-bunked, re-clarified or newly revealed. Previous already known information becomes more compelling with additional material never before revealed and certain things of the films genesis become clearer. From reading the book, with the exception of visionaries like Alan Ladd Jr. and Gareth Wigan, the 1975-1977 management of TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX comes over as a complete bunch of morons-showing little of the creative talent that they promote themselves as having. I had read that FOX had stalled the production and caused chaos and delays to the film's pre and main production, but, upon reading the book, I hadn't known that the film was actually SHUT DOWN at one brief point in pre-production during October 1975, when FOX hadn't given their commitment to the film (due to money problems from the disastrous critical and financial failure of their Burt Reynolds/Liza Minnelli movie LUCKY LADY). Their general apathy towards STAR WARS (you could say they considered it to be like the crazy old Uncle that no-one talks to at a Thanksgiving party!!) would continue into its limited release, and their later penalty fee charging of Lucas for going over budget, by taking some of the money off his directing fee when the film had opened to huge success, and making the FOX board records sums of money, is something that the film company should be ashamed of from now until forever!! In the end, you can really see that it is Lucas's sheer bloody mindedness, and, in the beginning few years of post-production, his own money from the eventual, and deserved, success of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, that got that film made at all!!
Intriguingly, however, some of the now mythical nightmare tales of the movie's studio filming, revealed in numerous books and interviews over the years, are also seemingly played down-the book talks about the final chaotic days of STAR WARS principal photography in late July 1976 as if the shutdown of the now over filming schedule project was not the problem that it has since been perceived to be-as far as I was aware STAR WARS was shut down by FOX against the vehement wishes of a hurt and betrayed Lucas-that the director was disillusioned with what had happened and what hadn't been shot or successfully completed in the schedule. From Rinzler's description of the final days, using interview quotes from Gary Kurtz at the time, it doesn't seem that the film, at that time, was as seriously hampered after all...
The story behind the problems and failure of the front projection shooting with the effects are also fascinating in the vast section devoted to the film's post-production, and, in my own personal reading between the lines, it seems to me that John Dykstra, realizing the films potential and how revolutionary it would be if he and his team could pull it off, was probably overwhelmed by the effects responsibilities but didn't want to admit it. He and his team would plough on to develop model filming techniques that are still as good as ever thirty years on. If any people were to be continually deserved of their success, then Dykstra, Muren, Tippett, Ralston and Edlund should certainly stay at the top of the list for their effects work!!
As for the all important clarification of history, the book scores well on many incidents. I always believed that the legends of the different versions of the films soundtrack were kind of exaggerated or used by LUCASFILM to hide later inconsistencies/additions in the films subsequent release on TV, video and DVD, but having read that section of the book I now firmly believe in all the differences being made to the audio mixes at that time in 1977. With Ben Burtt not having done his own original sound mix- Stan Shaw did the original 1977 mix version- it's now no surprise to me that Burtt would continue to tinker with the sound design of the first film for the 2004 DVD releases-wanting to put his own stamp on the films sound in a way he probably wasn't able to do in 1977, which would also result in a controversial, mostly negative reaction from hardcore fans used to the way the film was originally mixed, when the DVD of the first film was released in 2004.
As with everything in life, there are always some niggles. And this applies equally to this book as well. Some parts of its layout are a bit of an eyesore or waste the use of rare photos that Rinzler himself had specially selected. Though this is not the author's fault, there is also a lack of production material available on certain aspects of the film's making-from a conversation I had with the author I discovered that some information/photography was never kept by LUCASFILM, or was lost, now in private hands, or destroyed. On the actor's front, there is also a lack of Dave Prowse information, interviews and photography in the book. Before the actor was ostracized from RETURN OF THE JEDI, surely there must be some great Prowse/Vader material from 1976 out there? Additionally, one day, it would also be nice to see a full cast list for the film, including the names of all the American actors who did dialogue re-dubbing. There's also hardly anything on the X and Y-Wing pilot blue screen filming- and nothing on the actors who played the roles.
But, as I said earlier, the above really are minor niggles, especially as the book is so huge and covers so much. It was a big risk for LUCASFILM and EBURY PRESS to produce this epic and costly to produce book, and, as far as I'm aware, the risk has quite rightly paid off well for them.
To sum up, THE MAKING OF STAR WARS is one of the most important books ever written on a cultural event that just also happened to change the world. Seeing the book brings back the nostalgia of being a kid again- I particularly love the images of Fisher, Ford and Hamill on set and enjoying the great filming adventure that would become STAR WARS (and boy, they were SO young!!).
The essence of a good coffee table book like this is how often you go back to it once you're read it. I have to say that I've been going back to it a lot recently-not just for research reference but just because it's such a damned good read.
Now more than ever we need the enjoyment of the STAR WARS films. For me, in particular, that first movie. And reading this book, it makes me want to: a) read the book all over again, and b) watch STAR WARS all over again, as well!! That doesn't sound too bad to me!!
I could go on all day about all the other great stuff you can find out about within THE BOOK (as I now call it!!), but I don't want to spoil it for everyone. Instead, just two words of advice:
GO BUY IT!!
Mister Rinzler, when are those EMPIRE and JEDI books coming out??!!