The Making Of Star Wars book review

Behind the scenes at the making of sci-fi film history; a new book unearths some fascinating material from the production archives of Star Wars...

The Making Of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind The Original Film (Paperback)Author: J.W. RinzlerPublisher: Ebury PressISBN: 0091924995RRP: £14.99

The mythology and frequently-apocryphal stories that have developed around the genesis and troubled fruition of George Lucas’s mega-hit space opera now rival the pan-galactic back-story of the Star Wars saga itself: did Harrison Ford really threaten to tie George Lucas down and make him say Han Solo’s trite dialogue? Was Christopher Walken really close to playing Han Solo? Did Lucas really offer his actors no direction…?

The answers to most of these questions – where not at odds with the goodwill of Lucasfilm itself – are available in the Lucas-approved The Making Of Star Wars. Author J.W. Rinzler has already chronicled the Lucas prequels, and his considerable research efforts for this weighty (480-pages) tome are backed up by exclusive access to the staggeringly comprehensive Lucasfilm archives relating to the production, as well as worshipfully prefaced by Peter Jackson. The Lord Of The Rings director recalls the agonising six-month wait for prints of Star Wars to make their way to New Zealand – and the cinematic epiphany he underwent when they finally arrived.

The ‘lost’ interviews of Making are a fascinating documentary record mostly consisting of ‘making of’ chats conducted by Lucasfilm marketing and merchandising vice-president Charles Lippincott. The time-line of the interviews threads the entire duration of production and post-production and includes conversation with the likes of Gary Kurtz, ‘noveliser’ Alan Dean Foster, SFX maestro John Dykstra, makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels and a plethora of other talent from both sides of the camera.

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Making steers between meanness and excess in passing on these interviews; some are liberally or conservatively exploited whilst others seem to occupy unedited pages of the book in a lazy copy-and-paste operation that seems to have bypassed al the author’s creative filters. This staccato rhythm repeats itself elsewhere in the work, where the fascinating flow of Rinzler’s text crunches to an abrupt halt to make way for turgid scene breakdowns or the aforementioned unedited interviews, many of which would have been more welcome as complete tracts in the appendix of an even longer book, rather than sudden chocks in a work that otherwise has considerable pace and excitement for Star Wars fans.

But it’s hard to complain too much when the general flow of Making unearths so many fascinating details about Star Wars, such as the incident when an errant radio-controlled R2 trundled onto the set of Jesus Of Nazareth…

For an SFX enthusiast, perhaps the most interesting section of the book deals with the long and tortuous process of setting up Industrial Light & Magic, and its painful development from a rather hippy-esque research centre into the optical powerhouse needed to crank out the 350 effects shots for Star Wars. The genesis of the now legendary ILM weaves in and out of the narrative of the book, and every time we come back to it we find Dykstra and his rather mellow band of collaborators hardly any further advanced on a task that must have seemed Herculean, if not quixotic, back in 1977, when all the legendary effects units in Hollywood had closed down and Lucas eschewed the ‘traditional‘ services of the old guard in favour of a bold and bespoke approach to optical work.

The early drafts of the Star Wars script, with which Lucas struggled for 18 months, reveal an opacity and confusion which in no way anticipate the cohesiveness and integrity of the final film, though it is fascinating to see the early stages of now-famous ‘prequel’ elements, such as Mace Windu (‘Windy’ in the early drafts) and midi-chlorians. If there was ever any doubt that Lucas did not know then that Darth Vader was Luke and Leia’s father, the early formulations of the Star Wars mythology seem to dispel this.

Many of Making’s scores of new photos are in colour, and the fascinating collection includes production sketches, location stills and wonderful pre-alpha versions of familiar technology, such as R2 himself, as well as a wealth of publicity stills and behind-the-scenes pics at ILM.

The Making Of Star Wars is a superb effort that redeems its occasional narrative hiccups with a truly involving tale of a space-film that nearly never got off the ground, and on which production was stopped a number of times. It’s a no-brainer purchase for a Star Wars completist, but the general cinephile alike should be tempted by such a thorough and privileged insight into a true phenomenon of movie history.

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The Making Of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind The Original Film is out now


5 out of 5