The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Making of Revenge of the SithOrder this bookStory: This chronological recounting of the filmmaking process begins with pre-production art and design work in April 2002 and runs through October 2004, as editing and effects work continues leading up to writer-director George Lucas and composer John Williams meeting to spot the film.

Review: The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is a great book with one gaping flaw: it’s incomplete. In order to be available as part of the early-April marketing/product blitz for Sith, the book had to be wrapped up long before the movie was. So the book doesn’t end so much as it runs out, leaving the reader to wonder how the movie was actually finished. There is a free electronic book/PDF file that adds a final chapter, mostly focused on the score, the last pick-up shots, and dialogue looping. While it does provide some additional closure as veterans of the saga like Anthony Daniels do their last bits of work, even that ends with a few hundred shots of the movie left to complete. And even if the e-book did finish the job, I can’t help but think that there’s very little good reason to publish a book about the making of a movie before the movie is done being made.

The chronological structure of the book probably makes this flaw more apparent than it might be otherwise, which is a shame because it is also one of the book’s strengths. In years of following Star Wars behind-the-scenes stories, I have never seen one that captures Lucas’s method of film-making as well as this does. The work begins a month before Attack of the Clones opened, when Lucas tells design supervisors Ryan Church and Erik Tiemens to begin thinking about “seven battles on seven planets” for a sequence that will open the next movie. There is at this point no script, no outline, nothing beyond some ideas in Lucas’s head. Over the course of the next year, Lucas keeps throwing out these little tidbits, and the art teams turn out drawing after drawing showing possible characters, settings, and action sequences. The production teams start building sets and costumes in Sydney. Editors begin assembling animatic pre-visualizations – Steven Spielberg even chips in. And all of this happens before anyone sees a first draft of Lucas’s script.

There is a sense in which this is total madness, and Rinzler captures that whenever producer Rick McCallum makes a joke about how he needs to be able to give people information to get them to work. Scenes and sequences get scrapped and reshot because Lucas has a better idea – those seven battles on seven planets quickly fell out of the beginning of the movie, and some of them were later repurposed as part of the Order 66 sequence. On the other hand, Lucas is far from the only director to shift gears once the cameras roll. Empire of Dreams – the documentary on the 4-disc original trilogy set released last year – recounts how Irvin Kershner and Harrison Ford did extra take after extra take before Ford improvised the line “I know” in Empire, and how Kershner and Gary Kurtz pushed the schedule and the budget in order to rework dialogue scenes between Ford and Carrie Fisher. The system of pre-visualization and scheduled pickup shoots that Lucas and McCallum have developed builds the time for such revision into the schedule, and the work that Industrial Light and Magic has done with digital sets and effects means that new ideas can be introduced fairly late in the process. Why wouldn’t a filmmaker want to take advantage of that flexibility?

Whether or not Lucas makes good use of the flexibility is another question. He often revises sequences right up to the day of a shoot. (In fact, one of the book’s strengths is that it includes many excerpts of these previous versions, including a passage where Palpatine explicitly takes credit for Anakin’s creation.) There’s an argument to be made that this can result in cast and crew flying blind and not really knowing what they’re supposed to be doing. This is an approved book, so it should be no surprise that not a lot of time is given to people’s misgivings or negative thoughts – the focus is on the positive. Rinzler does allow some bits of critical self-assessment to get through, usually coming from Lucas himself. The director comments on his well-known struggles with writing dialogue and difficulties in conveying the Anakin-Padme relationship convincingly in the time that he had on screen. Overall, though, it’s clear Rinzler has a genuine admiration for Lucas and his fellow artists and enough skill as a narrator to make the making of the movie a compelling story itself.

Year: 2005
Author: J. W. Rinzler
Publisher: Del Rey
Pages: 224