The Making of Star Wars

The Making of Star WarsOrder this bookStory: Using archived interviews, documents, and photographs, J. W. Rinzler recounts the development and production of Star Wars in the mid-1970s.

Review: It takes a certain amount of skill and a certain amount of luck to retell a story that’s been told many times before and make it compelling. J. W. Rinzler has both working for him in The Making of Star Wars. Charles Lippincott, a Lucasfilm marketing executive, started conducting interviews in 1975 for a possible book on the making of the movie, but he never finished and those interviews wound up buried in Lucasfilm’s archives. Through those interviews, Lucas’s original film drafts, contract letters, and other photographs and documents, Rinzler was able rebuild the narrative of the film’s development and recapture the perspective of many of the principal cast and crew during the time period where very few people really understood what George Lucas wanted to achieve with Star Wars and no one had the faintest clue of how the movie would be received.

Rinzler does a very good job of pulling all of the threads together and building a narrative that sustains interest through over three hundred pages. Several sidebars track the development through the many drafts, where names and ideas that would eventually find themselves in the Star Wars universe originally show up in very different circumstances. Others focus on the development of specific models, designs, and techniques. The numerous photo spreads that mix images from making the movie with promotional art and film stills are very well designed and give a certain time-capsule quality to the book.

Even though Rinzler uses archived reports to reconstruct a running chronology of the principal photography, this book can not have the level of specific detail that’s found in Rinzler’s book on the making of Revenge of the Sith. In that book, Rinzler could delve into the details of a specific scene or shot, and capture the back-and-forth discussions and changes that led to the final result. The Making of Star Wars pulls back from that level of detail; various filmmakers discuss the differences of opinion they had, but they tend to focus on a more general level. It is clear that there were difficulties with the director of photography and communication problems between Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz on one side and the effects workers at Industrial Light and Magic, but the reader doesn’t really get a sense of how those disagreements specifically played out. And while Lucas is often his own critic in terms of his difficulties with writing dialogue and even plotting out his story, it is hard to find a point where Lucas comes off as making a wrong decision.

Some of this may come down to the fact that Star Wars is Lucas’s vision, so by definition whatever he decides is right for that vision. And it’s hard to argue much with his decision-making given how much of himself he invested in the project and how right he turned out to be. What I found most interesting in the early chapters of the book is the manner in which Twentieth Century Fox delayed signing final contracts on the movie for years after Lucas first made a deal to develop it. As a result, Lucas wound up investing much of his profit from American Graffiti into the preproduction process, including Ralph McQuarrie’s paintings and many model/effects tests. And as his investment grew, so did his resolve to maintain control of as much related to the film as possible. The results appear to have worked out pretty well for him.

The hardcover version of the book contains some interesting extra material, including storyboards based on earlier drafts and character designs. There are also excerpts from discussions Lucas had in the late 1970s to lay out some of the backstory of the characters for spinoff purposes. In many cases these thoughts bear only passing resemblance to the way that subsequent films would develop the story, which I’ve come to see as part of the fun of exploring Lucas’s creative process. The man who is arguably the most successful worldbuilder of his era isn’t the meticulous and obsessive plotter that we might expect, but someone who knows the kind of feeling and reaction he wants to create.

Year: 2007
Author: J. W. Rinzler
Publisher: Del Rey
Pages: 362 (hardcover edition)