REVIEW: The Making Of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler
The Making Of Star Wars is billed as ‘The definitive story behind the original film’ and I’d definitely agree with that. I’d also add exhaustive and awesome as well. Seeing the cover took me back to 1977, when I was 9, as I eagerly stood in line to see Star Wars for the first time. Little did I know then the long, twisting story behind the first film. This book covers that story in detail, starting in 1968 and ending ten years later, as Lucas and company bask in the glow of mega-success.
The first thing you’ll notice is that The Making Of Star Wars contains a lot of pictures. Hundreds of pictures. There is at least one picture for each two-page spread, sometimes several more. These pictures are a combination of snapshots of cast and crew, before during and after shooting, and pictures of the conceptual art drawings and storyboards for the movies. I remember seeing many of the art pictures back in the day when I owned the original Art Of Star Wars book. However, Rinzler has access to the Lucasfilm archives, which gives him a huge array of photos to choose from. Many of the pictures in this book have probably never been seen before, particularly the ones of the crew, and I think Rinzler has done a great job choosing pictures that also show the film’s artistic development. In fact, you could pick this book up and just thumb through it, looking at all the cool photographs. They are that interesting.
One really neat idea that Rinzler brought to this book is to actually show the development of Star Wars as a film by detailing the story from rough draft to ‘finished’ screenplay. I used quotes there because Lucas was tinkering with the screenplay even during shooting. Several times in the book, there are several pages dedicated to each draft of the script, with any accompanying pictures that help flesh out detail. You can see from the early rough draft the outline of the finished movie, but there are many, many changes that were made, for various reasons, before the film was finished. Along with these drafts, we learn that Lucas absolutely hated writing plots and dialog. And you can plainly see how horrid the conversations are between the characters in the story drafts. Even Mark Hamill makes a comment in the book as to how bad the dialog is. Lucas actually hired a couple of people to help him clean up the dialog for Star Wars. If only older Lucas had remembered what younger Lucas had said about writing plot and dialog. We might have had prequels that were actually good.
Another fascinating thing in this book are the quotes and interview excerpts for a whole host of people involved with Star Wars. Again, Rinzler’s access to the archives uncovered gold as he found many interviews with cast and crew obtained during and directly after the filming of Star Wars, most never seen before. Thus, everything quoted in the book was said sometime in the 1976-78 time period. This gives us an interesting look at the film process and the feelings of the people involved, unfiltered through dusty memories. It’s quite illuminating to see what people thought of each other, of Lucas, and of how the filming was going. We also see how leery the Fox executives were and just how unable they were to grasp what Lucas was doing.
This book is also filled with enough information to make even the most hardcore Star Wars trivia geek jump with glee. For instance: After making American Graffiti, Lucas was planning on making Apocalypse Now before changing his mind. And if it weren’t for American Graffiti, Star Wars might never have been made. Fox didn’t give Lucas any money for the film until well over a year into development. It was the money from Graffiti that allowed Lucas to bankroll the initial costs of Star Wars. And in a case of striking while the iron was cold, Fox didn’t agree to a movie deal until Lucas was considered a talented and successful director who would be able to take Star Wars to any studio and get it done. As a result, Fox gave Lucas many things they had never given a director before: rights to sequels, percentages of the movies profits, and, of course, the rights to merchandising. Hard to believe, but back then, merchandising was seen as being only T-shirts and posters. Star Wars truly ushered in the era of major merchandising efforts.
That’s not to say that this book doesn’t have any faults. Earlier I called this book exhaustive. There is so much information here, all packed together, that it becomes overwhelming at times. I had to stop occasionally to take a break and digest what I had just read. Also, narrative-wise, I don’t think there is a lot of re-readability. Certainly, with so much info, you can go back and find more stuff you missed, but the basic gist will still be the same and there aren’t any hidden meanings. I also thought the discussion about how John Williams wrote the soundtrack could have been fleshed out more. But these are nitpicky details.
If you are a Star Wars fan, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Especially if you are a younger fan. You’ll definitely get a sense of how the movie world worked in the mid-1970s, and you’ll learn a lot about the long road Star Wars took to become, perhaps, the most influential movie of all time, certainly within the last 30 years. It makes me wish I could be 9 years old again, going to the theater to see Star Wars for the first time.
Filed under: Book Review
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