28 September, 2010

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back [book review]

Author: J.W. Rinzler
Hardcover: 372 pages
Dimensions: 29.6 x 27.4 x 3.4 cm
ISBN: 978-1-84513-555-3

Release date: 12th October, 2010
RRP: £40.00

2007 was the thirtieth anniversary of Star Wars and not a lot happened. Contrary to expectations a feature-packed six-film DVD (and/or HD format) boxset was not released and rumours of a 3D theatrical re-release proved false. There were however a couple of good books released. One of those was J.W. Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film which provided a thorough account of... well, the making of the film. Three years later it's the thirtieth anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back and Rinzler is back with another book.

It's presented in the same format as its predecessor, written with the use of notes, memo's and mostly contemporary interviews. Alongside this, there are a variety of visual treats such as concept art, storyboards (including Luke's training that didn't make it in to the final film), photos of models, on-set action (including another deleted scene), equipment, diagrams and more. The complete story of the film's production is covered from the earliest story ideas to the theatrical release - and then the bit just after the film was in theatres and it was decided to add three more shots. How much of this is new to you will depend on what you've read before, but there is still a lot of previously unseen pictures and new bits of information to be found – for example the identity of "Monkey Lady" (the original Emperor) which is finally revealed.

There's plenty of interest throughout. The story conference summary mentions that Han was raised by Wookies – an idea that years later wouldn't be used in Revenge of the Sith either. There's also mention of a lost sister: the "other" referred to in the film. "Someone suggested it might be the Princess," says Mark Hamill later on "but I think that would be a letdown."

Where things really get good is when filming begins. It was a troubled shoot which ran far over schedule, making for an interesting read. The freezing cold of Finse, the stage burning down at Elsetree Studios and other problems such as Dave Prowse revealing details of the film: "I talk at science-fiction conventions and I try to give them a little bit of information they don't have. And I'll always say, 'Whatever happens, don't mention this to anybody.'"

Leaks may have been annoying but it becomes apparent that the biggest problem was the ever increasing cost. George Lucas was financing it himself, leading to conflict with producer Gary Kurtz. "I'm faced with a situation where everything I own, everything I ever earned, is wrapped up in Empire" says Lucas at one point, whilst Kurtz seems to have had a lot more faith in the film: "I would say, 'Look at the rushes: The performances are really good, it's working really well and it's going to surprise everybody'". Ultimately the film was a success, but the relationship deteriorated and it's no surprise that Kurtz didn't return for the next film.

The filming had previously been chronicled in Alan Arnold's excellent Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of The Empire Strikes Back. Indeed it is the interviews that Arnold conducted for his book that provide a large chunk of the quotes in this one. However the two have a very different feel. As you would expect from the title, Arnold's book is more personal with a lot of his own thoughts and observations included – although some of these can still be found peppered throughout this one. Additionally "some of the best material [...] didn't make it into the publication" notes Rinzler in his introduction.

One highlight from Once Upon a Galaxy was the day Arnold had director Irvin Kershner wear a cordless microphone. The transcribed recording has also made it in to this book - though each version has a few moments not included in the other. It provides a fascinating glimpse of life on set as Kershner and Harrison Ford try to figure out the scene in the carbon freezing chamber that just isn't working. It's also funny. Carrie Fisher turns up, seems desperate to slap Lando, gets quite annoyed that things are being changed without her and eventually falls out with Ford. Oh and Dave Prowse pops up to talk about his book.

It's not just the stars that provide the interest. Over at ILM they find that despite figuring out things on Star Wars, a new film brings new problems - and the fact that their new facility is under construction doesn't help. It's easy to feel sorry for Dennis Muren et al, when having followed their quest to get the Tauntaun movement just right, it's one of the first things to get criticised following a preview. Also of interest is seeing LucasFilm grow, something the people there were not always happy about.

The book also provides a look at the changing shape of the saga. There's been confusion over the years as to just how many films there is supposed to be and here an early outline reveals that the first Star Wars film was to be Episode VI. Obviously this changed when it was decided to make Empire the fifth episode (the first film would not be numbered until the 1981 re-release). The deals for Hamill and Carrie Fisher included a fourth film and the book notes that there was at one point a 12-film plan but by the time Empire was released this had been reduced to 9. "People were always asking, 'Are you going to do more sequels?'" says Lucas towards the end of the book "Sometimes I got carried away."

Overall this is an excellent book. Things such as Splinter of the Mind's Eye (the first Star Wars novel) and The Star Wars Holiday Special, both released during the period covered here, are only briefly mentioned when perhaps more could have been written on them. But that's just a minor criticism, the book is after all titled The Making of The Empire Strikes Back and it delivers a full and engrossing account of the making of the first Star Wars sequel whilst also providing a lot of interesting photos and pictures to look at.

The Making of Star Wars was released in paperback and hardback formats, with the latter having more content, but this time it appears there is only a hardback version. This may be unfortunate if you were hoping to save a few pounds but the book is likely to be found below RRP most places (at the time of writing Amazon have it available to pre-order for £25.99). It is worth noting that TMOSW received a second paperback release in 2008 (RRP: £14.99), that shrunk down the book to a smaller size (22.9 x 15.2 x 3.8 cm), though it lost a lot of the images. If such an edition appeals, it may be worth hanging on to see if the Empire book receives a similar release.