Friday, 8 October 2010

J.W. RINZLER ON WRITING "THE MAKING OF THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK"

With the upcoming release of THE MAKING OF THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (published in the UK by AURUM PRESS, and the US by RANDOM HOUSE), its author, J.W. Rinzler (pictured), who previously penned the superb best-seller THE MAKING OF STAR WARS, very kindly spared some time to speak to STAR WARS AFICIONADO about its writing and development.


STAR WARS AFICIONADO: Jonathan, congratulations on your new book. Like THE MAKING OF STAR WARS before it, I'm sure it will be a bestseller for a long time to come. Is THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK your favourite STAR WARS movie? And do you have a favourite moment from that film?

J.W. RINZLER: The first one - STAR WARS - is my favourite movie. Because it came out of nowhere. I was able to attend a sneak preview. It was a mind blowing event. Its the only one that has a beginning, a middle and end. And they (the other SW films) all sort of have beginnings, middles and ends, but the first one is really the only one. The second one is a very close second favourite. I love THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Its a great film, and if I have a favourite part in it - there are so many great parts in it - I'd have to say where the Falcon is being chased through space by the TIE's and Star Destroyers - the choreography is so beautiful there - particularly when they dive down and then you have the Star Destroyers up above. That's almost abstract art. And yet it works in the context of the film. Its really, really interesting and superbly done. And in my mind it has yet to be surpassed, except perhaps by the waterfall scene - that's what we call it - in EPISODE III (the final part of the Obi / Anakin duel on Mustafar) as well. There's some great stuff in JEDI. In all the films. I love them.

SWA: How long did you have to work on the new book? With all your other projects at LUCAS BOOKS how did you find time to put it all together?

JWR: Well, its not easy. The STAR WARS and EMPIRE books took about two years to do, and my main job here (at LUCASFILM) is as an editor, as my day job is working on projects like STAR WARS: FRAMES and STAR WARS: VISIONS, and the DK book YEAR BY YEAR, and so on. The books that I write and research, especially the writing, only takes place early morning, when I get up, between 6 and 7 am, and then 6-7 hours a day at weekends. But over the years in doing them I've also gotten pretty good at knowing which parts to keep and what not. I can do it pretty quickly. And the fact that I laid out this new book myself made things a lot more efficient.

SWA: What lessons/handy hints did you learn from the writing process for THE MAKING OF STAR WARS book that you could apply to THE MAKING OF THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK? 

JWR: Well, with EPISODE IV I read the scripts early, and was doing research on them and reading them at the same time. And that made it harder. For EPISODE V, and if we do (a book for) EPISODE VI, I read all the scripts - all five drafts - just to begin with. It makes all the subsequent research a lot easier to understand and follow with the different scenes and characters in each script draft. Its fascinating, and one of the most rewarding things to do.

SWA: Was there anything included in this book that you weren't able to do with THE MAKING OF STAR WARS?

JWR: To get a lot more images into the first book. It was a little bit frustrating on the first one. It certainly ended up looking great, but I felt we could have had a few more images there. But sometimes you run up against production and design and they have their way on doing things. And also we added fifty pages late into the game on that first book, but this time RANDOM HOUSE said we've got 372 pages to begin with, so I was determined to get as many images possible in there. Sometimes the design may have suffered a little bit but we got around 1,200 images into it. I really wanted to tell the story, and the images have to be there with the text for the whole behind the scenes experience for the readers - something that hopefully the readers will enjoy. There were no great images for the first book that didn't get left out - all the best images were there - but the problem with the STAR WARS book was that it was low budget picture in a weird way - it was a big budget picture but not enough money - but I think they only had the one on set stills photographer available every third day of filming. On EMPIRE, Gary Kurtz was taking a lot of pictures, as was George Whitear - he was the official photographer for the movie and on set. He took many, many great pictures.

SWA: Which part of the book are you most proud of? 

JWR: I guess overall its hard for me to say proud, but I hope the overall flow of the book works and that people get a real sense of the epic story behind the scenes - that it all flows together - words and pictures.

SWA: What was the most difficult part of the book to research?

JWA: It's the beginning of the research. Its physically difficult to be in the archive, after three or four hours going through boxes and boxes of inter-office memorabilia. And then your mind begins to dull over and you don't want to miss something crucial. Then I got the notes that Miki Herman did - the weekly reports at ILM - all there in one box in a Eureka! moment. And then there was the same Eureka! moment with Ralph McQuarrie - all of his material should be in one section, but there was a box full of office reports and with them were two rare original art pieces of his - it was part of the licensing rather than the film, actually. That was a mini coup. Research - that's the hardest and the most fun.

SWA: What pieces of research linked to the book surprised you the most?

JWR: I found in one drawer five or six colour studies by Ralph that were misfiled about twenty/thirty years ago, where Ralph was testing out the colours prior to the full on production paintings - there's one that I think is early Coruscant, nobody's quite sure - and there was one of the battle with Darth Vader and Luke in the carbon freezing chamber. So that was all great. There was also finding a lot of great production drawings from Norman Reynolds - he doesn't get a lot of credit, but he was the one who designed the carbon freezing chamber set for the film. And then the legal archive came up to me one day and they had boxes and boxes of interesting material - all of which was great for the first part of the book.

SWA: Were there any behind the scenes filming myths that can finally be shot down?

JWR: Well, I personally am someone who loves cinema, who ended up working here at LUCASFILM, and got to know George and love the STAR WARS films, but I approach it from the big picture. I know that there had been rumours about Wampa attacks and so on, and they did film some Wampa attacks, and they did film one of them getting shot by the Rebels with a bazooka. And General Veers was supposed to get killed. Those come to my mind. ILM did film his (Veers) Walker getting blown up and then they decided to change that whole beginning sequence. It didn't make a whole lot of sense originally because you had Darth Vader landing on Hoth before they blew up the energy generator, and at some point George must have said, "Y'know, we should probably change this." Veers survived, they blew up the generator, then Vader came down. It makes a lot more sense. I know that ILM did it (Veers death) from their storyboards. Rebel pilot Hobbie - in a suicide run -flies straight into the head of the Walker. That shot of the Walker missing its head is still in the film. Its just used in a different part of the film. That's what I remember from doing the writing for the book.

SWA: Are there any rare photos/behind the scenes material on the film that you weren't able to find? Are there any other STAR WARS movie Holy Grails that you're still eager to track down?

JWR: Not really. There were some little mini-mysteries I got involved in whilst in the writing, because there were certain books that said that George had written the Third Draft of the EMPIRE script. George wrote the Second Draft after Leigh Brackett died. And it seemed that things were not as organised as sometimes people would imagine, and the Third Drafts that I had said the writing was by George. But reading that draft the writing seemed like it was by Lawrence Kasdan. I asked George about this. The Yoda dialogue between the two drafts was a lot better, and George said, "Probably Larry wrote it, then!" (laughs) and "Why don't you just follow it up and ask him." So I did, and Lawrence Kasdan had the title page for his script version that had his name on it so he faxed it to me and that cleared up that mini-mystery.

SWA: With all the photography and artwork in the archives, how did you go about making your selections? It must have been very tough to be disciplined in your editing?

JWR: There's always a few moments like that. I even had more pictures in it at one point but then I showed it to the art director here (at LUCASFILM), Troy Alders, and he said, "Y'know, this is a little too much here, and you don't need to use two pictures when one will look better." And he was right. I did a second layout of the book and made it a lot more reader friendly. Its not fun to use a great picture too small and not see whats really happening in it. So we cut out some and blew up other pictures. Text-wise I got everything in there. I found the original Alan Arnold tapes so we were able to go back to the original transcriptions and stuff they couldn't say back in 1980 that we were able to say in 2010. It was a pretty satisfying experience. Thanks to Don Bies we managed to get those tapes re-transcribed - he managed to preserve those tapes in the archive as somebody had almost thrown them away.

SWA: In research, did you get to see any of the lost footage from EMPIRE, like the Wampa sequences?

JWR: For each book I go to our film archives and Sterling Hedgpeth basically cues up the different material - he does a lot of pre-research for me and he goes through the differences and shows me all the differences in cut. I pretty much see everything. I've seen the deleted scenes but I've also seen variations of other scenes and its very interesting. He was also able to dig up George's notes on the films first edit so that was a big help as well.

SWA: Will any of the material from the book also be working its way onto the upcoming 2011 Blu-rays?

JWR: They have access to the images that were found for the book. They could use them for the discs photo section.

SWA: You've penned a US released INDIANA JONES original novel. I was wondering if you might create an adventure for STAR WARS? 

JWR: Not for now. I'm probably more suited to the non-fiction side. We have a great stable of STAR WARS authors. I don't think they need me! The INDY original novel I did was supposed to be released in England but something happened and the publisher backed out. But you can still get it via AMAZON US.

SWA: Jonathan, thank you very much for speaking to us. We know the book will be superb.

JWR: When you get your copy of the EMPIRE book I hope you enjoy reading it.

SWA: We look forward to the MAKING OF JEDI, too!

JWR: We'll see if if that happens. This ones got to sell a few copies first!



THE MAKING OF THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is released on October 12th.

With thanks to J.W. Rinzler, Chris Argyropoulus at LUCASFILM, and Jodie Mullish at AURUM PRESS. 

UPDATE 10/10/2010. Check out the new extended six minute trailer for the book here:

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