Tuesday, 1 October 2013

AFICIONADO REVIEW: "THE MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI' BOOK


The pivotal moment of the STAR WARS SAGA, as Father and Son's destinies collide. The perfect cover for THE MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI - out now from AURUM. Images: LUCASFILM.


THE MAKING OF ‘RETURN OF THE JEDI’

By J.W. Rinzler

Foreword by Brad Bird

Published by Aurum Books

Available from 1st October 2013


Reviewed by Scott Weller


“No one ever said it would be easy!”

George Lucas


Could there ever have been a film more anticipated worldwide in May 1983 than Return of the Jedi? And now, in its Thirtieth Anniversary, could there ever have been a book more eagerly anticipated than it’s Making of, via J.W. Rinzler, with the exhaustive completion of his superb behind the scenes volumes linked to the classic STAR WARS TRILOGY: THE MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI?

Taking just as long to write as it was for George Lucas and his incredible team to bring the final adventure (?) of Luke Skywalker to the screen back in the day, the author makes huge creative decisions in his literary world just as important as those made in that past filmic world, alongside often meticulous detail, of which the end results prove worth the wait. THE MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI is, once again, another beautifully printed tome and a great accomplishment for Rinzler-the final signature to his research works, bringing his smashing and accomplished book trilogy to a rewarding and still fascinating close, alongside detailed exploration into the LUCASFILM ARCHIVES as well as making the most of expanded material and interview quotes from John Philip Peecher’s The Making of Return of the Jedi paperback from 1983, and previously long-lost STAR WARS FAN CLUB interview tapes recorded during the films UK making to enhance the project, as well as scores of old reference materials and new interviews with cast and crew.

▶ The Making of Return of the Jedi by J.W. Rinzler: Book Trailer - YouTube


With JEDI’s now illustrious forebear, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, having been the set-up and holding pattern for the spectacular resolution to come, George Lucas and his team had previously entered their own personal Heart of Darkness beyond the grim illusions seen by that films end, and had survived to enter the light, but the further personal and professional challenges posed by the birth and evolution of JEDI threatened to consume them all anew at varying points.

And as inflation began to soar, resulting in the STAR WARS films costing more and more, with this finale also notably and considerably having to satisfy millions of expectant fans across the globe, and having to be a huge hit to secure the future of his company, a pressured George Lucas had to be more heavily involved with this final film if it was to work, shepherded by the efficient taskmaster producer and keeper of the budgetary reins, Producer Howard Kazanjian, taking over duties from the departed Gary Kurtz. And after the problems of EMPIRE, whose varied troubled production issues had very nearly financially sunk George Lucas and STAR WARS in general, Rinzler’s book shows us that the crew were determined not to let a similar situation happen again- that they’d get the most from the budget and would cut costs where possible (an admirable if sometimes flawed mindset, with some creative/financial decisions soon coming back to bite them on the bum during the films later post-production). Even before the onset of filming there’s early lingering signposts of dread, with another type of warfare early on affecting the film’s budgeting: after all the problems between them on the earlier films, there’s still no plain sailing between FOX and LUCASFILM over the merchandise and sequel rights to JEDI- a scenario worsened by the loss of Lucas’s friend and supporter of STAR WARS: Alan Ladd, Jr.

Happy times at ILM for George Lucas and Richard Marquand.

The films planned shooting schedule, though not as epic and laborious as it had often felt on EMPIRE, would also prove a baptism of fire in many respects: an intense four-month period, with so much to be achieved, involving a relatively untried new director, Richard Marquand- the only real choice open to the production team after various States-side Union problems- having to prove himself as worthy to the project and the STAR WARS universe as the two previous visionaries that had brought so much to so many. Despite his enthusiasm and his belief in such a huge project, Rinzler’s book pretty much concludes that, despite Marquand’s overall direction of JEDI, he really needed a lot of help in its final shaping from an already beleaguered Lucas, beyond filming and in all production and editorial matters. (As a side-note, the late Marquand’s son, James, and wife Carol provide valuable insight into the man and his work on the film.)

Stuart Freeborn with the evolving Jabba the Hutt.

Bigger and better was what Lucas ultimately wanted JEDI to be, and he was going to get it by hook or by crook, of which the film soon became legendary for the enormous undertakings of ILM’s “Creature Shop” and the physical manifestation of slimy crime-lord Jabba the Hutt- a huge one-time only responsibility by Stuart Freeborn in London. There’s also the need for more speed, with effects guru Dennis Muren’s quest to find a practical way of shooting Lucas’s dreams for the exhilarating Speeder Bike chase through the woods of Endor. The road to these sequences final shaping – a now lost art with the emergence of CGI- is paved with interesting anecdotes and technique-shaping.

Alongside this fascinating time capsule of film history, whose Pre and Post Production areas prove the highlights, Rinzler and his team have the wonderful opportunity to provide gorgeous redone high resolution scans of classic materials, alongside newly discovered early conceptual art from the likes of Ralph McQuarrie (his imaginings of underground volcanic lairs, forest moons and two Death Stars as potent as ever) as well as storyboards by Joe Johnston, Dave Carson and others, plus, further on, four gorgeous pages of unseen concept poster art for the film by Drew Struzan. Plus some lovely B/W imagery, too-for the most part unpublished: the author obviously spending a lot of time tying to make sure that the material he selects hasn’t been used in previous official LUCAS books over the past eight years, or at least utilizing different takes, with some gorgeous between chapter photo spreads. There’s great written documentation given a highlighting, including, later in its time-frame, a fun and cheeky hand written letter from a teen Warwick Davis asking George Lucas for all the latest toys in the new JEDI range! With such historical wonders seemingly being found with each new major project, just how much more info is there in that LUCASFILM ARCHIVE waiting to be found?

There’s also early concept ideas of the at-first-called “Ewaks” and their co-relations on the forest moon of Endor- their stilted leg sheep-faced cousins, the "Yussem", as well as early Jabba designs, alongside other creatures and new technology, courtesy of Ken Ralston, Joe Johnston, Nilo Rodis-Jamero (given his big break as a costume designer on the film by Marquand) and Phil Tippett. Other unseen colour storyboards show some intriguing action for the Luke/Vader Throne Room duel worked on by UK artist Ryan Carnon with Marquand-the scenes abandoned because Lucas still stipulated two-handed lightsaber holding.

Darth Vader, as Force-throttling as ever, in this deleted scene from JEDI.

As the artwork for a new universe of Skywalker adventures continues apace, Lucas and co. (joined by Larry Kasdan, Howard Kazanjian, and Richard Marquand) buckle down for some intriguing story meeting discussions, of which there are some excellent transcripts for early ideas for the film and the characters being conceived - like Obi and Yoda’s returning to corporeal reality from the Force netherworld, the evolution of The Emperor, and a Darth Vader wanting Luke to join him in defeating his master, continuing, but also taking things in different directions, from the plotline of EMPIRE. It’s here where you can see how talented and important Larry Kasdan (returning to write the finale as a favour to Lucas) was to the Classic Trilogy, and how critical his input will be all over again for the next films, plus how well he worked with Lucas at that time in 1981/82.

Marquand with the finally seen Emperor, now played by Ian McDiarmid.

Amongst other further intriguing new behind the scenes snippets in the Pre-Production process: BOND helmer John Glenn being an early candidate as director, David Suchet auditioning for the Emperor, and Alan Rickman trying for Moff Jerjerrod. There’s also the reveal of the original actor to play The Emperor before Ian McDiarmid: the elderly UK talent Alan Webb, so sinister looking I doubt he needed much make-up, regrettably giving up the role due to health issues. Webb’s loss was soon McDiarmid's and our gain!

A new lightsaber, ready for action!

Going into the principal photography starting one long cold January in 1982, the previously established family feeling of the team is there but relations are strained- the actors clearly having an obligation to finish the trilogy but wanting to escape it to ventures new. Harrison Ford, now a bona fide movie star, being a prime example (and showing later disappointment that his character isn’t given a memorable heroes death!), whilst Carrie Fisher’s enthusiasm for the film and working with Richard Marquand wavers constantly.

Overall, the love/hate relationship between certain “Talent” with Marquand is very much in evidence throughout the book- perhaps because he was a British rather than American director, who may not have been quite so easily relatable as Lucas and Kershner had been.

Carrie Fisher rides a Speeder Bike at ILM.

On the other side of the pond, ILM show fractious rivalry, too, as the company has to handle other projects in the run up to JEDI- bringing in money needed to keep the company afloat and an effort by Lucas to stop talent from defecting to other rival effects houses, resulting in the staff all now vying to do the best for their projects, and all vying for limited equipment- an irritant situation at times.

With location filming completed in Yuma and the California Redwoods, the challenges of Post Production intensify for the besieged Lucas when Marquand and editor Sean Barton’s early “Director’s Cut” fail to catch Lucas and Kazanjian’s enthusiasm, whilst early but continuing negative thoughts from some cast and crew members concerning the teddy bear warrior Ewoks quietly linger. Emergency measures see some cut scenes losses (of which there are some nice photo representations) and the need for extra shooting (finally, the book gives us documented evidence that the Tatooine cave scene, where Luke builds his lightsaber, was filmed at ILM, with Mark Hamill and supervised by Richard Marquand, in December 1982!) which ultimately pay dividends in the movies final shaping.

The Rancor says, "Hi!"

Meanwhile, a burnt out ILM, having done five heavy effects films on the trot, work hard to find their mojo anew in order to make JEDI the often revolutionary effects extravaganza it would become, with less time than ever before in a round-the-clock operation, with further frustrations coming from key members of the team who aren’t allowed to look at a complete’ish version of the script-the producers paranoid, quite rightly, about leaks and potential damage to the box office, whilst a distant Lucas, burying himself in work and making hundreds of critical decisions a day, goes through some sad, painful marital problems with wife Marcia, who was by that point also working on the film as one of its trusted, key editors-making a difficult personal situation heart-achingly worse.

Stresses and strains in this marathon journey continue, including the momentous “Black Friday” event-where hundreds of space battle effects would be eliminated by Lucas in his revised editing of the movie (why wasn’t any of this on the Blu-ray!?)- an unintentional but genuine kick in the teeth to the effects crew, necessitating further shooting in time they just didn’t have but ultimately find.

Thankfully, despite the trials and tribulations, the angst and personal heartache of getting this third movie done, there is hope at the end of the tunnel (as well as being an important closing testament to the book) with the eventual satisfaction by the STAR WARS team in having created something so revolutionary and enduringly that it would resonate as an audience favourite, and a box office success, for years to come…

Image: via Prop Store website.

As I close the book's last few pages, a few critical niggles, also inherent with the previous Making of's, remain- certain side areas of the production lack deserved coverage, rare colour scene paintings from Joe Johnston and Michael Pangrazio are used far too small, as are a few other conceptual/storyboard pieces, and I miss some of the mass photo spread collages that were present in THE MAKING OF EMPIRE- but these aren’t dwelled on for too long- not with so much of the book being so successful and absorbing to the eyes and the mind…

THE MAKING OF STAR WARS may still have the overall edge over its successors due to the huge amount of unpublished interview material –a genuine goldmine of exploration, but this last hurrah from Rinzler squarely lives up to his past works in charting the many ups, subsequent downs, and up agains in the making of such an important film in pop culture- a critical one concluding the overall classic STAR WARS Trilogy. A film which, even more importantly and with the passing of time, not only sets things up anew for legacies past but also legacies future.

A future beginning again this January 2014…

Mister Rinzler, myself and STAR WARS fans around the world respect and thank you for your efforts in charting these beloved fantasy films made cinematic reality. Now go and enjoy some well-deserved long weekends off!

Our favourite trio have fun in this out-take posed image - circa May 1982.

AFICIONADO RATING: Featuring an affectionate foreword by top director Brad Bird, master of such animatic delights as THE INCREDIBLES and memorable adventure alongside MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, stylishly articulating his love of the Classic STAR WARS TRILOGY- his memories of first seeing the films (attending JEDI’s cast and crew screening no less!), and why that original opus will always endure in our hearts, THE MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI takes us back to that seminal part of our childhood, helping us relive the dedicated work that went into bringing us the power of the Force, and a young man’s courageous and incredible facing of his ultimate destiny (not just Luke Skywalker but his real-life alter-ego in George Lucas, too!), all over again… 8.5 out of 10

With thanks to AURUM PRESS for all their help in the review of this book.



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