REVIEW: The Making of Star Wars (book)

The Definitive Story Behind The Original Film: The Making of Star Wars-Based On The Lost Interviews From The Official Lucasfilm Archives book (Ballantine Books, hardcover deluxe edition, 2007)
J.W. Rinzler

Original 1975-1978 Interviews By: Charles Lippincott

Forget stamps. Forget conventions. Forget video games. The Making of Star Wars is the one essential 30th anniversary product. As a Star Wars fan and movie buff, I can tell you that the book is just about perfect.

Relying on extensive interviews conducted during the making of the first Star Wars movie, J.W. Rinzler has assembled the Star Wars book that never was. While there have been “making of” books for the five other films in the saga, the making of Star Wars never made it to publication, until now.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There was a juvenile book, Star Wars: The Making Of The Movie from about 1980. That was actually the first behind-the-scenes movie book I ever read, and it sparked an interest in me that continues to this day.

With a whopping 362 pages and weighing about sixty tons, The Making of Star Wars dwarfs that previous effort and offers much more than a glimpse into the film. You basically get to live it. Along the way, there are many revelations.

These days, everything is hailed as “extensive” or “definitive.” Star Wars products do not always live up to their hype, but this one exceeds it. In minute detail and in very small print for my aging eyes, the story behind the film is told.

We see the early seeds of Star Wars in the Journal of the Whills. The 1973 story featured Mace Windu and was George Lucas’ first treatment for what would become Star Wars.

Though it does not reprint them, The Making of Star Wars covers each draft of the movie extensively. There are about a half dozen drafts and Rinzler does a great job after each draft discussion of noting the key “first time” elements from that draft that would appear in the final film.

Star Wars morphed completely from its initial concepts before it became the film we know and love today. Character names were often changed and reverted, which can sometimes make for a confusing read. Anakin, The Skywalker, Luke Starkiller, Binks, Organa, Chewie, Chewbacca (two different characters), and various other names come and go.

The script changes are fascinating and often demonstrate that budget and time crunches can actually result in a better story. Also of interest are early production drawings, including the very first sketches of an Imperial TIE fighter, an X-Wing, and the Death Star. Who made those first sketches? Lucas himself. And you can see them here.

The Ralph McQuarrie production paintings and drawings are examined extensively, though the book skimps by not having large-scale versions of each one. Instead, the illustrations are often tiny. This is probably to make room for the massive amount of text.

If you’re expecting a picture book with just a bit of text, this is the wrong one for you. This book is really about the text with some pictures thrown in for good measure.

At times, perhaps the book gives too much detail and the pace can get slow. It takes a long time to get to the point where production actually begins on the movie; but then, it is realistic in that it took a long time in reality to get to that point as well.

Lucas, it seems, faced obstacles at every turn that threatened to derail the film. Even the Libyan army insisted on inspecting the Jawa sandcrawler when filming proceeded close to their border and they assumed it was part of a military buildup for invasion.

Every single piece of the movie is examined in detail, from selection of the actors, to sound design, to the musical score, to the special effects. It’s all here. For ILM fans, though, I’d still recommend ILM: The Art of Special Effects and Sculpting a Galaxy to supplement that portion of this material.

The Making of Star Wars is a fantastic book, and the best thing is that it is usually written as if the year is about 1978. Most of the interviews took place before the film was released and became a blockbuster hit. Remember, most people, including many who worked on it, thought Star Wars was going to bomb. In that sense, they are perhaps the most truthful interviews that will ever exist about this movie. Time and success changes perspectives. For that reason, these vintage interviews are more pure than what you will see today.

The book also does not place Star Wars within the context of the overall saga. Sequels, prequels, and special editions are not covered here. This also helps to give the book a 1978 feel.

The deluxe edition contains about 50 pages of bonus material not present in the softcover version. Most of these are incredible storyboards by Alex Tavoularis, Ivor Beddoes, and Joe Johnston, and are certainly more than worth the additional cost. Luke originally was to have made two trench runs and you can see them both here via storyboard.

Also included in the bonus section are circa-1977 notes from Lucas about backgrounds on the characters and the nature of the Force. It feels like a sort of first draft of a Star Wars encyclopedia. A shocker for the nay-sayers: Midi-chlorians are mentioned in those 1977 notes. They were not, after all, invented for the 1999 Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace.

In fact, padawan learners are also mentioned in the early drafts of Star Wars, so that concept, too, was already in Lucas’ mind if not on the screen of the original trilogy.

If you’re a fan of the original Star Wars, this is the book to have.

Overall Experience: 9 (out of 10)