This year marks the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi. To celebrate this historic milestone, Lucasfilm is releasing the The Making of Return of the Jedi, a wonderfully overstuffed coffee table book written by J.W. Rinzler. A companion to Rinzler’s previous New York Times bestsellers The Making of Star Wars and The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, the book is filled with never-before-seen photographs, exclusive interviews, and a production history so detailed and dynamic, you’ll feel like you were on location making the film with George Lucas and his vast team of artists and craftspeople.
For guys like me, having been a true Star Wars fans for some 36 years now, Rinzler’s comprehensive books have been like manna from Heaven. My first memory as a child is of being in a movie theater watching the villainous Darth Vader step onto the Rebel blockade runner at the beginning of A New Hope (back when it was just called Star Wars, of course). Decades later, now a father of two, I am moved to tears watching that same man-in-black sacrifice himself to save his son Luke from the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. Yes, Return of the Jedi makes me cry… and I’m not a bit ashamed of it.
I was fortunate enough to speak with Mr. Rinzler recently about his experience creating this most recent monumental and painstakingly thorough book The Making of Return of the Jedi. “I wanted [to create] a book I would have liked to have read when I was a kid”, he reflects, remembering the first time he saw Jedi when it was released in 1983. “I was blown away by the space battle. Nobody had seen anything like that before. It was literally mind boggling. There was so much to look at, you could barely take it in.”
Years later, as the chief nonfiction editor at Lucasfilm Publishing (and having cultivated a personal friendship with the Jedi Master himself, George Lucas), Rinzler now understands that his boss would have settled for nothing less. “George always ups the ante, because he needs to be challenged — and he wants to have fun, and that’s one of the ways that he has fun, is to expand the boundaries of what’s possible in filmmaking.”
This was a particularly tall order in the early 80’s, when Jedi was made. With digital technology and the almighty pixel still light years away, it fell to the folks at Lucas’s own Industrial Light and Magic to devise real world, physical solutions in order to evoke a galaxy far, far away. The book paints an often intense portrait of a high-profile film in production, complete with towering expectations, merciless deadlines, personality conflicts, and occasionally, flaring tempers.
“George gave me pretty much unfettered, complete access… I think the basic rule is, if it’s affecting the making of the film, then I’ll put it in. But I try and do it in a respectful way. George doesn’t mind if you have two opposing points of view, as long as both points of view are in there. It’s probably because he’s watched [acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurasawa’s] Rashomon so many times. He knows there’s no single reality.”
This principle is never more evident than in the book’s depiction of the evolution of Jedi’s arguably most divisive – and cuddly – characters, the ewoks. Strong opinions abounded, even amongst people who had been working together for years on the previous Star Wars films. “That was sort of the first Star Wars movie to create a thin divide between some of the older folks and some of the younger folks”, Rinzler explains. “But George was always conscious of the fact that they had to be formidable enough to take down a few stormtroopers.”
The book also pays tribute to Jedi’s director Richard Marquand, who sadly passed away only a few short years after the film’s release. The author relates the serendipity of finding an extensive unreleased interview with the filmmaker. “Finding Richard’s transcript shoved in a box… that was really important for the book, and just filled in all the blanks that I needed to have filled in, because he talked about everything, and in a pretty candid way.”
While fun and fast enough for armchair Star Wars fans, The Making of Return of the Jedi also offers an avalanche of information that even the most die-hard Jedis will have never seen or heard. You want to know which world famous director got offered the directing job on Jedi, but turned it down? It’s in here. How about the lyrics to Lapti Nek, the song sung by Jabba the Hutt’s bizarre alien band? It’s available here in both English and Jabba’s fictional court language Huttese (created by legendary sound designer Ben Burtt). Even the most esoteric of details get their moment in the sun – like that weird floating black blob next to the Emperor’s head in all of his close ups? At long last, it’s explained here. (Spoiler alert: it was covering up a lighting problem.)
With a nearly 350 page volume comprised almost entirely of ultra-rare photographs and anecdotes like these, I was curious to learn what Rinzler’s personal favorite moments were. Much like the original trilogy, his answers eschewed the technological tidbits in favor of more personal stories. “One of the things that I really liked was when they asked Carrie Fisher [Princess Leia] whether they wanted a stunt double to kill Jabba the Hutt, she said ‘no, no… I really, really want to kill him myself’. He was very bad to her. That was one of my favorite stories.”
I also asked Rinzler to reflect on the multi-generational appeal of the Star Wars series. Why do we keep coming back to these films? His answer could easily have been my answer. “As I was growing up, into my 30s and so on, you think well, ‘what movie do I want to see? What movie really makes me feel good?’ And you think Star Wars. It’s the only movie I’ve bought in every single format, practically every single time it was released. Because you just want to feel good again. There’s something about these movies that, the combination of all the elements that go into it, just makes people feel good. You’ve got great stories and deep meanings, and people want to share them with their kids because they had such a big effect on them.”
So what does Rinzler think of Jedi now, as a member of Lucasfilm’s team, and after spending so much time compiling what is surely the definitive compendiums to the films? “Well, now I think ‘there’s that thing they made over there’. Maybe 20 years from now, I’ll be able to watch it just as a movie again.”
The Making of Return of the Jedi will be released in hardcover October 1st.
The Making of Star Wars and The Making of The Empire Strikes Back are available, also from Random House. Enhanced e-book versions of all three books are coming soon.