J.W. Rinzler could safely be called the authority on Star Wars, at least as far as the Original Trilogy goes. Rinzler is responsible for putting together three of the most comprehensive books on the making of each classic film. If you want to get lost in the fascinating stories behind what it took to make the Original Trilogy come to life, I cannot recommend these books any higher. Since their release, I have read each one multiple times, and because of the wealth of information Mr. Rinzler contributed to each book, I learn something new each time.
Mr. Rinzler was kind enough to spend an afternoon discussing what went into making these books and his own views on why Star Wars is such an enduring saga to all generations. Enjoy!
SWNN: Were you working on a “Making of…” for The Force Awakens?
Rinzler: I was with them (Lucasfilm) right up until the release of the film. My last day was December 31st. And um, yeah, I did a manuscript of The Making of The Force Awakens with Mark Vaz. I’m not the spokesperson, you know, I’m not sure what the last thing they said, in terms of what’s happening with the book. I think they have delayed it. For, you know, whatever reasons.
SWNN: Were you on The Force Awakens set as much as you were on Revenge of the Sith?
Rinzler: I wasn’t on the set at all. Mark Vaz was. We kind of split up duties in a way, that’s one way of putting it. He was on the set, I forget exactly, but at least a few weeks, and so he got a lot of eye witness stuff. Aside from that, probably better if I don’t say anything.
SWNN: I was wondering if you ever, in talking with George, obviously before he sold the company to Disney, if he ever talked about his intentions for the Sequel Trilogy? You know, what his broad strokes would have been for the Skywalker saga, essentially.
Rinzler: He did, but given how he’s said they didn’t really follow his ideas, it’s for him to say. Because the book has been delayed, I really don’t think I can talk about it–except to say that when the book does come out, if it’s as originally written, fans will learn a lot more.
SWNN: That’s fine. I just thought I’d throw that out there. You said that from December 31 you no longer work at LFL. Does that mean that the book will be finished without any further contribution from you, and will you be still listed as one of the authors as it is right now on Amazon?
Rinzler: I’ll still be one of the two authors, me and Vaz, at least that’s my assumption. When they are ready to go I assume I’ll be asked to help finish up, etc.
SWNN: Is there any chance to see you back working with LFL and doing some future Star Wars projects, or your divorce with them is final? Is there a place for compromises?
Rinzler: I wouldn’t call it a divorce; it was just time for new and younger folks to carry on and time for me to go freelance, for personal reasons, too. It’s possible I’ll do another book or two with Disney/Lucasfilm, yes.
On the process of writing the Making of… books:
“…first, do a lot of research, and slowly develop what I call a chronology timeline. So I would read all the different versions of the scripts and get the call sheets and production reports and post production stuff I could find about ILM. Some people had diaries and just try to get all the information I could from back then to find out literally day by day, week by week, or month by month to find out what happened when. Then, I go through all of the interviews and kind of separate what people say, separate it out of these interviews to where it actually happened. Stories start to kind of form, because people would talk about the same things, and so then you get a dialogue forming between people who were there. It’s just a question of doing more interviews, filling up holes.
“I’d always be taking notes for things to ask George that only he could answer. That was always fun. At the end I’d have like, three pages of questions. I’d give him the first draft and he’d go through and correct some things. It would, sort of, refresh his memory, and then we’d have a two or three hour long talk and fill in the gaps…”
On George Lucas:
“I got to know George when I was writing the Episode III book, following him around for three years on Revenge of the Sith. After I wrote that book, I think he had confidence in me and I pitched the idea that there had never been a making of Star Wars book, which was insane, and we were coming up on the 30th anniversary, so I said ‘Why don’t we do one?’. He said ‘Okay’.”
“George was self-financing it (The Empire Strikes Back). Which was this really crazy thing to do, I mean, nobody did that. John Ford famously told Steven Spielberg, whatever you do, never spend your own money on a movie. Here was George, just kind of flaunting that advice, spending his own money, because he wanted control; but, then having to go way, way over budget. Then having to go back to the banks and ask for more money. Back to Fox and ask for more money. I think it was really hard for him, in that sense. It made him very angry. He almost lost control and his whole company was on the chopping block.”
“He (George) went out on a huge limb with Yoda, which could have been a disaster. They were auditioning monkeys at one point (LAUGHS). It’s hard for me to imagine having the kind of guts to do anything that crazy. He was friends with Jim Henson. George once told me: ‘Look, I’ll jump out of a plane, but I usually have some kind of parachute.’ He figured with Jim Henson and those guys they would come up with something that would work.”
“George uses the Star Wars world to explore more contemporary issues that interest him. Because he’s very interested in politics and sociology and history, and everything. An incredible mind. So, the first Star Wars film was very much parts of Apocalypse Now, Vietnam, Nixon, and everything like that. It was still a movie about leaving home, which is what THX and American Graffiti are about.”
“One of the first things George said to me when I interviewed him on Episode III was, ‘You know, I’m not a director, I’m not a film director.’ I was thinking ‘What? What is he talking about?’. He says, ‘Steven Spielberg, he’s a director. He says put the camera here, lay down the dolly track, and so on. I’m out there collecting footage.’ He’s collecting material, which he then works on in the editing room. For him, the whole process is very painful, up until he gets to editorial…I think that’s the part, relatively speaking, he enjoys the most.”
“How he sort of spearheaded the sort of transfiguration from celluloid film to digital so he could seamlessly integrate visual effects shots into the live action shots. I mean, that’s huge. Every single film made today benefits from the fact that he bankrolled that stuff.”
On the reception of the Prequel Trilogy:
“The Prequel Trilogy is really good storytelling, that’s what people also forget. You can peel back the layers. George wanted to do a book called Star Wars In History. Well, I read all these essays by historians on Star Wars, most of the time they’re writing about the Prequel Trilogy, because it’s so rich in content.”
“It’s a very, very interesting story, and a really difficult story to tell, which he (George) manages to do with very few brush strokes. People take it for granted, but it’s not easy to do. If it was, there’d be more films like Star Wars out there, and there aren’t any.”
“In the Prequel Trilogy, everybody had ideas about what they wanted it to be. A lot of people wanted it to be Darth Vader hunting down the Jedi. You know, George had his own ideas about the story he was going to tell. I think it was so different from what a lot of people, at least a few very vocal people wanted, that people reacted very badly to it. I think the kids who saw it just love it. That’s something some of us older folks don’t want to admit, that for people growing up with it now, they prefer the Prequel Trilogy to the Original Trilogy. They actually like it better. As those people get older, the Prequel Trilogy will be reviewed and revisited. People also forget that the Original Trilogy was not perfect.”
Mr. Rinzler and I talked about much more, these are just a few of the many highlights. You can listen to the whole interview on our Resistance Broadcast podcast below. SWNN thanks Mr. Rinzler for his valuable insight and time!
Links mentioned in the interview: