Going through the Jedi drawers

It’s 30 years since the release of George Lucas’ Return of the Jedi and now a detailed making of book is being released about the film. Author and Lucasfilm Ltd executive editor J.W. Rinzler follows up his previous detailed efforts for A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back with a 372 page exploration of Episode VI in the Star Wars trilogy, complete with new accounts and never-before-seen images from the film’s production.

We asked Rinzler what it was like scouring the Lucasfilm archives, what to expect from the enhanced e-versions for all three making of books and just how did he go about writing The Making of Return of the Jedi when he didn’t really like the Ewoks…

Above: watch a trailer for The Making of Return of the Jedi.

fxg: With this new book on Jedi and the other Making Ofs for New Hope and Empire, how do you approach the research and writing?

Rinzler: I try and put the reader in the office or on the set. I try and get that fly on the wall feeling, which might also come from trying to make it as much as an oral history as possible. I feel like I don’t want to get between the reader and what’s happening. So if you can have the people who were there tell the story, they’re basically going to tell the story better than I can.

fxg: How clear is it when you start how each chapter will be laid out?

Rinzler: The Star Wars movies and George always have a pattern to the way that they work – pre-production, production, post-production. Then how the chapters fall and how the pacing works is completely dependent on what materials I find. I just put it all into one giant Word document and I make what I call a chronological skeleton – although it’s more like an obese monster! But then I pare it down to what I really need and the chapters usually form themselves.

In this exclusive image from the book, visual effects supervsor Richard Edlund prepares a shot of the Death Star surface, using the VistaCruiser camera (in background are effects cameraman Bill Neil and stage technician Ed Hirsh. Download a hi-res version of the image here.
In this exclusive image from the book, visual effects supervsor Richard Edlund prepares a shot of the Death Star surface using the VistaCruiser camera (in background are effects cameraman Bill Neil and stage technician Ed Hirsh). Download a hi-res version of the image here.

fxg: Is there much cross-over from the earlier books in terms of the research you’ve already done?

Rinzler: When you go into the archive it’s really separated by film – there’s always a teeny bit of transition between them. Some of that is the way George works. He doesn’t really start on the next film until the previous film is pretty much done. If he’s working on it, it’s only in his mind. When you do the research you have to go into the ‘Jedi drawers’ – the Jedi boxes. You pretty much have to start from zero.

fxg: How long did The Making of Return of the Jedi take to research?

Rinzler: It was six to nine months of research and adding to this chronological ‘obese monster’. For this book, I started going through the production archives, which is part of the Skywalker Ranch archives, which is overseen by the library research people. It’s basically this Indiana Jones-like warehouse filled with boxes, and some are marked Return of the Jedi production. They’re not really organized – people just threw stuff into those boxes 30 years ago and then they sealed it. Except for the librarians, I’m pretty much the first person to go through these boxes.

Then you do the art and then legal. Some of it’s simultaneous because you also read the interviews, although you can’t really read them until you know what the hell they’re talking about. So it helps to go through the production archives first to know when things happened.

George Lucas and Richard Marquand on the set of Return of the Jedi.

fxg: What would you say was your biggest find in the archives or when you wee researching?

Rinzler: I was really concerned that I wouldn’t be able to represent the voice of Richard Marquand (the director of Jedi), because obviously he has passed away. I knew I could talk to family members but still I thought it would be great to have his voice. There was nothing in any database that said there were any of his interviews around. So I had basically given up, but then when I was doing the research I found shoved into the side of this box a 100-plus page interview with him that John Philip Peecher had done for the Return of the Jedi book back in 1982. So for me that was the single most important find for the book without a doubt.

For his book he used maybe 10 per cent of that interview. A lot of the original interview they wouldn’t have been able to use back then because Marquand was very frank. But because George lets me tell it like it is, I was able to put in a lot of the stuff that he said. There was also an interview with Howard Kazanjianwho was also very frank. What was interesting from these interviews was learning that David Lynch was George’s first pick to direct Jedi. That information was already out there but I didn’t know exactly how it had all worked out.

The Ewoks have some fun on the Endor location.
The Ewoks have some fun on the Endor location.

fxg: Any other major finds in the archives?

Rinzler: I always know I’m going to find stuff that hasn’t been seen before, just because our image archives are so big. We have drawers full of files, just filled with images. It takes a long time to go through them and most people don’t have the time. We also have ILM notebooks full of slides and then you have binders full of black and white negatives.

Art-wise, this book was a little bit of a challenge making a chronological art story to work. It was easier for Nilo Rodis-Jamero and Joe Johnston because they knew their stuff and they numbered it, but for Ralph McQuarrie, well, for the previous two movies he gave me his daily calendar so I was able to piece together when he did what. But for this one, there was no calendar and it was difficult to piece together what Ralph had done for the actual production and afterwards. Then about half-way through, I found what they literally call ‘The Bible’ at ILM, in the archives. It was put together during production and it had all the Ralph paintings that were done in pre-production – a complete set. That was a happy day!

Ian McDiarmid in partial Emperor Palpatine make-up.
Ian McDiarmid in partial Emperor Palpatine make-up.

fxg: There’s obviously a huge amount of material – what did you have to leave out of this book?

Rinzler: It’s funny, I seem to be always able to get everything in that I want and it always works out to be 372 pages. There may have been some images this time that I was trying to get in but couldn’t, because I was trying to go for bigger images this time. I lay out the book and then a designer makes it look good. In this case we had a great designer. I wanted to make the images larger, so I had to leave some out which was kind of sad.

fxg: Can you talk about the enhanced e-books coming out for each Making Of?

Rinzler: Each Making Of book – Star Wars, Empire and Jedi – is going to come out in an enhanced e-book version. And each will have around 25 minutes of video footage, and an equivalent length of audio. I dug around the film archives for quite a while, and went back and listened to some of the archival tapes, and found some really good material. Stuff that nobody’s heard before. I found George Lucas directing Alec Guinness doing ADR for the first film. That’s priceless. Alec Guinness doing ‘May the Force be with you…May be the Force be with you.’ It sounds kind of funny doing different line readings and George giving him different directions.

There’s some great behind the scenes stuff of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill and with Irvin Kershner for Empire. There’s a hilarious scene which I showed at Comic-Con of them trying to film the battle of Endor. It’s just such chaos. You just wonder how they ever got that to work with all the Ewoks into the forest with no-one being able to hear what anyone is saying.

We also found the Star Wars gag reel. That was amazing. I had no idea there even was a gag reel. At first we found only the audio, and the audio itself was funny. Then the archivists found a picture to go with it. And there’s a lot of stuff still in the archives. I hope a lot of it comes to light over the years. There’s a lot of 16mm footage that was shot, and we got a special flatbed editing table to look at it. So it was really fun and I think fans are going to be pretty blown away by the stuff on these e-books.

Harrison Ford and George Lucas.
Harrison Ford and George Lucas.

fxg: So when Jedi came out in 1983, did you ever imagine you would be writing about it now?

Rinzler: Well, I never thought I wanted to be a writer. At the time I think I was deadset on being a painter. I was already in college in 82/83 and – as I write about in the book – I admit that when I saw Jedi I liked it but the Ewoks were not for me. But, you know, the Ewoks have gone on to be beloved by millions of people.

You can purchase The Making of Return of the Jedi at Amazon. The book is available from October 1st. The enhanced e-book versions for A New Hope, Empire and Jedi go on sale October 22nd.