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A Few Minutes with J.W. Rinzler on The Making of Return of the Jedi

October 2, 2013 - 1:49 pm   |   by

Earlier this year, The Digital Bits celebrated the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi with this retrospective article.  Now, we continue our anniversary coverage of Jedi, the concluding chapter of George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy, with this Q&A with author J.W. Rinzler regarding his new book, The Making of Return of the Jedi, which is due out this week from Del Rey/LucasBooks.  [Read on here…]

Rinzler is the author of several Star Wars and Lucasfilm-themed books, including The Making of Star Wars (2007), The Making of The Empire Strikes Back (2010) and (with Laurent Bouzereau) The Complete Making of Indiana Jones (2008).  He is also the executive editor of LucasBooks, the publishing division of Lucasfilm Ltd.  He recently spoke to us at The Bits and offers a sneak peek at what readers might expect with The Making of Return of the Jedi.

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits):  Does The Making of Return of the Jedi follow the premise of the original Star Wars making-of book in that it is comprised of vintage/lost interview material, or did you conduct new interviews with surviving cast and crew members?Author J.W. Rinzler

J.W. Rinzler:  All three of these, and the Making of Indy book, follow the same template: an oral history, based as much as possible on things said at the time, along with thorough trips through the various archives: image, art, legal, photo.  But for Return of the Jedi there were fewer archival interviews so I spoke with more people this time—Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford—of course George Lucas—the vfx supes, ILMers, editor Sean Barton, et al.  I also spoke with Richard Marquand’s son James and his widow Carol.  Luckily I did find a great, long archival interview with Marquand that had never seen the light of the day.  It’d been shoved into a box back in 1983.

Coate:  Return of the Jedi has the (perhaps unfair) reputation of being the least popular of the original trilogy movies.  How did this affect or influence your approach to the book?

Rinzler:  Not at all. I have such a respect for these films and the people who work on them.  But in talking with cast and crew, some of that gets into the book; the Ewoks were divisive, and the script had some ups and downs.

Coate:  You’ve written several making-of books by now, so I imagine you have a polished or fearless approach to these projects.  Were there many challenges with this Jedi book?

Rinzler:  The challenge is always to make it a fun read, while cramming as much info in there.  I’m always thinking of the readers, but also being subjective—do I find this interesting or not.  Then I have a few readers, such as Pablo Hidalgo—if he finds it interesting, then it’s interesting.  And he loved the book, which was a good sign.

Filming Ewoks in Northern California

Coate:  Any surprises discovered during the research?

Rinzler:  Like I said, the Marquand interview was a great find.  I didn’t know about “Black Friday” at ILM before beginning research—that was the moment where in post, Lucas threw out a lot of in-progress space battle shots (for the most part) and had ILM start on a lot of new shots.  Oddly, almost the whole crew had forgotten about that—but there was enough archival info to piece together what happened.

Coate:  Why Brad Bird for the book’s foreword?

Rinzler:  I’ve always tried to find a director to write the foreword that has been deeply affected and/or moved by the original Star Wars films, and Brad fit the bill perfectly.  He then proceeded to write a fantastic foreword that creates a perfect context for readers at the outset.

Coate:  What percentage of the book is devoted to the Special Edition?

Rinzler:  Zero percent.  All three of these books focus solely on the films up to their original release.

On the set of Return of the Jedi

Coate:  In addition to a printed edition, this is being made available as an eBook, as are the making-ofs for the other two original trilogy movies.  Is there any additional or revised content in the eBook versions?

Rinzler:  These are enhanced eBooks, so they will have about 25-plus minutes of video and 25-plus minutes of archival audio clips: usually clips of video and audio run about 90 seconds and consist of archival 16mm behind-the-scenes footage; printed dailies (takes) of scenes, such as Vader on the blockade runner or Vader and Luke on Endor; and vintage audio of, say, Kershner talking to Harrison Ford on the carbon freeze chamber; Lucas directing Alec Guinness during ADR; Mark Hamill talking about Luke Skywalker, and so on.  Pretty cool stuff.  Plus we’re adding more than 200 images to each eBook.  We’re not adding any text, except captions, but we’re not cutting out anything either.

Study model of Jabba the Hutt

Coate:  How do you convince the longtime Star Wars fan the new Making of Return of the Jedi book is worth reading?  You know, the guy who not only has seen the movie 100 times but has read the ‘83 making-of and The Art of Return of the Jedi and has seen the Classic Creatures and From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga TV documentaries and is familiar with the supplemental content produced for the numerous LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray releases.  Is there enough new and interesting content to satisfy the fan who thinks they already know everything about Return of the Jedi?

Rinzler:  I think anyone who has read the previous two and liked them shouldn’t worry.  Not to sound arrogant, but 170,000-plus words and 600 or more images contain more info than all of the above.  Early readers have said as much.

- Michael Coate


You can order all of Rinzler’s great The Making of... books from Amazon by clicking on these cover images: 

The Making of Return of the Jedi (Book)    The Making of The Empire Strikes Back (Book)

The Making of Star Wars (Blu-ray Disc)    The Making of Indiana Jones (Book)