Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our seventy-first guest wrote the hugely successful Making of Star Wars – Jonathan Rinzler.
Lightsabre – It’s nice to welcome you back to Lightsabre.
JWR – Well, it’s nice to be back.
Lightsabre – It’s been about a year since we spoke, it was July last year (2006).
JWR – Time flies.
Lightsabre – It really does. Well, last time we spoke you were still working on The Making of Star Wars, and you alluded to certain things but you couldn’t really talk about it in any detail but now it’s out and it’s selling like hot cakes we can talk more in-depth about the book. So how do you feel about it being such a success, it’s been fantastically received.
JWR – Yeah, well it’s been great. I think in a way we were lucky because it was the one thing that said ’30 years’, and of course there hadn’t been a making of before, at least not like ours (laughs), and it’s very gratifying, because people have really been reading it and liking it and they really appreciate the fact that it has a lot of stuff in it that hasn’t been seen before. So it’s been great.
Lightsabre – How fulfilling was it to be able to go back and concentrate purely on the first film, with more detail than anybody’s ever had access to. That must have been fantastic, to have that kind of access
JWR – Well, I mean basically we made a decision to do it archivally, before I knew that the Lost Interviews even existed because I figured that was the way to go. Because 30 years later, who can remember what happened? And then finding that treasure trove of (Charles) Lippincott interviews was just great (laughs).
Lightsabre – You mention that in the book. You say you went into the archives and they were in a box, but were they just in a corner under a pile of stuff, how were they physically found?
JWR – Well what happened was I just asked the librarians at Skywalker Ranch if they had any papers related to Lippincott, I didn’t even know there were interviews, papers or something. And they said that they thought there were, and I can’t remember how long it was, a few days or a week later and they said we’ve found four boxes. So they found them.
Lightsabre – Aren’t you amazed that no-one had ever thought to ask before?
JWR – Well I think it just has to do with the fact that for ten years basically before that everybody was really working on the prequels. You can’t imagine how insanely busy it is (laughs).
Lightsabre – I can well imagine (laughs)
JWR – Everybody’s kind of overworked, and before that it was Young Indy, so basically if you just go back everybody had other priorities. And I think like I said, some people thought there already was a Making of Star Wars book, so there was no reason to look in the first place.
Lightsabre – When did you actually start work on the book, because the prep time must have been quite intensive?
JWR – At first I was just doing image work and I must have started doing that early in 2006. I knew that would take a long time, and that can be kind of mind-numbing, to look through hundreds and hundreds of pictures, so I’d do an hour a day. In terms of the writing it was about two years to do the whole thing, less actually, we did it pretty quickly.
Lightsabre – Yeah, the level of detail was amazing and some of the stuff that spins off from what you would imagine a Making of Star Wars book to be, the peripheral stuff I just found fascinating.
JWR – Like what?
Lightsabre – Lucas and the Brat Pack and all the other guys of that era, their camaraderie and the way they worked together and ran things by each other. I knew that Lucas was involved with American Zoetrope, so there were little bits feeding off that. Just peripheral stuff to what you would imagine a making of book would be – day one we did this, day two we did that – obviously there’s a lot more to Star Wars than that. I found that absolutely engrossing, so that was my favourite part of the book, all the peripheral stuff.
JWR – Well that’s great to hear because that was the goal of the book, to place it within that context, and it’s obviously not a biography but there were all these other filmmakers who he was hanging out with who played key parts.
Lightsabre – Yeah, I mean Brian De Palma gave him a hard time, didn’t he? (laughs)
JWR – Yeah, but as George pointed out he was the only one who actually stayed afterwards and helped him rewrite the opening crawl.
Lightsabre – Well, you need that sometimes, you need somebody to give you a kick up the backside and make you think again. But how did you find it getting your head around it not being 2007 but being 1975, 1976. How did you get yourself into the frame of mind where you forget Empire and Jedi and the prequels ever happened and it’s only Star Wars?
JWR – Well in some ways it was easy for me because I lived in Berkeley, which is near Modesto, during the key years. George was in Marin County. I don’t know if you know the geography here, but he lived just across the Bay from where I was growing up. So it’s really ingrained in my memory and DNA or whatever you want to call it, that whole period where American Graffiti came out, and then there was Jaws. I was the right age, I was 13, 14 and all these films were coming out, so it was easy for me to go back and remember what it was like when the things were coming out, and I knew what it was like to be in that area and what it felt like. Obviously I didn’t go into that great detail in the book, but it’s on the periphery if you look for it.
Lightsabre – Looking at that first film, and the evolution of the film from Lucas coming up with the ideas to the battles getting it made and all the different studios that were involved, who would you say was the real hero of Star Wars?
JWR – Well I think there were several heroes. I think Alan Ladd Jr comes to mind, because he was the one who basically got it green lit at Fox. But of course you could also argue that if he hadn’t green lit it at that point Lucas could have taken it to another studio, which they were prepared to do. I think John Barry also comes to mind immediately because as Lucas described him in the book he was a genius who usually doesn’t even get mentioned in books about Star Wars, as he died (during the filming of Empire).
Lightsabre – Yeah, it’s insane.
JWR – Yeah, prematurely, and he was the one helping Lucas the most, along with Robert Watts in England. And then in America you had Richard Edlund and John Dykstra and Joe Johnston and the whole model shop afterwards. And then Alec Guinness, because apparently he was kind of the galvanising…and Harrison Ford and all four of them, the list sort of goes on. (laughs) But I think ultimately though it really does come down to Lucas, because when you’re doing that stuff you always have lots of people pitching in, but it’s up to that one person to sort of accept or reject the hundred ideas that all these other people are giving you every day.
Lightsabre – And he’s the filter for it?
JWR – Yeah, he’s the filter for it, and particularly in ’74 and ’75, really being so gung ho and spending $400,000 dollars of his own money. Which was a huge amount of money back then (laughs). Still nothing to sneeze at. It never would have got off the ground.
Lightsabre – Back in 1975, 1975 the eleven million budget was a sizeable budget but why do you think, apart from the fact that sci-fi films were rarely big hits, that people were pessimistic about the films chances of success. Or was there more to it than that?
JWR – Oh sure, I mean A – Sci-fi movies didn’t make money, they never had made money and B – Nobody could understand the script. Ralph McQuarrie did wonderful paintings but there were only a dozen of those. And most people looking at those paintings couldn’t imagine how they were going to translate into a movie. Nobody could imagine the end battle, such as it was because basically their only point of reference was Star Trek and Flash Gordon. There was just no way anybody could imagine what he had in mind. And even when they did start seeing it, it still looked terrible. (laughs). You know, nobody had done sound work like the kind he was doing with Ben Burtt. And Sam Shaw describes it really well, the technicians working on the film had never taken on a project like that before. There was just no precedent to those things, there was just no reason to think that the film would be different to anything that came before.
Lightsabre – There’s moments in the book where it’s quite clear that certain personalities are clashing with each other, and you’re quite frank about it in the book. Did you ever come across anything where you thought “That’s a bit too strong, I can’t put that in the book,” or did you pretty much have carte blanche to record it as it was?
JWR – Well you know, I got to know George a bit during Episode III, I followed him around for three years, and Rick and all those guys and Episode III the book is fairly frank as well. What I learned is that as long as you’re not dishing gossip for the sake of the gossip, as long as you’re saying, “Well, here’s A’s point of view and here’s B’s point of view, here’s where they clash,” that basically it was ok. I often said “Ohh, I don’t know,” but this is what happened. So I put it in the book and George reads it, and I figured if he didn’t like it he’d take it out. But I was worried, and when he read it he came back and said “Oh, you’ve written a nice book.” (laughs)
Lightsabre – You can’t get better than that, can you? Fabuloso!
JWR – Yeah, well he didn’t say fabuloso, he said it was nice. And I said “Nice? I kind of thought it was full of conflict and tension and horrible things,” and he said “Nah,” he said. “You can take everything you’ve mentioned and magnify it by ten and that’s the way it really was.”
Lightsabre – That’s the legend of the making of the film, the British crew, the working hours and such.
JWR – Yeah, and like he says there were some people that didn’t work out, and some people that did. And that’s true of any movie.
Lightsabre – When he sat down with the agent he got a lot of the merchandising and sequel rights worked out. That was quite a ground-breaking thing for Hollywood and movies in general. Were there any other things you found out while making the book that had happened on Star Wars that just hadn’t happened anywhere else?
JWR – Well, somebody starting up their own special effects company to use the old term, visual effects now. It may have happened, I wouldn’t say it’s never happened but it’s certainly unusual. I know Ron Howard even mentions that in his foreword to The Cinema of George Lucas book, ‘Why would you do that? Why take on even more responsibility?’ (laughs) So that was unprecedented. Having somebody start working on the sounds, all the unique sounds even before you have a shooting script, that was unprecedented. Those two jumps to mind, but what you mentioned before, the long drawn out contract negotiations, that wasn’t unprecedented but he had some good people fighting for him. Tom Pollock in particular, those guys were pretty tough.
Lightsabre – I guess the fallout of those meetings and those decisions back in ’74, ’75 feeds through to you and me talking about this book today?
JWR – Yeah it does, because he got the sequel rights, that was the big thing. And even though they weren’t worth anything it’s still the stuff they usually want to keep a hold of, but somehow they got them. I don’t think that’s happened since then, I’m not an expert but…
JWR – George Lucas is really the Disney of that generation. We haven’t done that kind of book, The Cinema of George Lucas comes close but all the work that he did afterwards, with the computer division, Pixar, ILM and on and on and on. Pretty amazing, unprecedented things.
Lightsabre – On the subject of ILM Lucas has said on more than one occasion that he only got a certain percentage of what he saw in his mind’s eye on to the screen. In your opinion, how different would the film have been if he’d been able to get 100% up there on the screen?
JWR – I think all you have to do is take a look at the Special Editions. Some shots he wouldn’t have been able to do, no matter what. As he says there was just a glass ceiling. He could imagine things, but there was just no way they could do it. But if you can imagine some of the shots in there that he might have been able to pull off if he’d had three months and another million dollars, then that’s what you would have got. Obviously he wanted to have Jabba the Hutt in there, he just didn’t have time to get it to a place where it was working. And he wanted to have more X-wings, he wanted to have a more populated Mos Eisley, basically all the things he changed (laughs). But really they weren’t changes at all, that was just the way they should have been.
Lightsabre – Given the amount of source material you had to sit down with two and a half years ago when you started, was there much that didn’t get in the book?
JWR – Del Rey really came through because the book was originally going to be about 70 pages shorter, and I just said “Look, here’s the manuscript, if you guys can find places to cut things out, let me know (laughs)” And there was another editor here who read it, and nobody thought that there were things that should be cut out. So pretty much it’s all in there, we even got in the Expanded Universe thing in the hardcover edition. That was a question of whether George would allow us to put it in there, but he gave his okay. The only thing that got cut out of there was my recollection of seeing it at the Coronet Theatre, because they thought that it’s just too weird to have me come in as a character in the book (laughs). But I was there, I was at a preview at the Coronet. It wasn’t the big preview in Northpoint but it was another preview. So I just happened to be taken to see that when I was a kid.
Lightsabre – You’ve mentioned before about possibly doing a The Empire Strikes Back version, an update of Once Upon a Galaxy. I guess it’s fair to assume that there’s an equal amount of information out there for Empire?
JWR – Well, there is a book on Empire, we all agree that book is out there (laughs), it’s a great book. If we were to do it, and a lot of people have asked, we would keep all that text and fill in the blanks. I can’t remember because I haven’t read it in a while but there’s probably some pre production stuff and some post production stuff that’s missing and I think there’s probably stuff that we can maybe get into more details about, which other books have already done but we’ll do our version of, how the movie went over budget, things like that. There was quite a bit of drama around that, and then of course for that book…I don’t even want to think about it because it scares me how many pictures and how much artwork (laughs). It’s kind of daunting. First we’ve got to get through the Indiana Jones publishing program.
Lightsabre – Which is finally happening. When we spoke last year you couldn’t say anything because it wasn’t a definite go?
JWR – Yeah, I don’t think I really knew at that point. It’s been a definite go for years, then it’s not been a definite go (laughs). But now it’s a definite, definite go, as everybody knows.
Lightsabre – Well they start shooting in about six days?
JWR – Yeah exactly, and I can’t give details but obviously we’re going to do some publishing. The details will be coming out over the next few months.
Lightsabre – I’m sure we’ll talk again, it’s always good to speak to you
JWR – Likewise.
Lightsabre – Thanks again for your time Jonathan.
JWR – You’re welcome.