Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our fifty-third guest was Lucasbooks executive editor and the author of The Making of Revenge of the Sith – J. W. Rinzler.
Lightsabre – Jonathan, welcome to Lightsabre.
JR – It’s great to be here.
Lightsabre – As the executive editor at Lucasbooks you must have had all manner of interesting projects to oversee, but none more so than the marathon job of writing and editing the Making of Revenge of the Sith. Can you put into words the experience of being constantly on set for all that time?
JR – (Laughs) Well I think the first word that comes to mind is exhausting. I don’t think people who haven’t been on a set don’t realise just how physically exhausting it is, and I was getting the easy part of it. I mean you get up at 5.30 in the morning, you get there at 6.30 or 7.00, and then you’re basically on your feet until 8.00 or nine ’o’clock at night, and it just starts over again.
Lightsabre – So it’s a grind?
JR – Yeah it’s a grind, and obviously it’s very exciting when the camera’s are rolling for a rush, when the digital cameras are recording, and even when they do the scenes over and over it’s exciting to see all the sets go up and it’s really just physically very tiring.
Lightsabre – From your perspective, on the ground, you’ve seen things that us, as fans, would never have seen, so that must be quite an eye-opener?
JR – Yeah, I mean I’m not…you say fans, I guess for some Star Wars fans it would be…particularly exciting for me, I look at it more from just how you make a movie, because I came here because I was interested in the film. I guess I was too old or something, I wasn’t really into the toys or that sort of thing, although I think they’re fantastic! (Laughs) But I didn’t know anything about the Expanded Universe, but of course I love the characters so it was great seeing Christopher Lee, who of course I know from 250 other films, notably The Three Musketeers, so that was exciting. And then of course watching George direct is the most interesting thing. Of course that was my job.
Lightsabre – He’s a very underrated director isn’t he.
JR – Yeah he is, he’s very underrated, most people think of him as just the special effects guy, visual effects guy, he has an amazing eye and also he knows what he’s doing in every department. The camera, the costume, working with the actors. And he’s written it of course. Most directors are working on films they haven’t written, so he’s got a total view of the whole thing, and he’s amazingly concentrated. And he’s working weekends too.
Lightsabre – It’s a real passion with him isn’t it?
JR – Yeah, and ten weeks, ten years non-stop, and then that’s the other thing too. I started going to the concept art meetings back before Episode 2 was finished, so getting to the set is just a teeny piece, it’s the part that gets the most exposure, but in terms of actual time being on the set is just a fraction of the work that goes into the film. Before that he’s been working ten hour days writing the script and working with the artist and working on the pre-animatics, and then you get to the set, and afterwards there’s no break, it goes into high gear as ILM, which is more people, and then you get to the finals where there’s no room – this is it. There were some moments there (laughs). A couple of meetings, which I think are in the book where people are looking and saying “This is it, if we don’t get it right now we are screwed.”
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your career. How did you begin in publishing and what led you to the position you are today?
Lightsabre – Really?
JR – Yep, they were looking for an editor and I was working at a video game magazine as managing editor, and I’d always wanted to work for Lucasfilm, I was regularly looking at their website, and I just applied, and it was Lucy (Autrey) Wilson, who is still working here, she’s basically the first hire, and the interview went well and I was hired as a non-fiction editor. How I got into publishing, I don’t know. (Laughs)
Lightsabre – By accident?
JR – Yeah, I kind of did fall into it, I had a literature background and it was pretty much the only thing I could to make a living. I never thought I’d be a writer.
Lightsabre – What did you think you would be?
JR – Well when I was a kid I wanted to draw comic books. I did that for about ten years, not drawing comics but painting, I couldn’t make a living doing it.
Lightsabre – So you’re very happy where you’ve ended up
JR – Yeah, because I’ve always been interested in the cinema, as a kid reading Famous Monsters magazine, seeing a lot of Kung Fu movies and watching the classics. My Dad (took me to) an old theatre in Berkeley which ran old films, all the Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers movies, Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. I have always been a movie fanatic. No matter what I’ve been doing I’ve always believed in films, whether at school or teaching or whatever. So now, being here, and I’m still working with George (Lucas) on another book we’re doing, but I can’t say more than that.
Lightsabre – It must be really interesting being where you are at the moment, with all the things that are coming over the next year or two, but not being able to say too much.
JR – Well, you don’t really think about that too much, that’s just the nature of things. It takes a long time to get that stuff done. The Making of Sith was more than three years in the making. Right now I’m working on The Making of Star Wars from 1977. You know, I can’t say too much about that, I’ve been writing that for about six months.
JR – Yeah, that’s more of a research project. But that’s going really well. Making any kind of book, the lead in time is tremendous. Most publishers want to get some finished books anywhere from four months up to a year before it’s actually printed. That’s mostly because they print overseas.
Lightsabre – So what are your specific duties as senior editor of Lucasbooks?
JR – My specific duties? Basically anything non-fiction comes to me, and our definition of non-fiction is kind of broad. It includes the DK (Dorling Kindersley) books, which are still in universe but because they’re not story related they come under non-fiction. We’re doing this book right now called Sculpting the Galaxy that Lorne Peterson is writing. That’s going to be fantastic. The interiors are pretty much designed, now they’re starting to work on the deluxe book, with CG vehicles, environmental maquettes, things like that, but Lorne Peterson has sculpted himself the concept Landspeeder that was done back in 1976, and painted it and everything, and in the deluxe edition that is going to be one of the things you get and it is amazing. There’s also going to be six pieces of the Death Star that they used to make the surface of the Death Star, plus a piece of the trench. It’s going to be a pretty amazing book.
Lightsabre – You have involved yourself in the blogs on the official Star Wars site. Do you find the blogs useful and what role do you think the internet will ultimately have in furthering the Star Wars saga?
JR – I think the blogs are fairly popular, I’m supposed to be writing them but I don’t. I’ve written one or two but I just don’t have time. But there’s obviously a group of people who are really into it.
Lightsabre – They are good fun when they’re done properly.
JR – I guess so. I don’t really do the message boards or anything like that.
Lightsabre – You’re too busy!
JR – I guess so!
Lightsabre – One of the great behind the scenes book is Once Upon A Galaxy by Alan Arnold. In that book he captured the pressure cooker atmosphere on The Empire Strikes Back set, trying to improve upon the stellar success of A New Hope. Was Arnold’s book on your mind when embarking upon the Making of Revenge of the Sith?
JR – Oh absolutely. The inspirations for Sith were his book, and Return of the Jedi and the Jaws log. Of the great behind the scenes books, there was Jaws, a couple of others. There’s a book on John Huston’s Red Badge of Courage. To me that was how you should do a making of book. Unfortunately 98% of making of books they hire somebody once the movie is practically done, they spend a week interviewing people, throw together a bunch of art and that’s the book. As a result the making of book genre, nobody really cares about because the books are such low quality.
To really do it right it’s a major commitment. And it’s really only because George has, over the years, been able to set up this company wherein there’s a book division where he can do something like that because normally who would want to pay my salary for three years? And Rick McCallum was really the key, because early on we talked about this and he said “Well, let’s do it”. We talked specifically about the earlier Star Wars books and I said “Let’s do it this way”, and he said “Yes, that’s the way to do it man”, a production story, not how they did every visual effect, which everybody knows anyway. Publishers, there’s no way they could afford to pay a writer for three years, it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was able to fit it in with all the other stuff that we were doing.
Lightsabre – There would have been other books on the go at the same time.
JR – Yeah, I mean in a movie year there would be upwards of thirty books. It’s not as much as most editors though, I know editors who have forty-five books a year. But they’re just reading them, we actually make a lot. Out of twenty we make two or three of them ourselves, so that’s a lot of work.
Lightsabre – Now that the Star Wars TV series has been confirmed there will likely be regular documentation of behind the scenes events. Would you be interested in being involved in that again?
JR – Well I can’t really say right now unfortunately. There are things happening, people would be upset if I said anything.
Lightsabre – I won’t tell…
JR – (Laughs)
Lightsabre – What do you foresee for yourself in the future?
JR – Well, we’re certainly going to be working on a lot of Indiana Jones books, presuming that goes forward, which of course nobody knows for sure yet. If they are nobody’s telling me, so that’s one thing. We basically are going into more high-end books, like the Dressing the Galaxy book, that was a real departure for us and that did really well, and the model-making book. We’d like to do more books like that.
You know, keeping the Scholastic and the six dollar books alive, but just like the toys are doing the high-end as well it seems like there’s a market for that.
Lightsabre – Well, I’m 35 and I’ve been into it since I was seven so people like me have grown up, got a house, followed it through. Your wallet can go that little bit further and there’s definitely a market there.
JR – Yeah, you might sell a few thousand and the publisher’s happy. Instead of having a knock-off thing you have a piece of art, a high-quality product.
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest. Just one final question. George Lucas, Rick McCallum and Hayden Christensen are locked deep in conversation, discussing a follow-up project to Revenge of the Sith. You overhear their chat and stunned, scribble the revelation down. Knowing this snippet of golden sci-fi gossip will net you a fortune in the worldwide press, do you :-
- 1. Sell the story to the Weekly World News?
- 2. Pretend you never heard it?
- 3. Let Hayden believe that his Jedi Mind Trick skills are a lot better than they actually are?
JR – (Laughs) I’d have to say none of the above.
Lightsabre – You’re definitely an editor, that’s a diplomatic answer.
JR – (Laughs)
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 24th September 2006.