Book Review: ‘ The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film’

(C) 2007 Del Rey Books/Lucasfilm Ltd.

Blogger’s Note: This review is a slightly revised version of one that I wrote for the Blogger-based A Certain Point of View in 2018.

On April 24, 2007, Del Rey Books – an imprint of the Penguin Random House publishing empire – published a nearly 400-page hardcover edition of The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film, the first of three books about the creation of the original Star Wars trilogy. Written by a well-regarded author and Lucasfilm insider, The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film offers readers and fans an in-depth account of George Lucas’s crusade to bring a space fantasy imbued with the fun, adventurous vibe of 1930s serial films but updated with the special effects technology that sprang from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

bThe story of how Star Wars (or, as it has been officially known since 1981, Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope) came to be has been chronicled many times since ABC aired The Making of Star Wars, a 50-minute long documentary produced by 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd., in September of 1977. Several authors wrote “making of books” shortly after Star Wars became a record-setting box office hit, and other film documentarians, including producer-director Kevin Burns (Empire of Dreams: The Making of the Star Wars Trilogy, Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed) have made the creation of the Star Wars saga a well-known story (at least to film aficionados and Star Wars fans).

Jonathan (J.W.) Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film might just be the most in-depth exploration of how a young filmmaker who longed to be able to tell stories on film free from the limitations of the corporations that run Hollywood created a “modern myth” for younger audiences – and forever changed the way that films are made and marketed. 

Published a month before the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars’ premiere, The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film is based primarily on “the Lost Interviews from the official Lucasfilm Archives.” These interviews were conducted by Star Wars publicist Charles Lippincott and others involved in the creation of Star Wars, then filed away in the company archives at Skywalker Ranch. 

The back cover.

Together with contemporary interviews with Lucas, Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz, and the now-legendary team at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) that included Dennis Muren, Richard Edlund, Phil Tippett, and John Dykstra, these never-published-before interviews are the core of The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film

After the 1973 success of American Graffiti, filmmaker George Lucas made the fateful decision to pursue a longtime dream project: a space fantasy movie unlike any ever produced. Lucas envisioned a swashbuckling SF saga inspired by the Flash Gordon serials, classic American westerns, the epic cinema of Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa, and mythological heroes. Its original title: The Star Wars. The rest is history, and how it was made is a story as entertaining and exciting as the movie that has enthralled millions for thirty years–a story that has never been told as it was meant to be. Until now.

Using his unprecedented access to the Lucasfilm Archives and its trove of never-before-published “lost” interviews, photos, production notes, factoids, and anecdotes, Star Wars scholar J. W. Rinzler hurtles readers back in time for a one-of-a-kind behind-the-scenes look at the nearly decade-long quest of George Lucas and his key collaborators to make the “little” movie that became a phenomenon. For the first time, it’s all here:

• the evolution of the now-classic story and characters–including “Annikin Starkiller” and “a huge green-skinned monster with no nose and large gills” named Han Solo
• excerpts from George Lucas’s numerous, ever-morphing script drafts
• the birth of Industrial Light & Magic, the special-effects company that revolutionized Hollywood filmmaking
• the studio-hopping and budget battles that nearly scuttled the entire project
• the director’s early casting saga, which might have led to a film spoken mostly in Japanese–including the intensive auditions that won the cast members their roles and made them legends
• the grueling, nearly catastrophic location shoot in Tunisia and the subsequent breakneck dash at Elstree Studios in London
• the who’s who of young film rebels who pitched in to help–including Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and Brian DePalma  – Publisher’s dust jacket blurb, 
The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film. 

My Take

I have been a Star Wars fan since the fall of 1977. Not quite an early-adopter, mind you, but rather a convert to the fandom after – ironically – watching The Making of Star Wars on ABC when it aired on September 16 of that fateful year. That behind-the-scenes documentary overcame my I-don’t-want-to-see-that-silly-space-movie attitude of resistance and made me want to see Star Wars. (Luckily, before the days of VHS tapes and on-demand movies on cable, studios often extended successful movie runs in theaters for months, so I can rightfully claim to be a Star Wars fan of the 1977 Generation; I saw it for the first time on October 1, two long weeks after I saw The Making of Star Wars.)

Although I have two of the best documentaries about how Star Wars was made in my DVD and Blu-ray collection, I have to say that Rinzler’s 372-page The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film is by far the most comprehensive account I have read so far. 

Rinzler, who was an editor at Lucasfilm’s publishing arm for many years and worked on many other behind-the-scenes books covering the Prequel Trilogy, had unprecedented access to the voluminous files regarding the production of the film, as well as the protracted and agonizing struggle by Lucas and his “team of rebels” to get “that space movie” (as skeptical Fox executives referred to Star Wars, and not in a kind way) made.  It is a story of heroes (Alan Ladd, Jr.; Tom Pollock), villains (Universal Pictures’ Ned Tanen), and creative talents (Ralph McQuarrie, John Williams, Marcia Lucas, Richard Chew, John Stears, Gary Kurtz, Gilbert Taylor, John Barry, Norman Reynolds, Mark Hamill, Alec Guinness, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and, of course, The Maker himself, George Lucas) behind the movie that few people had faith in, yet created a beloved franchise that is adding new chapters 41 years after its modest premiere in 32 North American theaters . 

Rinzler is an excellent writer who knows a lot about telling stories. His style is simple and elegant, with crisp, clean prose that takes a complex topic and makes it easy to understand while at the same time entertaining the reader.  In The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film, Rinzler vividly recaptures the drama of how one of the most influential films in history was created, from the lows (almost every studio in Hollywood rejected Lucas’s original concept for The Star Wars) to the unexpected success of what Time magazine enthusiastically called “The Year’s Best Movie.” 

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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