The Making Of Return Of The Jedi by R.W. Rinzler (book review).

For those who thought ‘Star Wars’ was created in a galaxy far, far away will get a reality check with the planet Elstree and California, amongst other places in this book, ‘The Making Of Return Of The Jedi’ by R.W. Rinzler. You literally get everything with this book.


From the reason why Industrial Light And Magic was created, to keep the technicians together, to the draft screenplays George Lucas wrote as he knocked the story into shape. The contracts with 21st Century Fox and how much Lucas was prepared to share with them. As described in latter chapters, Lucas wrote unhindered by budget before re-writing to bring things into something affordable. Over a decade ago, I was involved with a project where I was told not to worry about budget when I knew there would be a tight budget and commented that working to a restriction would make me more than more imagination with my solutions. After two films, I’m surprised Lucas hadn’t learnt that, although reading here, it can’t escape anyone’s notice that he’s a near perfectionist and hardly surprising that he felt burnt out after creating the ‘Star Wars’ universe over nine years.

The realisation that there was too many lead characters and they were afraid of killing anyone off unless it upset the fans was just as prevalent back in the 1980s as occasionally it is today. Oddly, they didn’t go for any of the humans but the little green guy. Clue, it isn’t E.T.!

One significant thing I learnt was that Harrison Ford was only contracted for two films and if he hadn’t wanted to return, then he would have remained frozen in carbonite.

The original concept for the Ewaks, later to become Ewoks, was for them to walk around on stilts which would have added to their height. It’s interesting to discover that the production team thought that they would look too cuddly although giving them headware seemed to change that for some of them.

The story conference in Chapter Three where they try to knock the story into shape becomes truly hilarious simply because they are in the throes of having to explain things like where did Luke get his new light-sabre, often referred to as a light-sword, to the fairy tale aspects and not killing anyone off to placing the Emperor into the action. If you thought the final film was because everything was neatly worked out, this conference will surely make you think about how disorganised everything was at this stage. It also made me wonder how detailed Lucas original story actually was.

What is equally fascinating is the number of photos from behind the scenes to the designs, much of which was the artists trying to find the way to go and often many were disregarded.

Leia’s bikini was patterned after a Frazetta design and quite immobile being made out of leather and metal. I was also surprised to discover some of the aliens who I thought were disguised humans, like Nien Numb, were actually puppets like Yoda.

One thing I did want to find earlier was whether they would show any photographs of Sebastian Shaw as the unmasked Darth Vader and a gentle page flick didn’t reveal it or where I expect it to be in the book. For the record, there is a two page spread on the subject, even if the authors confused Albert Clark who did the production stills with a certain SF author in the by-lines.

What can I say about the photographs? So many behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera. Picking out highlights from these is tough but Han Solo posing as Harrison Ford in a pair of shades looks really cool. Considering that things started off on Tatooine, I’m surprised there wasn’t any sunglasses against the twin stars desert glare.

Reading how the effort was made to put the film together brings incredible insight and a sharp reminder that I really must do a comparison to how a modern film is done and see if any of the problems of health and food sickness still persists today.

We all know that ‘Blue Harvest’ was the name given out to keep fans at bay while filming but seeing what happened makes for interesting reading. The same can also be said for the various alternatives to conceal some elements of the plot. These days, that’s pretty much common practice but if memory serves, I think ‘Jedi’ was the first to do such a thing. The only thing that didn’t come out was apart from being fired, which would have defeated the object of a reveal by letting them lose, was how much a fine would have been had they violated the contract with a reveal.

Seeing the selling of merchandise rights and, indeed, the breakdown of overall costs and over-runs is still an important lesson in how to make ends meet and how many times a film has to be viewed before it starts making a profit. One merchandise angle that I did know about and nice to see confirmed here was when ‘Revenge’ became ‘Return’ thst manufacturer Kenner had to destroyed a quarter of a million dollars worth of packaging. I wish there had been more of a show of the related merchandise to the film but that’s only a minor quibble considering how many books on the subject are already out there.

Another interesting aspect was seeing the various poster poses, especially when the artists chose to use Leia in her bikini as a selling point.

The book ends on showing what happened next to the various people. Of particular note, it is now some twenty-five years since the death of director Richard Marquand. George Lucas himself points out that so many of the people he worked with have had a bigger impact on Hollywood since leaving him and I doubt if he would have had it any other way. There’s a touch of irony with the group photo of the ILM crew of that time in that Lucas wasn’t there at the time but his photo was inserted. In some respects, I wish the photo had been given a full page to make it easier to identify everyone.

As you can tell from the size of this review, I had a great time reading this book. It is certainly not a light read and the book is heavy enough to keep a decent table to support it. The nicest thing was it bringing back to many memories of the last of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy. Cue music.

GF Willmetts

October 2013

(pub: Aurum Publishing Group. 362173 page illustrated horizontal hardback. Price: £40.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78131-076-2)

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