Review by C.J. Bunce
Half of Star Wars fans will tell you it’s the best of the entire series. Although A New Hope quickly built up an amazing and beloved new galaxy, it wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that we met a fully realized universe of diverse planets and complex, well-developed characters, personal stories of heroes we now knew well, risking their lives for each other. Like The Godfather and The Godfather II, you can try to compare them and see the ways in which one out-performed the other. For me, young Vito Corleone watching as a rug is stolen for him by Bruno Kirby’s Clemenza, the kiss of death with John Cazale’s poor, stupid Fredo, the tragic downfall of Michael Corleone–all of these stick out as the powerful pieces of the series and all happened in the sequel. With The Empire Strikes Back, we met Yoda, we learned of Luke’s relationship to Darth Vader, we saw Han Solo really put the Millennium Falcon to its limits in that asteroid field, we saw AT-ATs devastate the Rebel Base, we saw romance develop between Han and Leia, and we saw the brief glimpses of the motley band of bounty hunters, and especially Boba Fett. And it probably had the single best film soundtrack of any film, certainly any John Williams soundtrack, ever made.
So it is no wonder that The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, published in 2010 for the film’s 30th anniversary, is an exceptional account of the behind the scenes herculean efforts required to make such a cinematic masterpiece. The book uses contemporary interviews interspersed with archival notes from George Lucas’s own files, including pieces dating back to A New Hope, suggesting the source of the name Darth Vader (dark invader) and other interesting bits of trivia, and hundreds of photos both color and black and white, to tell the story behind the story.
Focusing on the film’s director, the late Irvin Kershner, and piecing together bits from George Lucas’s own original visionary thoughts through author Leigh Brackett’s scripting and the key actors’ personal accounts, author J.W. Rinzler lets the past speak for itself (Rinzler also wrote the previously successful “Making of” books The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films and The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film.) Little extraneous commentary is included, and instead quotes from the creative minds speak of poor filming conditions, too much to do in too little time, and the elephant in the room–could they really meet Star Wars fans’ expectations and continue the story of Luke Skywalker in another successful, ground-breaking blockbuster?
The Making of The Empire Strikes Back includes Mark Hamill’s own account of his near-fatal car crash and Lucas’s plan for the film had he died, the complete beginning to end planning of Boba Fett’s costume including incredible images back to the original incarnation as a “supertrooper,” planning and preparation of advance toy marketing, the late Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art, and the crazy filming of the Hoth scenes in a blowing snowscape. Hurdles for the production included the single challenge the entire success or failure of the movie depended on: the design, construction and performance of Yoda, a muppet to replace the role originally planned for the aging Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Also included are detailed descriptions of deleted scenes, including more extensive footage of tauntauns and the Hoth wampa and the rebels in the snow cave.
The book had been previewed in Entertainment Weekly, which had hinted at some of the never before published photographs from the book, but the magazine article only skimmed the surface of what can be found here. For some readers it will be a perfect coffee table book, and for others it will be a reference and how-to manual for project managing an epic film.
The Making of The Empire Strikes Back is available at Amazon.com and all other bookstores.