J.W. Rinzler’s “The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” is currently available for purchase in hardcover, but in honor of the upcoming release of the multimedia eBook edition, Rinzler took to the stage at New York Comic Con to show off some never-before-scene photos and videos from this enhanced version of the book and run through some Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi facts and anecdotes.
Like the Richard Marquand-directed “Return of the Jedi,” “The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” wraps up a trilogy for Rinzler. “The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film” dropped in April of 2007 and then came “The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” in October of 2010. By tapping into the Lucasfilm Archives, Rinzler put together another behind-the-scenes piece loaded with production stories, previously unpublished photos, present-day commentary and more to provide insight into how George Lucas and his team brought “Return of the Jedi” to life.
As panel moderator Jason Fry further explained, “J.W., it started off you shadowed George Lucas for three years during the making of ‘Episode III’ and that led to the desire to kind of reexamine the classic films with a kind of perspective that we have now.”
Fry and Rinzler began their conversation by focusing on the transition from “The Empire Strikes Back” to “Return of the Jedi,” particularly in terms of choosing a new director. Rinzler began, “What happened at the end of ‘Empire,’ it’s kind of a complicated legal story, the Director’s Guild sued Irvin Kershner. They couldn’t sue Lucasfilm because Lucasfilm is a limited company and so they’re legally in the UK. So instead they sued Kershner because they thought that having Lucasfilm at the very beginning of the film was George putting his name before the director, and you’re not allowed to do that.” He added, “So that kind of limited the number of directors he could get because they had to be non-DGA or they had to be DGA and not be afraid of the DGA.”
There was also the issue of Kershner’s directing style. “[Kershner] wasn’t getting coverage.” Rinzler continued, “He only shot what he needed, so then George had fewer choices in the editing room and that didn’t thrill George because, you know, he’s an editor by trade.” Lucas shoots with a minimum of two cameras at all times, so he’s used to having a wealth of material to cut together and that was something his ‘Return of the Jedi’ director was going to have to respect.
Lucas himself even recognized the fact that his methods may be a bit unconventional. Rinzler recalled, “The first time I interviewed George, he sort of surprised me and said, ‘You know, I’m not a director. Steven Spielberg’s a director. He lays out the dolly track, he knows what he’s gonna get, he knows what he’s gonna look at in the editing room.’” Rinzler further explained, “He didnt quite say this, but this is what I understood, is he’s more of a documentary filmmaker. He comes from avant garde cinema, documentary filmmaking when he was a student, and he likes to come into the editing room and have as much footage as is humanly [manageable] and then shape it in the editing room.”
Considering Lucas once cut over 100 shots in a single day of editing “Return of the Jedi,” it makes sense that the guy should be presented with an abundance of visual options for that stage of the filmmaking process. “Black Friday was something that even the people who had worked on the film had forgotten, but it was in the archives. George, in post-production, when he started editing the space battle and all the visual effects shots realized that there was a lot of work that needed to be done and it hadn’t been storyboarded the way he really wanted it to be.” Rinzler continued, “He threw out about upwards of 100 shots and upwards of three or four months work and the visual effects artist, Ken Ralston, the divisional effects supervisor, was most affected.” Rinzler dubbed Black Friday “a real low point in the post-production cycle.” Youll be able to hear more about the impact that Black Friday had on Ralston soon, as the eBook will include audio of Ralston himself discussing the situation.
Rinzler didn’t offer a sneak peek at that audio, but he did bring a selection of other multimedia features to share. He rolled through a montage of images including a shot of Carrie Fisher with first assistant director David Tomblin and a behind-the-scenes photo of Lucas and Howard Kazanjian during the sandstorm scene, a sequence that never made it into the final cut of the film. There’s also a photo of an ILM employee donning a pair of mechanical claws. Rinzler explained, “At one point, the Rancor was going to be a man in a suit. They really tried for a while to make that work and if it had worked, this would have been the mechanical claws for the man in the suit of Rancor. But ultimately it just looked really stupid.”
Rinzler also unleashed a slew of crowd-pleasing video, one of which was a sequence from “Return of the Jedi,” but shot entirely with action figures. That one earned a big laugh, but the most striking of the bunch was a daily, a printed take from the set, featuring Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. The camera was primarily on Luke with Vader obscuring some of the frame so, as Rinzler explained, Marquand decided that David Prowse shouldn’t do the scene. Instead, Marquand himself ran the lines with Mark Hamill and even took care of his directorial duties at the same time, yelling out, “And zing,” to signify that Vader’s lightsaber had been activated.
Much of the material Rinzler shared with the audience rocked a nostalgic, uplifting quality, but Rinzler was also brimming with stories of production calamites. One of the more expensive and dangerous shoots involved the sarlacc pit. Rinzler explained, “The sarlacc pit has so much information, so many little mini battles going on that I think Dwayne Dunham said, ‘Every editor died in the sarlacc pit.’” Of course they didn’t, but even after coming out of that experience alive, they still didn’t quite achieve their goal. Rinzler continued, “I think they did feel like they never quite got it as good as they had hoped for. George was just a little bit disappointed with the sarlacc pit sequence.”
Then there was the issue of the sarlacc pit stuntmen who enjoyed playing the game, “Who could be the first one to dive the highest dive into the sarlacc pit?” Rinzler recalled, “As Carrie Fisher said, you’d go out to the pool at the motel where they were staying, they’d all be sitting there with their casts.” And the stuntmen weren’t the only people in the line of fire on the sarlacc pit set. Rinzler pointed out, “A guy caught on fire, a squib went through Billy Dee Williams’ foot I think, Chewbacca caught on fire. And they were only there for a week!”
Making that shoot even more complicated were the high winds. Rinzler said, “They almost blew the sails off the barge. They actually had an actual Commodore out there with real sails. They spent like $100,000 or something, $50,000 on these sails, which they were only able to raise once on the last day of shooting.”
Of course the Ewoks also posed quite the challenge for the filmmakers. “I think a lot of people working on it thought the Ewoks were silly. If the camera was at the wrong angle, you could see the seam up their back. The eyes didn’t blink. They really tried to get the eyes to blink and Stuart Freeborn and his crew just couldn’t pull it off in the time and on the budget they had.” Rinzler continued, “The Ewoks were hard to get a handle on. For a long time, they didn’t have ears and they were kind of scary looking. George made them cuter and Joe Johnston added ears and that just kind of made the Ewoks work.”
In the realm of more lighthearted mishaps, Rinzler also managed to track down a slew of bloopers from the original trilogy. Running with the first ones that came to mind, Rinzler highlighted, “You have two of the Cantina guys who can’t really see their fingers. One of them is kind of jabbing the other guy and suddenly his finger bends backwards.” He continued, “There’s a scene of them trying to get into the prison area, the detention area, and John Stears put like four times more explosives than he needed, literally blows the walls off the set and then Stormtroopers are trying to come through this door, even though the wall has been blown off, they’re trying to come in and their belts are falling off, their pants are almost falling down.”
You can catch these bloopers, photos, videos, audio clips and more in the enhanced eBook edition of Rinzler’s “The Making of Star Wars” series. In addition to “Return of the Jedi,” eBooks for “The Making of Star Wars: A New Hope” and “Empire Strikes Back” will arrive on October 22.