Monday, March 07, 2011

Days of Empire

The only positive fall out from the closing of Borders Books here was that I got a copy of The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, J.W. Rinzler's exhaustive account of the making of what many consider the best of the Star Wars movies, at a big discount. And when I call the book exhaustive, I'm not kidding. Rinzler had access to the Lucas Films archives and there is so much information in this book that it is almost overwhelming, even to someone as fascinated by the behind the scenes stuff as I am.
Oh sure, there are all the things one would expect from such a book. Production drawings and blueprints and explanations of special effects shots. But there are also photos of company picnics, office meetings, and more candid shots of the cast than you can shake a light saber at. This book may have even more stuff in it than Rinzler's previous volume about the making of the first Star Wars film.
I'm about halfway through this 372 page monster and a couple of things struck me. The first was, how after the unexpected runaway success of Star Wars, there was no merchandizing, because this was the first film of that sort. No action figures. No replica light sabers. No books or anything. I was there and I remember how desperate we fanboy types were for anything to do with Star Wars. There was a Marvel Comic Book, a T-shirt and a poster by the Brothers Hildebrandt. That was it. Now the next Christmas there was everything you could imagine and I bought a ton of it, but yeah, early on, no stuff.
The other thing was how in flux all the story elements were. In interviews George Lucas has said that he always planned for Darth Vader to be Luke Skywalker's father. The early drafts of screenplays and scripts don't bear this out. At one point in one script Luke actually talks to the ghost of his father who is in the Force with Obi-Wan. And Luke's twin sister wasn't always Leia. After Mark Hamill was in a serious car accident there was some talk that he might have to be replaced, so the twin sister was a way of hedging the producer's bets. Fortunately Mark's facial scars were minimal and they were explained in the movie by frostbite, battle injuries, and such. Hamill said that Lucas told him they never considered recasting Luke Skywalker, but would have replaced him with a relative.
Anyway, the book is full of that sort of thing. There are even bits about the first Star Wars Tie-In novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, which I sat up late one night to finish, and the disastrous Star Wars Holiday Special. Everything is in there.
Thing is, I'm not even a huge Star Wars fan. I liked the movies as a kid, but it didn't stick with me as some things have. Still, reading this book brings back a little of the excitement of that time, when Star Wars was something that we had never seen the like of. I turned one page and saw the painting for the Re-release poster for 1978, the first year I could drive. I remember driving over to a theater (in my 1973 Mustang Mach One) in Roswell to see the film again for the first time since the initial release and how cool that was. In the pre-VCR-DVD days, a re-release was a big deal. So yeah, my enjoyment of The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is tempered by nostalgia. But even without that, it's a fascinating read.

1 comment:

lk said...

I can actually remember standing in line outside a theatre in Georgetown waiting to see it the first time. And I don't remember much from that far back, lol!