'The Definitive Story' behind the second 'Star Wars' movie

Tish Wells
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

"The Making of 'The Empire Strikes Back' — The Definitive Story" by J.W. Rinzler; Del Rey/LucasBooks (362 pages, $85)


As part of the 30-year anniversary of classic movie "The Empire Strikes Back," J.W. Rinzler has produced an in-depth look not only at the film, but the creation of a film studio — Lucasfilm.

"The Empire Strikes Back" was the second of the six movies that make up the "Star Wars" saga. "The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back — The Definitive Story" shows that its success was done with intense planning, extremely hard work, and a lot of enthusiasm.

In 1977, the overwhelming box office success of "Star Wars" took the embryonic film company by surprise. "Lucasfilm wasn't a big studio, or even a small studio. It had a makeshift office called Park House, just north of San Francisco in San Anselmo, and — on a parcel of land owned by the company — a single trailer sitting in a parking lot across the street from Universal Studios in Los Angeles," Rinzler writes.

But once filmmaker George Lucas returned from a Hawaiian vacation — where he and his friend Steven Spielberg had discussed the idea of a new project called "Raiders of the Lost Ark" — Lucas set about writing the script for "The Empire Strikes Back" and set in motion how it would be created, down to the smallest detail.

It's clear that the film was not easy to make. A massive blizzard, and the coldest winter in 100 years, delayed shooting in Norway. The mechanical Imperial Walkers were painstakingly filmed in stop-motion. A mirror over the bacta-tank where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) would be immersed exploded, sending "these huge pieces of glass" into the water. As Kershner commented at the time, "if he had been in the tank, I don't know that he would have survived."

Three decades later, Rinzler, a senior editor at Lucasfilm, went into the archives and found old documents — including Lucas' handwritten pre-script notes forgotten "in a box in the legal archive," unpublished photographs, and old production sketches. He also found a treasure trove of ancient recordings.

In 1980, Alan Arnold published an authorized behind-the-scenes book called "Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of 'The Empire Strikes Back.'" After completing the book, " the Arnold tapes — interviews with Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), director Irvin Kershner, George Lucas and others — were stored away and later tossed in a trash can, only to be retrieved by an early Lucasfilm archivist. These tapes provide extensive insight, making "The Definitive Story" more of "an oral history," writes Rinzler.

"The Definitive Story" is excellent at showing the infinite complexity of making a film. When one bank dropped out, they had to find funding for a million-dollar payroll — in less than a week. They also had to deal with a rabid fan base that occasionally went dumpster diving for information.

In the end, "The Empire Strikes Back" was an immense hit. It took a galaxy of willing hands to make, and "The Definitive Story" names them all.






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