A Review of The Making of The Empire Strikes Back by J. W. Rinzler

I recently finished the second book in new The Making of series.  If you read my review of The Making of Star Wars, then you have most of my opinions of this book.  It has many pictures you almost certainly haven’t seen elsewhere (which doesn’t seem possible), it has the feel of a Lucasfilm employee scrapbook and it details the process of making the movie – not the art or the special effects but the actual day to day issues.  If you have any interest in how big budget movies are made or just want to know everything about the best of the SW movies, you should read this book.  It is big and expensive, so you might consider checking it out from your local library to test drive it first.

Surprisingly, there were two moments in the book where I truly laughed out loud and I must share them with you.

The first involves one of the first wireless microphone recordings on a movie set in history.  Irvin Kershner (the director) is mic’ed up for a day and the transcription gives us insight into the day-to-day grueling shoot of this movie.  As with any creative endeavor that has to make money, situations are constantly changing and there is pressure to get things done.

Let me set the scene, the actors are trying to work out the carbon freezing of Han.  Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams and Irvin Kershner are having communication problems.  Kershner has told Williams that the scene will be recorded in two shots (meaning he will stop his dialog and freeze midway through the scene).  He also tells some of the actors that they will run through the entire scene.  The hilarity builds as this contradiction plays out take after take.  Here is the meltdown at the end.

Kershner: Right. [to the assembled crew] Okay, here we go. Alright, this is a rehearsal. We do everything, minus the steam. Alright-action! [Steam is released.] Minus the steam! No steam, no CO2 [Scene proceeds briefly.] Cut, cut, please cut!

Tomblin: Hold it. It doesn’t seem to be working properly.

Kershner: Not again. [Tomblin directs the crew to their places.]

Tomblin: Alright, ready, here we go! Action! [Scene is played out as Tomblin directs the troopers and little people.]

Kershner: Cut’ Okay. Kel, how did it work?

Kelvin Pike: Pretty good.

Kershner: Yeah, it looked alright for me. [to Williams] As Boba Fett walks away, he starts the dialogue.

Williams: Do you want me to continue with the dialogue?

Kershner: Yes, I want to do the dialogue.

Williams: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Kershner: We’re going to do the dialogue, yeah. I thought you understood. Williams: I thought you wanted to wait until the cut.

Kershner: No, no, no. I want to do the dialogue right there. Yes, Harrison, he misunderstood that. [whispers to Williams] Okay, we do the dialogue in a long shot and then we’ll overlap it.

Williams: You didn’t tell me.

Kershner: Okay, I’m a fool. [laughs; he then turns to Tomblin] Okay, now, precisely when Vader is about here, that claw should be coming up. (“My feeling is that when you’re shooting, the first thing you do is put up the camera on a wide shot and get the entire scene,” says Lucas. “You block it and shoot it in one big, wide master. You can do it very quickly-and what it does is, it makes the DF light the entire set and the cast go through the entire scene, so everybody knows what’s going on. What Kersh would do is he would shoot a piece of someone coming in and sitting down or he would shoot the fight and then have him go out the door. Those are two different masters, so the cast and crew sometimes wouldn’t see the whole thing played through in one piece-so they often never understood how it all went together.”)

Ford: Are we continuing?

Kershner: Which?

Williams: Dialogue. That’s what I asked you.

Kershner: We’re doing the dialogue, yes, you’re doing the dialogue.

Ford: [irritated tone] We never got past, “What’s going on, pal?” Do you want to go past that, or not?

Kershner: No.

Ford: Okay.

Williams: So one last time, we’re not going to go into …

Kershner: Yeah, you’re going to do your dialogue. Then . Williams: He’s going to ask me …

Kershner: Yeah, “What are we doing here?”

Ford: That’s what I just asked you, Kershner. I say to him, “What’s going on, pal?” We’ve never gone any further in rehearsal than that.

Kershner: I thought you did it. It looked like you did it.

Ford: Billy didn’t know, Billy never answered.

Kershner: Oh, okay, yeah, we do that.

Williams: Oh, we do that, okay.

Tomblin: Do you want to break for lunch?

Kershner: No, I want to do the shot now. I want to just do it because it’s a long shot. It’s only for an overlap, you see what I mean?

Ford: [sounding stressed] Nobody noticed anything. This is the third time I’ve come up to Billy and said the line and Billy hasn’t turned around and said a word to me. Now, that’s because Billy didn’t know that we’re supposed to do the dialogue.

Kershner: Okay, I’ll tell you what, while you’re standing here, let’s see how you do the dialogue.

Ford: Can we have somebody stand in for Carrie?

Kershner: Yeah, absolutely. [to a crew member] Where’s Carrie?

Crew member: On the stair.

Kershner: Carrie! Could you stand here please? [The actors go over their lines.]

Ford: Are we going to have to raise our volume here to be heard above the steam?

Kershner: You’re talking just to yourselves. This is a little scene between just the four of you.

Tomblin: Everyone in position.

Diamond: This is the easy bit, Kershner [laughs].

Kershner: No, this isn’t; this is the hard one. I need to know just where to cut in. Whew! It’s a monster.

The second is a sound bite from one of the ILM guys commenting on the original Wampa costume made by the English crew.

“There was a lot of stuff goin’ on,” says Ralston. “We were shooting inserts and weird stuff would happen. We saw the rough cut of the Abominable Snowman scene-and whatever they built in England was so crappy and so bad looking that Jon, Phil, Dennis, and me, we were like, ‘I don’t want this in the movie I’m working on.’ Now we’re getting really arrogant, because we know everything. [laughs] What they had looked like a big owl, kind of nice and cuddly, but not scary-and we weren’t about to let something that dumb get into the film. So Phil built a miniature head and we just went into a vacant lot and shot up at a cloudy sky. Luckily, George used it.”

Overall this book is great and I highly recommend it.  It’s even better than The Making of Star Wars.  If you own a suit of plate mail you should probably wear your breastplate while reading.  In hardcover, this book is heavy and will put a dent in your chest in short order.

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