Interviewing George Lucas

This would be the fifth or sixth time I’d be asking George about the making of one of his films. In this case, we’d be talking about The Making of Return of the Jedi. The first official interview was back in 2004 for a book on The Making of Revenge of the Sith. Then we went back in time to Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films, and Empire, for their respective books. For each I always bring lots of backup: extra batteries, a second recorder, notes, laptop (optional)… and of course the questions. (The last thing I want to be doing is scribbling frantically—though that’s what I had to do on set, as it wasn’t practical otherwise.)

For each of these long interviews (from 1.5 to 2.5 hours) I store up questions for about a year or more. Whenever I’m stumped while writing or researching as to what actually happened—Was Kershner offered Jedi or not?  What happened after the director’s cut? What happened with the sarlacc sequence?—I jot the question down and save it for later. It’s a long, long process, or it seems that way, so it’s always really satisfying to finally sit down and get the answers.

On the assigned day, the usual pre-meeting shifts occurred: We were delayed a half-hour and then shortened by another half-hour, but still ended up with enough time. In years past we’ve met at his home or Skywalker Ranch; this time it would be in George’s office at Big Rock Ranch. And this time, George hadn’t yet finished reading the manuscript. Usually I know what he thinks of the book, more or less, before the meeting, per his changes to the manuscript. This time I had no idea, so I entered the room with not a little trepidation…

…And didn’t have to wait long to hear his general verdict: The preproduction section was too long. Nearly twice as long as the chapters on principal photography. It remains to be seen what I’ll cut out (I’ve just started that process). Then we got down to the questions, such as, how did he feel when he started work on Return of the Jedi (then titled “Revenge”…):

“The biggest issue was, Could we actually do a sequel, could we actually finance ourselves and do it?  We’d proved we could, so now it was just a matter of doing it again. And the second one had done really well, so we knew the third one would do really well.  By then a lot of the uncertainty had been taken out of the process. And the second one had the problem of having no beginning and no end.  It was just a big middle.  This one at least would have an end, a lot of story points would be closed up, so no matter what, I knew it would be interesting to people.  That took a little of the edge of it off.”

His answers to other questions about how he felt at certain times were sometimes more personal, but will have to wait for the book’s release to become public (or the publisher may hunt me down…).

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We talked about the early scripts, about Had Abbadon (the name for the Imperial capital, at the time), about writing, about Lawrence Kasdan. We talked about costume design and Nilo Rodis-Jamero, for whom Lucas had high praise—“Nilo’s extremely talented and he’s a really good guy.” I asked George if my characterization of his working relationship with director Richard Marquand was accurate; he said that it was.

At certain points I duly checked to see if the recorder was working right, if we had enough time, if was skipping inadvertently an important question. Some questions were combined, but I didn’t end up having to skip any. Some of George’s answers responded to several queries at once.

I asked if he was a utopian, given his creation of Skywalker and Big Rock ranch, the Presidio campus, and other projects:

“I like architecture.  I love being an architect, and architecture has to do with building environments and being in those environments. And obviously no matter how you do it, if you’re an artist of any kind, you’re trying to control your vision and create something that’s maybe utopian, maybe not, but it’s something that’s your fantasy life come to be concrete.”

Toward the end, Connie Wethington, George’s assistant, came in to let us know time was running out, but we were already wrapping up. She was carrying a pile of files, which George eyed warily. More work was looming… Before leaving, we went over some other book projects and then I sped home—to upload the file for the transcriber.

Now George’s comments are a part of the manuscript. The next stage is to get the polished manuscript to the publisher by end of July (I think it’s possible), and then start laying out the images (known as a “book-map”) in August, while it’s edited. And when it’s all laid out and I’ve written the 700 or so captions, and a designer has done his/her work, I’ll submit it once again… to George… for final approval.

It’s already been more than a year and it’ll be more than a year till the book comes out. But from this point onward is probably the most fun part, making it all come together…

Next time: How To Spot a Ralph McQuarrie Return of the Jedi Production Painting.

Lucasfilm executive editor J. W. Rinzler is the author of The Making of Star Wars and The Complete Making of Indiana Jones. He is now writing The Making of Return of the Jedi (and really looking forward to finishing it) for a fall 2013 release. You can visit jwrinzler.com for more info.

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