Monday, January 24, 2011

From a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

Like many creative people of my generation, Star Wars and it's sequels had a pretty big impact on me. What really resonated with me was that unlike virtually every other science fiction movie I'd seen up until that point (and it was many) Star Wars was not set in a universe of pristine environments where everyone was dressed almost identically in clothes that not only looked like they came from the same designer but had been purchased right before they were put on. Instead, the world of Star Wars was dirty, beat up and used, and aside from military types, the characters had individual styles of dress. Aliens didn't exist simply to menace the heroes. There were dozens of them simply going about their business in the background. The vehicles, machines, robots, and weapons all look like they worked, and had been repaired many times, or needed repairs. The implied backstory to everything was as interesting to me as the actual story on screen. Every scene also introduced something really cool and new; the droids, the dewback lizard mounts for the stormtroopers, the landspeeder, the lightsabers, the cantina, etc.
These were all things that lodged in my brain and became important aspects of telling my own stories.

Since my fascination with this movies is still strong, I'm always happy to pick up a new book discussing their making. This winter I read two of them, both of which I highly recommend. Both books were also written by J. W. Rinzler, who delivered the amazing The Making of Star Wars published in 2007 to coincide with the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars. Last Fall, the follow-up book The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was released to coincide with the first sequel's 30th Anniversary. The first question you might ask would be that given how much has been written about these movies, is there anything new left to uncover. The answer is yes, quite a bit actually. The Making of The Empire Strikes Back is a fascinating account of how in the wake of the wild success of Star Wars a sequel was brought to life, and almost bankrupted George Lucas in the process nearly forcing him to relinquish the valuable sequel and merchandising rights to 20th Century Fox. It also goes into detail about the simultaneous growth of Lucasfilm and ILM. There are a lot of details on the making of Empire that were new to me. The book also contains a really interesting transcript about the development of the scene in which Han ends up frozen in carbonite, in which director Irvin Kershner and Harrison Ford work out character motivations and Ford suggests his "I know" line which was not a spur of the moment ad lib as has always been suggested. Anthony Daniels gives a really insightful take on C-3PO and how his charcter differs in this movie from the previous one, and you also learn that for almost the entire shoot, Mark Hamill was isolated from almost the entire rest of the cast.  I'm really looking forward to Rinzler's The Making of Return of the Jedi in 2013.

The other aspect of the Star Wars movies that really struck me was Ben Burtt's incredible sound design which really brought the Star Wars universe to life. The Sounds of Star Wars, Rinzler's other book published last Fall, is a large tome in which Burtt discusses sound design in general, how it applies to the Star Wars movies, and then movie by movie (in release order and including the prequels and even the Clone Wars tv series) and scene by scene discusses how pretty much every sound effect was achieved. This book also has a built in audio player so that you can listen to each accompanying sound effect as you read. Some of the audio effects are what you hear in the movie, others are the raw source material that would be manipulated into the well know effects. There are plenty of interesting tidbits here as well, such as Garindan, the cloaked alien with the long trunk who reports on the wherabouts of Luke and Obi-Wan to the stormtroopers in Star Wars, was actually John Wayne sped up and manipulated. The vocalizations of the Rancor which almost devours Luke beneath Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi were the manipulated vocalizations of a dachshund. The book even has a section which discusses the famous Wilhelm scream and where it can be found in each of the movies, but alas, does not include the scream as an audio clip.

Both books are excellent, and recommended.



Martin Arlt said...

I've been reading The Making of... and loving it. Just read the transcript of the carbon chamber scene over the weekend. Didn't know about the Audio book, but I love the sounds of SW and love hearing about how they were achieved. Might have to pick this one up as well.

John Rozum said...

It's well worth it and does have a lot of material.