J.W. Rinzler on The Making of the Empire Strikes Back
The original Star Wars trilogy is almost 30 years old, yet plenty of information continues to surface. J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of the Empire Strikes Back has many new revelations, including: George Lucas’s earliest notes and thoughts about the story, Ralph McQuarrie’s design for Darth Vader’s castle–and its incorporation into a realized shot of Cloud City–Norman Reynolds’s design for an unused insectlike droid-assistant for Vader, a snow squirrel/chipmunk inhabitant that was planned for Hoth, a full-sized Dagobah creature built in England but never used, a filmed but deleted scene explaining how the Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive got damaged, and much more.
Rinzler said that unlike his 2007 Making of Star Wars book, where some material was not included (e.g., some photos of the 2nd unit cantina shoot), he included pretty much everything of interest regarding Empire. Much of our conversation focused on material he could not uncover and which may or may not still exist somewhere.
CraveOnline: You told Star Wars Insider that much more of Alan Arnold’s recordings of director Irvin Kershner et al on the set exist, but you didn’t have space to use it all. Do these recordings also involve Han being frozen, or are they of additional scenes?
J.W. Rinzler: What I meant when I spoke with Insider was that when they miked Kershner, there was a lot more, but all of the interesting [content] is in the book. There’s nothing major that didn’t make it. But there’s lots of conversations with the dp, and conversations with David Tomblin about doing this or doing that, or with the focus puller. You can’t put all that in, and it’s incomprehensible because you can’t see what they’re talking about.
CraveOnline: The book is pretty meticulous even without that very specialized/obscure information. Did you encounter anything else, during the course of project, that was too esoteric to include?
J.W. Rinzler: I’m sure there were. I’ve forgotten stuff. It was already two years ago that I was writing it. There was all sorts of stuff about ILM, little odds and ends about models being late, or being enlarged, and that sort of thing. It just takes away from the main narrative. If there was anything like a picture from a deleted scene, that to me would be major. Nothing like that was left out of the book. Anything of any kind even of minor importance got into the book Random House gave me 372 pages; that was the right amount of space.
CraveOnline: Did you get to watch any of the deleted scenes discussed in your book, like the one on Dagobah with Luke trying to slice a bar with his light saber?
J.W. Rinzler: I haven’t seen [it]. I went through the whole first cut, and none of that was in there.
CraveOnline: How about footage of the snow troopers trapped in the wampa holding area?
J.W. Rinzler: I never saw the rough cut; I had only seen the first cut. I don’t think the rough cut exists because they recut those first few reels so many times, I don’t think there is any material left because otherwise the film archivist would have shown it to me. It might exist in scraps somewhere, you never know, but in terms of the first cut that’s actually in the archives which I was able to watch, they had already cut out all that wampa stuff because it didn’t work. I’m trying to remember… there might have been C-3P0 wandering by and taking that sign off, but I’m not so sure it was even there.
The unit photographer was just snapping things. I think that’s where [the stills] probably come from.
CraveOnline: Do you think the footage might still exist somewhere?
J.W. Rinzler: Well you never know. I don’t know [laughs]. A lot of stuff exists that isn’t developed because they don’t [print] every take. It’s just here in the archives.
CraveOnline: When you describe the first cut in your book, you mention an animatic of a scene where a snow squirrel [aka: snow chipmunk] is shot by the probe droid.
J.W. Rinzler: Yes, that exists, but not as finished. I think it’s key frames from storyboards.
CraveOnline: That must have been neat to see.
J.W. Rinzler: I really couldn’t see very much. I wasn’t watching it on a giant screen or even a large screen—it was just a viewing screen on an editing table. It looked very sketchy, although it was exciting to see.
CraveOnline: Did you get a general idea of what the snow squirrel might have looked like?
J.W. Rinzler: You couldn’t even see it. You could just vaguely tell that there was the probe droid shooting something out, and then there was an explosion.
CraveOnline: There’s a still picture of Artoo hosing off Luke’s X-wing on Dagobah. I wonder why they bothered filming that since the principal photography was experiencing such a time crisis. Also, do you have any idea where it would it have fit into the movie?
J.W. Rinzler: [Harley] Cockliss was 2nd-unit director. It may have been something that he just thought up by himself. I can’t remember if it’s in the shooting script, it may be. Maybe it just didn’t work, or it slowed down something. I assume it would be something you would see as Luke is talking to Yoda, but I’d have to go back and check the scripts to know for sure.
Where did you find that picture?
CraveOnline: It’s in a Japanese book that came out shortly after the movie (Complete Visual Guidebook of Star Wars), and I’ve never seen it elsewhere.
J.W. Rinzler: I can’t remember if we have those pictures in our archives or not, but I would like to check.
CraveOnline: John Hollis (Lobot) told Star Wars Insider (issue #33) that a scene of Lobot meeting a grim fate was filmed but cut. ("A lot of death scenes were filmed. There was a scene of me being carted off by men in white masks. But they would say, ‘Oh, we might need you again.’ There were a lot of people getting arrested, but they were very weary about showing people die.")
J.W. Rinzler: I didn’t see anything related to that. Again, it might have been second-unit photography which may or may not have ever even been developed.
CraveOnline: There was also non-human extras on Bespin which aren’t in the final film (e.g., Stuart Freeborn’s Snaggletooth and Hare Mouse characters and a non-human guard). Maybe they were in takes that weren’t chosen?
J.W. Rinzler: They [filmed] a lot of running around in corridors, evacuation scenes, and things like that. I don’t recall seeing them; that doesn’t mean they weren’t filmed at some point. To get that far, I imagine they were in some scenes that were cut.
CraveOnline: Another picture familiar to fans is of Han, Leia, Chewie, and Lando on Bespin–it looks like the scene of them going to dinner, but there’s a big blue screen behind them.
J.W. Rinzler: I saw that. My guess is that that might have been for that Ralph McQuarrie painting that was done pretty early on. They were supposed to walk across a kind of plaza in Cloud City, and there was going to be a big matte painting behind them. [Two McQuarrie sketches of this unfinished scene are also in the Illustrated Edition of Don Glut’s Empire novelization.] Ralph said that they were maybe going to film it on a moving sidewalk. Nobody remembers why it was cut.
CraveOnline: In one part of the book you mention multiple shots of Yoda walking (actor Deep Roy on his knees), but in the final film you only see Yoda walking in one shot.
J.W. Rinzler: I think they just wanted to show it briefly because it wasn’t working too good.
CraveOnline: Do you know what some of the other setups might have been?
J.W. Rinzler: Sometimes they just shoot coverage. I didn’t see any of it.
CraveOnline: Chewie’s jealousy of Han and Leia’s romance is mentioned by Lucas in a story conference with Leigh Brackett [page 21 of Rinzler’s book]. Lucas suggests that Chewie could communicate this through Threepio while aboard the Falcon. Lawrence Kasdan told Starlog (October 1981) that "some of that good stuff was filmed, but it got eliminated when editing choices had to be made." Was this in the first cut?
J.W. Rinzler: Not that I saw, no. They did a few versions of the first few reels, it may have been in those. It looks like it was developed. [He’s referring to a picture, familiar to many fans, of C-3P0 in the Millenium Falcon hold with Chewie peering down from a compartment in the ceiling.]
They were just really having problems with the pacing and all the story points in the first few reels. So that was probably one of the ones that got cut for length.
CraveOnline: Do you recall seeing any of that in Kasdan’s script?
J.W. Rinzler: In the shooting script, sure. Usually it says something like, “Chewbacca growls and is jealous.”
CraveOnline: Is there anything like Lucas’s initial suggestion of Chewbacca barking a remark and C-3P0 replying in English?
J.W. Rinzler: I don’t remember. From the picture you showed, it seems like there would be a good chance that it did.
CraveOnline: As you mention in your book, the transcripts of meetings between Leigh Brackett and George Lucas do not contain her statements. Do you know if her comments still exist somewhere?
J.W. Rinzler: Well, it could turn up somewhere. I couldn’t find it. Clearly there was a recording.
CraveOnline: How about Lucas’s meetings with Kasdan?
J.W. Rinzler: As far as I know those weren’t recorded. Those [involved] going over the script. They were story conferences but not the kind that were tape recorded.
Thanks to Scott Kirkwood, who contributed research.
Photo of Director Irvin Kershner, Producer Gary Kurtz, Producer George Lucas, Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan on set of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) supplied by WENN.com.