Review: The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Jeff's Rating: 5/5

tl;dr: Odds are 725:1 you'll love this book! If you enjoyed Star Wars (IV-VI), if you want to learn about moviemaking, if you appreciate art—you'll love this book by J.W. Rinzler.

I've watched the original Star Wars trilogy too many times to count. My Dad introduced me to the series in the late 80s, and since then I've watched the movies as they were adapted for VHS, TV, LaserDisc, DVD, and now Blu-Ray.

I have strong opinions about who shot first, which of the trilogy was the best movie (this has changed as I've grown), the proper viewing order of all six existing Star Wars motion pictures, and which cut(s) of the film(s) were best (I don't believe the 'original theatrical cut' was the best—and I wonder how many people who advocate such a release realize that there were more than one...).

The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - Hard cover Exterior

So a few years ago that I consumed the 350+ pages of The Making of Star Wars, which was the first book by Rinzler in this series of expository works. The print in both that book (which I read in paperback) and The Making of The Empire Strikes Back is tiny, while the page size is huge, which made for a sometimes awkward reading experience. When I read the first book, though, the second book had not yet come out. I was quite disappointed, because I knew the story behind the Star Wars trilogy had a lot more to offer. And I've not been disappointed! I received this book, the second in the series, for Christmas, and finished it before the New Year, in 2012.

Hardbound vs. Paperback

I wouldn't normally spend much time relating the differences in different versions of a book, but it's worth mentioning, since the volume is over 350 thick pages long, almost 1' wide, and weighs a hefty 5 pounds!

After having read the first Making of book in paperback, and the second with a hard cover, I think I enjoyed the actual reading experience of the first book more; it was easier to read the first and last sections of the book (holding the pages down so I could read words near the binding) with the more flexible paperback copy. The hardbound copy (which is currently the only option for The Making of The Empire Strikes Back) makes certain reading situations tedious. I enjoy reading while laying in bed, and while sitting on a couch at an angle, but the weight of the book and the inflexibility of the binding limited my reading sessions in these situations, and increased neck strain.

Yoda on the Dust Cover of The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Where the hard cover and dust jacket excel, though, is in the displayability and durability of this book. Where the paperback version screams "cheap bookstore stand", the hardbound copy (along with it's subtly-embossed Yoda on the deep blue cover—pictured above) offers a sophisticated veneer fit for any bookshelf or coffee table.

There is no difference, however, in the quality of the paper and printing inside. I don't recall any offset color printing errors (which plague lower-quality prints used by many publishers), and all images and text were beautifully rendered. This is one of the few books I have that I don't think I could enjoy on a digital device. Not only that, the digital copy would likely be a few GB in size if the publisher represented the volumes of artwork and scans inside.

For readability, I prefer the paperback. For longevity and beauty, I slightly prefer the hardcover. But, seeing as this book is currently only available in the latter, I have to give hard cover the edge.


I remember the Making of Star Wars being a very cohesive telling of a very disjointed story; what I mean by that is the actual making of the first movie was full of crazy situations and new ideas that were hard to convey with words. But Rinzler conveyed these things in a way that took away the mental burden of sorting things in my head.

It wasn't quite so in this second book; in some parts of my reading, I had to re-read a section, or refer back to another page to remember what, exactly, was going on, and who was being mentioned. Sidebars (well, more like 'side sections,' since some took two or three pages) were less distinguished in this book, meaning that the narrative storyline would get interrupted from time to time (almost like a 'choose your own adventure' book at times).

But one thing that redeems this is the fact that there is much more original source material in this book than in the first—there are many quotes from cast and crew that add to my appreciation for the movie, and help me understand some of the subtler scenes in new ways. Apparently, Rinzler was able to listen to a bevy of audiocassette recordings made during the film's production with first-hand interviews. In one case, he retells the shooting of the carbonite freezing scene almost verbatim, from the point of the director, Irvin Kershner.

Image from The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

The other thing that makes this book so amazing (just like the first) is the range and quality of images from the production of the film; not only are there scores of production art which give a sense of the imagination behind movement, lighting, and décor, there are hundreds of images of the cast and crew both on and off-set, doing such mundane tasks as sleeping, chatting, pranking, and enjoying their lives in general.

The story within these pages—as conveyed in images and words—makes the movie The Empire Strikes Back even more enjoyable. And it teaches the reader much about the history of cinema, especially in the ever-changing atmosphere of the early 80s, when the computing revolution was not even in its infancy (indeed, only in the last pages of this book is the beginning of the Lucasfilm Pixar division—which would later generate the first fully-computer-animated blockbuster, Toy Story—mentioned).

The Next Book

According to J.W. Rinzler, The Making of the Return of the Jedi will be published sometime in fall, 2013. Rinzler quotes Gary Arnold (a Washington Post writer) as saying "The Victorian novelists would keep readers in an anxious state for a month before the publication of a new chapter of a work in progress," in reference to the gap between Empire and Jedi. I feel the same way about Rinzler's Making of books. They're great reads, and I look forward to the next, even if (I believe) the movie was the weakest of the original trilogy.

Read it Yourself!

If you're at all a fan of Star Wars, due yourself a favor and buy and read both of these books!

(Using the links above for your purchase will give a small percentage of the sale back to this site, enabling me to purchase and The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, when it comes out in fall, 2013!)

See my review on »