Former Lucasfilm editor and author J.W. Rinzler, who wrote The Art of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith as well as The Making of Star Wars Revenge of the Sith, recently detailed what it was like under Disney compared to George Lucas.
Rinzler, who also wrote and published The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film, chatted with The Force Cast podcast about his initial rejections from various Lucas owned companies as well as the interview that eventually landed him the position of editor for Lucas Licensing’s book division.
Much of the beginning of the interview focuses on what led to the creation of the Making of Star Wars books.
Rinzler details that Lucas was a pioneer and early adopter for quite a bit of new technology including digital filming. Not only was he a pioneer and early adopter, but Lucas had kept extensive records for an anthropological sake dating back to American Graffiti. when he arrived after he was hired he pitched The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.
He then detailed his pitch for The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith that led to the multitude of other books.
Rinzler explained, “The time I got there, I was in the book department, the book department in a way was lagging behind all that, through nobody’s fault. They were farming it out instead of doing it in house.”
He added, “When I came along, I think for the first time…I think most people in the department were more interested in Star Was as a story, not how they were doing. I was like the first one, I think, I don’t know for sure. At any rate, probably the first person to come in who wanted to know how they did the movies and had an interest in that.”
Rinzler then stated, “So when I met with Rick McCallum I pitched him the idea of doing a behind-the-scenes book for Episode III that didn’t just talk about the visual effects, but talked about everything from concept art to editing to spotting the music to the scoring to the release of the film. And Rick, bless his heart, just in the office that moment said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.'”
He continued, “They hadn’t even released Episode II yet, when I started documenting Episode III. And that’s how that happened. And eventually got to know George after a long time and that lead to all of the other books.”
After detailing his initial experience with Lucas’ book department, Rinzler is asked what made Lucas’ storytelling different from other studios’ in the 80s and 90s.
He responded, “Well, I mean what was great about Lucasfilm and working at the ranch, and the big ranch, and so on, there was a lot of autonomy. We were only 30 people in the licensing department, it changed, fluctuated a little bit, we were three or four people in publishing.”
“And those thirty people more or less oversaw international and domestic the entire Star Wars franchise from toys to skateboards to T-shirts to bathroom products to all the books and comics books. Of course publishing was only a small percentage of it,” he continued.
Rinzler added, “The big ticket stuff were the action figures and then they started high-end replicas. I’m not sure when that started, but certainly, it really got going when I was there.”
He then detailed how much autonomy the group had, “There was a lot of autonomy and the idea was, particularly after Episode I. Because Episode I everybody had gotten greedy. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but some people were actually taken aback, ‘I’m going to make a billion dollars off every product I do!'”
He continued, “Star Wars is big, but not that big. So they scaled things back for Episode II and then they maybe didn’t do quite enough. And then Episode III we got it right. By the time we got to 2005 and 2006, it was such a well-oiled machine, but not a machine in the negative sense. It was highly personalized.”
Rinzler continued touting the talent that the company had onboard and hired, “And we all had a good idea of what George wanted because the head of licensing was Howard Rothman, who had been there since 80 or 81. He had known George for a long time and there were other people who had been there 5, 10 years, and then they hired people who they sort of knew got it.”
He elaborated, “Not always there was always a few exceptions and there were people who were let go. But for the most part people understand the ethos and you can’t really define it except to say they should be as close to the feeling of the films as you can get it.”
He went on to provide an example, “For example I would get in really convoluted plot lines sometimes for young adult fiction. And that just wasn’t Star Wars. This is way too complicated. You’ve got to simplify it. It’s just bad storytelling.”
He added, “Or we’ve had one writer who is very much involved in feelings, and was a great writer, but had no sense for the action scenes. You know Star Wars needs action scenes. So you would have to go in and rewrite the actions. And we had the autonomy to just go in and do it. We were good eight hundred pound gorillas.”
Rinzler then details that their customers that included Hasbro, Random House, Dark Horse, and LEGO among others could just pick up the phone and call them without having to deal with a mid level bureaucracy.
He went on to detail that his first day on the job he was given a copy of a VHS for the work in progress for Episode II and he needed to watch it to understand what was going on in order to work on the book surrounding Episode II.
Then as reported by Disney Star Wars Is Dumb, he contrasted this experience with Disney taking over Lucasfilm. Rinzler explained, “When Disney came on, and I will say this, I don’t think it violates any NDA. I had been there for 15 years. I worked with George Lucas for all those 15 years. And I couldn’t see a script for the longest time for The Force Awakens.”
He continued, “And so it was just the polar opposite of ways of working. It was all about control, and fear, and paranoia…”
“Not that Lucasfilm, we had some of that. I mean, it wasn’t like it was heaven on Earth. But it was far and away, like day compared to that night, it was just so much easier, and you know, we didn’t torture the licensees,” he elaborated.
He then continued to compare and contrast Disney with Lucas’ style of management, “Some of them could come in and read the script. Not everybody. But like, you know, the head person, whoever needed to read it for that company, could read it. So that they knew what was going on.”
He concluded, “And so there was just a lot of cooperation, a lot of sharing of information, and a lot of autonomy. If I decided a book was done and good, it was done. It was published.”
You can listen to the rest of the interview above.
What do you make of Rinzler’s comments and the comparison between how George Lucas ran Lucasfilm and how Disney ran it?