The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

by J.W. Rinzler

published by Ballantine/Del Rey

224 pages, 2005

The Art of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith

by J.W. Rinzler

published by Ballantine/Del Rey

224 pages, 2005

Star Wars Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith

by Miles Lane

published by Dark Horse Comics

96 pages, 2005

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

by John Williams

Sony Classical, 2005




Closing Chapter

Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum


When I started writing this review, I had not yet seen Revenge of the Sith. Now, however, I have -- twice -- and I can tell you that it's a terrific movie. Though this isn't a film review, I'll just take a moment to say that Lucas has made an intelligent, visually striking, emotionally stirring film. We all know the tale of Anakin Skywalker and we know he is heading to the dark side, so watching this movie is a bit like watching Titanic. All you want is for them to slow the ship down or turn it sooner or something, because if they don't, they're doomed. Likewise, all you want here is for Anakin to make another choice, any choice that won't take him down that dark path.

But, of course, that path has been carved in stone, or at least in celluloid, for where this film leaves off, the original Star Wars takes up. Anakin must become Darth Vader -- there's no two ways about it. But with every moment and every decision, you mourn the loss of what could have been. And that makes for an awesome movie experience.

It's been 28 years since May 1977 when Star Wars first hit theaters. There was an innocence to the rather scrappy tale about a bunch of scrappy heroes in scrappy spaceships, all trying to save the universe from the evil Vader.

What a trip we've all been on since then. We've toggled back and forth between Democratic and Republican administrations. We've avoided wars and participated in them. We've seen terrorism rear its ugly head. And we've seen the rise of a rather questionable guy to the highest position in the known universe.

So against all this, can the Star Wars saga possibly stack up? It can, does, and always will.

To me, Star Wars has always been a morality play that reflected our world rather neatly. The films' universe was a messy place politically, socially, every which way, with many kinds of beings from many different planets and systems. But they all managed to live more or less harmoniously until a certain Chancellor began laying the foundation for the evil Empire. It made me think, sometimes, how come we can't all manage to get along, being from the same planet and all.

Anyway, now that Sith brings us the only chapter previously missing, you can immerse yourself in the movie and then enjoy the tie-in books that bring you all the elements that didn't make it up onto the silver screen.

There's an inevitable making-of book, a gorgeous book of art (production sketches, computer generated paintings, and the like) and even a graphic novel (or comic book for anyone who was a kid back in 1977.)

The Making Of follows the film's production from the moment Lucas started work on it in 2000 through to the film's editing in late 2004. (There's a last chapter, available only online, that covers the film's final editing and scoring by John Williams.) It's an immensely enjoyable book for anyone who cares about the series or this film in particular. J.W. Rinzler got the dream job of being there to talk to virtually everyone involved in making the film, from Lucas himself, producer Rick McCallum, to the assistant whose name we'll never know.

The comprehensive narrative is tight, fascinating and filled with quotes, insights and the kind of production details that make fanboys' mouths water. There are also hundreds of production photographs of just about every aspect of filmmaking one could wish for. Of course the book is one massive spoiler, giving everything away, so wait to buy the book until after you've seen the movie.

The Art Of is another story altogether. The word for it is "glorious." It contains hundreds of sketches, drawings, paintings and more. You'll find designs that made their way into the movie, plus many that, while not approved by Lucas, are fascinating explorations of the larger idea.

The book appeals on many levels, but the in-depth mining of the conceptual artists' imaginations is front and center. Best, the book offers glimpses into what Sith might have been if Lucas had chosen different designs. It's almost too delicious. With digital filmmaking a reality, one can almost see Lucas making different versions of the same movie, with entirely different sets of design elements. (I know, I know: Don't give him any ideas!)

Back in the time of Star Wars, conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie helped Lucas visualize parts of that film's universe. He famously drew the first versions of Vader and Luke and other key characters. I'd guess that McQuarrie hooked Lucas on the idea that highly-detailed art could make for highly-detailed filmmaking down the line. Rather than just storyboard, which helps in the blocking of scenes, conceptual art helps a writer and director see what things look like: characters, worlds, scenes, ships, weapons, costumes.

What Lucas has that other filmmakers do not is an on-hand staff of artists whose imaginations fuel (and are fueled by) his. Together, they build whole worlds for Anakin and Luke and Han; for these characters, they are literally God.

The Sith graphic novel is the movie in comic-book form. It's not the eye-popping art, nor is it the actual film discussed in the Making Of book; rather, it's a sort-of faithful adaptation of the movie. In this case, the graphic novel isn't even a tenth of the film in terms of art or storytelling. Key details are changed or left out altogether. So if it's a souvenir of the film you want, look elsewhere.

Now, I know this is essentially a book review, but if you want my advice, these are books best read while listening to music -- and the music of choice would be the magnificent Sith score by John Williams. The CD features more than an hour of music from the film, and it's among the series' best scores. The action cues are hypnotic, and the quieter moments are by turns sinister, mysterious and tragic.

The CD package also includes an exclusive DVD containing over an hour of specially-made mini-movies. It's a tribute both to Williams and to the music itself, which is used here to score film montages that track the Skywalker saga from The Phantom Menace (Episode I) through Return of the Jedi (Episode VI). This gift from Lucas to all those who love the movies (I mean that: it adds nothing to the cost of the CD) is almost a Cliffs Notes version of the series: one hour of historic filmmaking.

It's worth noting that Williams has composed the music for all six films, so he's had the chance to weave all sorts of goodies into the mix. For example, in Sith he's included musical motifs from the original trilogy as well as the two recent prequels. In particular, he uses one of the series' most beloved melodies to tie this film directly to the next.

Because the films were made out of order, Williams found himself composing music for episodes one, two and three that needed to both echo and foreshadow themes from episodes four, five and six. Listening to all the music in order, you'll be amazed at the dozens of intricate moments Williams had to cover with such precision. The music had to sound all of a piece, yet the score for each film also had to feel distinct.

John Williams's work on Revenge of the Sith is spectacular. It's the perfect ending to a film cycle that's lasted nearly 30 years: and the best way to lose yourself, after you've seen the final chapter, in the fascinating books that chronicle the creation of the film itself. | May 2005


Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse and a contributing editor to January Magazine and Blue Coupe. He and his family live in Lawrenceville, New Jersey where he is hard at work on an exciting new chapter in his life.