Star Wars Insider is the franchise’s long-running official magazine, beginning in 1987 and providing behind-the-scenes looks at the making of movies and tie-in media. As the eighth entry in their ‘Best of’ series, ‘The Saga Begins’ includes highlights from their coverage of the prequels and their immediate aftermath. The entire thing functions as both an informative look at the technical aspects of the filmmaking and a kind of time capsule back to a time when we thought our beloved Star Wars was coming to an end.
The volume groups its pieces by film, presenting them unsurprisingly in chronological order. Content hops between interviews with the films’ stars and pieces on the big names working behind the scenes, presenting them alongside the The first two thirds of the volume is understandably heavy on the former, as Episodes I and II were introducing many new characters and actors to the franchise.
Unfortunately, these interviews are a bit of a drag. Actors speaking to their movie’s official publication are unlikely to provide much in the way of penetrating or salacious insight, and having so many interviews presented together demonstrates just how similar the answers are across the cast. Compounding matters is the fact that so much of the prequels’ worlds were built by CGI, leaving the cast with relatively little to discuss since they were acting primarily on green screen sets with minimal idea of how the films would turn out.
Here is where the quality of the prequels comes into play. Without much to go on, the actors’ interviews frequently make promises about how great the film will turn out. Having lived with the end results for over 15 years now, one cannot help but feel a little saddened hearing all of this excitement for films that would ultimately underwhelm.
Actors’ discussions of the technical aspects of filming or their preparations end up being the most interesting portions of their talks. Yet even here there is a tinge of sadness. Reading about the planning of the lightsaber battles or training schedules is muted by knowing that the end results were frequently over-edited and rarely showed off their work.
Luckily, the pieces on design provide a bright spot. The highlight of the entire feature comes in the Phantom Menace section with an interview with both Ralph McQuarrie, who did preliminary designs for A New Hope, and Doug Chiang, lead designer for the prequels. McQuarrie’s vision has long ruled the visual style of the universe, with even the new films going back to his drawings for inspiration. Hearing him and Chiang discuss their creative processes and the way their ideas came about is fascinating, and a great look into how the prequels got their very specific feel.
Other technical interviews are certainly interesting, but never reach this height. The Revenge of the Sith section in particular is heavy on these interviews, with most of them being the same basic format. There is some good information to be gained from the screenwriters and editors, but your mileage will vary depending on what aspects of filmmaking most interest you.
Overall, this volume is well-intentioned but ultimately unsatisfying. Fans of the franchise will likely have learned most everything that these stories reported on back in the day, and a the generally lacklustre films make all of the excitement these pieces convey kind of sad in hindsight. Outside of the great discussion with McQuarrie and Chiang, fans would be better off investing in something like J.W. Rinzler’s books on the making of the Star Wars movies, which offers much more penetrating insight.