Inside the Star Wars Empire: A Memoir is a new book by Bill Kimberlin, who has worked in Hollywood for decades and uses his knowledge of behind-the-scenes movie making to present a stellar depiction of what it really takes to make movie magic. Kimberlin has spent much of his time in Hollywood within the inner circle of George Lucas’ Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). Having worked to make numerous movies over the years, most notably Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Kimberlin has an intimate knowledge of the industry. That knowledge, as well as his obvious love of movie making, rolls out page by page as he recounts stories from his life in Tinseltown.
The book opens with a quote, “We know the pharaohs well, but not the men who built their tombs.” George Lucas is, of course, the pharaoh in this comparison. Bill Kimberlin, then, is equating himself to one of the unknown tomb builders. This guy, though, has been a stalwart member of the glitz and glam of Hollywood since the 70’s! He’s just been behind the camera making the magic happen. This status gives him the ability to be the proverbial fly on the wall. So, through his career, he’s gotten to interact with everyone from George Lucas to Harrison Ford and Stephen Spielberg to Eddie Murphy. Kimberlin’s book includes stories of these icons of Hollywood and more. He delves into not only his experiences with what movies he’s worked on and who he’s worked with, but he also goes into the processes of how some of the genius special effects he’s worked with actually happen.
The format of the book is, itself, a cool setup. Kimberlin breaks his substantial career out over time as he became involved with different movies. So, while you have an overarching, recurring foray into his career steps with George Lucas and Star Wars, you also have chapters devoted to Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future, The Mask, Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List. Each of these, naturally, cover his experiences with those movies as well as his own career and life at those times. Kimberlin has worked on so many movies that the likes of Star Trek, Forrest Gump, and Saving Private Ryan don’t even make the cut as chapters!
Naturally, as it’s in the title, Star Wars and George Lucas are covered quite a bit. Back in 1979, Kimberlin directed a documentary on drag racing called American Nitro that caught Lucas’ eye to the point that Kimberlin was invited into the fold. From capturing drag racers on the streets, Bill was catapulted into space to create the enormous space battle scene from Return of the Jedi. I consider myself a huge Star Wars fan, I’ve read stories about it, listened to interviews with the cast, you name it. However, this memoir still told me so many things I hadn’t previously known.
The title Inside the Star Wars Empire means more than Star Wars, though. Rather, Bill Kimberlin was brought into LucasFilm’s inner circle and became a department head in ILM. This memoir, then, chronicles Kimberlin’s time with Lucas in general. If you ever watch the credits at the end of movies, you’ve likely noticed that ILM has had its hands in a great many movies since its inception. Kimberlin was there for most of them!
ILM is known as the special effects branch of LucasFilm. So, Kimberlin has been behind a ton of special effects over the years. Since this is his memoir, accounts of dealing with those special effects are, of course, included. He even describes the inner workings of how some of those effects were pulled off.
Peppering the chapters randomly throughout the book, readers will be delighted to see that Kimberlin has included snapshots of many of his experiences. Although he often goes into great detail in the text on how some of the special effects worked, the photos add to that explanation. After all, a picture is worth a 1,000 words! Reading through the book, you get to see pictures of Bill doing things that range from sitting with George Lucas, filming a miniature DeLorean on the set of Back to the Future 3, giving directions to Red Skelton, or simply blowing things up!
There are also chapters that cover funny, anecdotal interactions with the famous people he’s encountered. Each of these stories ring true, and often comical, as only a real studio insider could tell them. Whether commenting on Chevy Chase catching flack from director John Carpenter on the set of Memoirs of an Invisible Man, quietly questioning John McTiernan on the set of The Hunt for Red October, or listening to Joel Silver scream about budget increases on the set of Die Hard 2, Kimberlin relays his experiences from countless productions. All the interactions included in this memoir aren’t huge, some are mundane and ordinary, but they’re funny regardless. For example, once, while wearing a fedora, Bill even hilariously got a double take from Harrison Ford while walking past him.
Reading this memoir, from a man in the trenches of Hollywood, the reader is given an insight to movies that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. While I don’t think I’d consider Kimberlin one of the “unknown builders of a pharaoh’s tomb” since he’s made his mark in Hollywood, even directing a couple of documentaries himself, his self-assessment as such makes this book all the better. Other writers likely would have made the stories more self-centric, but Kimberlin acts as a reporter of all things Hollywood, bringing out the real stories that come from making so many movies.
Throughout Inside the Star Wars Empire, it’s obvious Bill Kimberlin loves not only the work he’s been involved in but also the film industry itself. People say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Kimberlin seems to fit this bill, even though he’s clearly been a hard worker, persistently getting movies done for decades. Also, he is obviously a fan of old Hollywood. Whether quoting old actors like Groucho Marx or old movies like The Misfits (1961), his love of movies and movie making shines brightly throughout this entire memoir. He’s like that one friend of yours that loves movies so much that they know every movie, the actors, and the dialogue. However, Kimberlin took his love of movies and turned it into an incredible career where he was able to work with amazing people and on great movie projects as well.
Bill Kimberlin’s stories of actors and movies are fascinating. Since the stories so clearly come from his heart, there’s a depth to the memoir that will surely captivate readers. If you’re a fan of Hollywood, Kimberlin’s memoir will speak to your inner movie lover. Beyond that, though, if you’d love hearing the behind the scenes of a life in film making, I’d highly recommend this book.
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