BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

the art of Star wars
The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Phil Szostak © Abrams Books, 2015 (C) 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. And TM. All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization
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The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fascinating book on the creation of a new myth. It shows the visual development of the latest Star Wars movie, all the way from the basic concept through to the post-production.

Readers will see ideas that were fully realized on screen. They will also see some that were stillborn, sidetracked or unused (as of yet.) This is the raw material that these characters evolved out of.

Here the characters we know –heroine Rey and Stormtrooper Finn– are Kira and Sam. Villain Kylo Ren was called the Jedi Killer. Pilot Poe Dameron is called John Doe.

The older characters are re-imagined. One painting suggested smuggler-cum-Rebellion general Han Solo wear a long duster coat instead of his “new” jacket – which resembled his old one so much that his ex-wife Princess-now-General Leia Organa comments on it in the movie.

They created new worlds for the Star Wars universe – the pivotal over-baked desert planet of Jakku, the ominous snowy Star Killer base, and the lush green home of bar owner Maz Kanata.

Star Wars started in the imagination of producer George Lucas over three decades ago.

As he made the first six movies, he handed over his ideas to separate generations of talented artists to make reality of them. Their designs, drawings and paintings would start the long path to an actual film that you watch while munching popcorn.

Photo from the Art of Star Wars book showing lightsabers
“Saber Studies” – “You can see the little trigger crystal on the far right one—that’s the most primitive lightsaber there is. All this aluminum-milled stuff, that’s all just for safety and styling.” Artist: Church from “The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

After the 2005 film Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, the movies stopped coming.

In 2012, Lucas sold his company to The Walt Disney Company.

In creating a new future for the franchise, Disney went back the past.

They hired artists that had worked on the earlier films to give continuity in the very visually distinctive Star Wars universe. Production designers Rick Carter and concept artist Doug Chiang (from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones) came aboard bringing in artists such as Iain McCaig, Craig Alzmann and many others.

In the start of The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Carter points out that during the creation of the plot and writing “the art can spark other ideas or stand as thematic milestones for the ongoing screenwriting and visual development progress.”

In other words, the art fed the writing, which would produce more art that would…you get it. The creativity flowed back and forth.

For most generations of Star Wars artists it all started with the work of Star Wars conceptual designer Ralph McQuarrie and the others. For Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the visual designers visited the archives at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Ranch.

Tiemens says, “There was something so tangible about the physical presence of the originals. That was our spiritual launching point.”

from The Art of Star Wars showing Han Solo facing a droid with his blaster drawn.
“Han Solo” – “Iain (McCaig) and I were thinking about Jeff Bridges in True Grit [2010]. Everyone loved the idea of a duster and the long combed-back hair with the beard. They wanted it to look like the old Sergio Leone–style posters.” Artist: Alzmann from “The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
It wasn’t only the writing that was nourished. So was the background of the Star Wars universe.

A caption on a series of lightsaber studies by Ryan Church says “You can see the little trigger crystal on the far right one – that’s the most primitive lightsaber there is. All this aluminum-milled stuff, that’s all just for safety and styling.”

The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens even gives us a peek at the future. IT says The UK art department team has moved on to Episode VIII and the new Star Wars: Rogue One movie due out in 2016.

Summary

The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is full of imagination, creativity and the continuation of a cinematic saga.

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