The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships and Battles REVIEW

This is not just a journey of Star Wars film - it’s also a history lesson in the art of cinematography.

star wars: ships and battles

So, what did you think of Rise of Skywalker? Whoops, sorry. I’m not actually here to talk about that (this first paragraph will be highly ironic if you read the rest of my review). I am here to talk about The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships and Battles.

Abrams Books has produced a few other Moviemaking Magic volumes, and this latest comes just in time for Rise of Skywalker. Heavy on ship and vehicle conception and creation, but scant on battle details, this book paints a detailed picture of how innovative the first film actually was. Due to the complicated shots required John Dykstra, Alvah J. Miller and Jerry Jeffress worked together to create the first digital motion control photography camera system – the Dystraflex. Although Dykstra doesn’t really do much flexing – he spends most of the included quote talking about how hard the other people on his team worked.

As the prequel trilogy aptly demonstrates, Star Wars may not always deliver on water-tight plots or A* acting, but it is never less than first class in the visual departments. No wonder so many companion and guide books have been released for the background worldbuilding

This is not just a journey of Star Wars film, it’s also a history lesson in the art of cinematography. Many of the visual effects that brought the epic battle of Jedi and Sith to life were pioneered because of George Lucas’ vision. Lucas is well known for updating the old footage of his beloved franchise, particularly A New Hope. As this book explains, he was disappointed with the original cut, feeling that it did not match his vision. When the technology caught up, he could do something about that. The rise of CGI is notable – for the first trilogy most ships were captured through scale models and matte paintings, but by the end of Revenge of the Sith it’s almost entirely CGI and full-scale sets with blue screens. The detail and dedication required to make the miniature ships was so impressive that it’s a shame to see it nearly entirely lost in favour of computers.

Because of the impact Star Wars had on the world of cinema, this book can’t help but be interesting. But less interesting are the promised ‘Special Features’. Abrams’ website promises ‘six-page booklets, accordion folds, and flaps’, along with ‘a sneak peak at some of the vehicles from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I trawled every page of this book and discovered one accordion flap and no sign of the six-page booklets. It’s supposed to be an Abrams Book for Young Readers, but I don’t need force sensitivity to foresee issues with eager hands and fiddly flaps (once unstuck, they quickly become rather annoying).

Additionally, when presented with a cover that claims to be a journey to the making of The Rise of Skywalker, I was expecting a bit more detail on the aforementioned film other than a single page of three concept art sketches, two detailing the same vehicle. All of these “sneak peak” shots were also already revealed in the trailer. If spoilers are such a big issue, why was publication not held off until the movie was out of theatres and more detail could be discussed? With ROS being the closing part of the third trilogy it leaves an otherwise comprehensive book feeling incomplete.

I loved the concept art, the explanation of the techniques used, the quotes from cast and crew, the insights into the creative depths that were trawled to make this insane vision a reality. I just didn’t love how extra flashy it tried to convince me it was going to be, with very little payoff.

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star wars: ships and battles
Come for the cool nerdy facts, but don’t stay for the ‘Exclusive Interactive Features’.