The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic Celebrates A Bold New Vision

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The Art of Star Wars
The Art of Star Wars

Star Wars is famous for taking place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But what went down an even longer time ago in that faraway galaxy? That’s a question Star Wars: The High Republic was designed to answer.

A multimedia initiative encompassing novels, comic books, short stories, audio dramas, and web series, Star Wars: The High Republic is set hundreds of years before the Star Wars movies, during the heyday of the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order. It presents a bold new vision of one of pop culture’s greatest franchises – and The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic (Volume One) is the story of how that vision came together.

Written by Kristin Baver, this 224-page hardcover tome charts the conceptual evolution of the High Republic project from its inception to execution. Alongside Baver’s prose, the book features quotes from many of the writers, artists, and other Lucasfilm personnel who helped shape the High Republic, breaking down the creative process in their own words. Best of all, as its name suggests, The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic also boasts a wealth of sketches, paintings, photos, and illustrations from throughout the High Republic’s first phase.

The depth of creativity these images convey – from the loosest of scribblings to the most refined finished works of art – is staggering. Whether it’s subtle tweaks to the classic aesthetic of the Jedi Knights’ robes or the full-blown invention of Star Wars: The High Republic’s baddies, the Nihil, the inventiveness and artistry on display here is equal to anything found in publisher Abrams’ previous concept art compendiums. Speaking of earlier Art of Star Wars instalments, this latest volume even includes imagery from its predecessors to illustrate instances where the High Republic team has taken influence from (or outright lifted) designs developed for previous entries in the franchise.

This combination of words and imagery lends The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic a pleasing air of thoroughness. That said, Baver shows commendable restraint when it comes to the book’s “making of” text – correctly intuiting that readers are there for the artwork above all else. The upshot of this is that those disappointed by the lack of context supplied in the likes of 2013’s Star Wars: Concept will appreciate The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic following the lead of Abrams’ later, more substantive volumes. If you’re a budding concept artist or just a fan eager to learn more about Star Wars: The High Republic’s evolution, odds are you’ll glean at least some valuable insights from this book.

A word of warning, though: The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic isn’t for the uninitiated. While Baver generally does a good job of explaining the initiative’s key characters, concepts, and locations, she often assumes readers have at least a cursory knowledge of the core High Republic titles released to date.

It’s also worth noting that The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic’s vaguely self-congratulatory tone won’t be to everyone’s taste. Of course, the book is hardly the first of its kind to put a celebratory spin on its source material – and, honestly, it’s hard to blame Baver and her interviews for being proud of The High Republic initiative.

The franchise hasn’t attempted a multimedia project driven primarily by books and comics (and not movies or TV shows) since 1996’s Shadows of the Empire, and its scope is even more ambitious. After all, Shadows of the Empire was (Drew Struzan cover art notwithstanding) conducted largely separate from Lucasfilm’s movie-making arm. By contrast, Star Wars: The High Republic actually recruited Prequel and Sequel Trilogy concept designer Iain McCaig to infuse the project with the same aesthetic as the films.

And as The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic alludes to in its epilogue, the initiative’s second phase is on track to equal and ultimately surpass Shadows of the Empire’s achievements. Not only is a High Republic-era video game on the way, in the form of Quantic Dream’s Star Wars Eclipse, but a tie-in TV series, The Acolyte, is slated to arrive on Disney+ in the near future, too. Unfortunately, there’s no artwork from either of these projects in the book itself – presumably, that’s being held over for the inevitable second volume – however, their very existence means a degree of self-satisfaction in The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic isn’t too hard to swallow.

The only other aspect of the book that might irk some readers is the way Baver occasionally glosses over the bumpier aspects of the High Republic initiative’s gestation and reception. Admittedly, this isn’t always the case. Baver touches on how the George Floyd protests affected the way the writers and artists approached one of Star Wars: The High Republic’s Black characters, and the many and varied implications of the COVID-19 pandemic are a running theme throughout.

What’s missing is any reference to discontent among certain corners of the Star Wars fanbase over the initiative’s more progressive elements, and this rings false. Again, this doesn’t come as much of a shock given this isn’t just a licensed reference book, but also one with a relatively narrow scope (the psychology and behaviour of fans could easily fill another, entirely separate volume). Still, the decision to omit even a vague nod to any kind of backlash towards Star Wars: The High Republic feels a bit too easy, considering the space devoted to other, similar issues.

These are minor nitpicks, though, and The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic does exactly what it sets out to do: tell the story of how a bunch of talented people put a fresh spin on an iconic franchise. What’s more, it achieves this goal with gusto, thanks to its winning blend of insightful prose and lush imagery. The Force is definitely strong with this one.

Review copy provided.

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