Besides the films themselves, many of us Star Wars fans look forward to those days when we can get our hands on the ancillary products that accompany them. Indeed, it seems nearly a requirement nowadays that when a film is released, to get the entire picture, you need the expanded novel, the visual dictionary, and of course, the “Art of…” hardcover.
Each one brings something unique to the coffee table, giving you as many pieces of the puzzle as possible to help you see the complete narrative. And as such, if the expanded story-elements belong to the novel, and the facts and canonical particulars can be found in the visual dictionary, then the soul, the vision, lies within the pages of the “Art of…” books.
So, with today’s release of “The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, we finally get to see the beating heart, the root of the final film in the Skywalker Saga. And, as with past editions, this one is imposing in both content and presentation.
Published by Abrams Books and written by Phil Szostak, including a beautiful forward by legend Doug Chiang, the book is not just an accounting of BTS concept, production, and post-production art, no, it’s a journey. A journey through the creative process behind one of the biggest films of all time told by some of the most talented artists working today, many of whom you’ll recognize if you’ve been paying attention.
Christian Alzmann, Glyn Dillon, Ryan Church, and Jock, to name just a few, are all present and accounted for and many names from the production side chime in with anecdotal tidbits and bits of trivia, giving many of the images a story unto themselves. You'll hear from the likes of Neil Scanlon, Rick Carter, and Chris Terrio as Phil weaves in and out of production taking us all the way back to the first art department meeting in October of 2017.
As for Phil, he’s written every “Art of…” book in the Disney era save “Rogue One” (Josh Kushins) and is uniquely qualified as Lucasfilm’s Creative Art Manager, having his hand in just about everything these days. On a side note, his Twitter account for my money is the best thing going as far as Star Wars content is concerned, I encourage you to check it out.
A long-time fan at heart, his passion for the artistic side of this medium is evident and his firm grasp on its place in Star Wars history is clear and focused. Now, having said that, the book’s focus isn’t a word count per se, but when Phil does chime in, it’s worth considering. Not only for the above-mentioned qualifications, but also because he’s in a unique position to see these projects in their most rawest of forms and early stages.
And it’s these stages that are represented on the pages in this book in spectacular fashion. You’ll find early, never-used, and fully realized concepts of many of the characters, ships, and locations which appear in the final cut of the film. You can see the creators using the artistic process to brainstorm ideas and make narrative decisions based on what comes across in the art.
Everything starts with an idea, and before cameras are rolling or a single digital effect is added, these pieces of art give the director and writers their very first opportunity to see their vision come to life. It's also an opportunity for the visual and creature effects wizards to start planning their year!
Highlights include a David Bowie-esque “Star Man” pilot concept by Calum Alexander Watt, some Dark Rey pieces by Glyn Dillon that will keep you up at night, and unused “Oracle” concepts by Lunt Davies that will stretch your imagination. You’ll also wonder how many different, and similar, drawings of D-O you can possibly look at, the answer? A lot.
You see where some characters that didn’t get a lot of screen time, likely had bigger roles in the beginning with more expansive and detailed concepts. Zorii Bliss, the Kijimi spice runner who helps Poe, Rey and the rest get to Babu and off-planet safely, went through a few different iterations. In the words of costume concept artist Calum Alexander Watt, they “revised her patchwork and nomadic elements into amore refined look, giving her a flight suit and a huge cape of some alien fur.”
There was also concepts that involved more of her gang/henchmen, something we don’t really see in the film. One such piece by Watt has Bliss in more of a passive, leadership role, letting her men do the dirty work. Great stuff.
As far as the MacGuffin is concerned, what ended up being wayfinders and a Sith knife, went through dozens of notions and concepts before landing on what we saw in the film. As prop concept designer Matthew Savage says, “the MacGuffin was the kill switch for all First Order tech, constructed over many generations by an Empire-hating alien race.”
I must admit, looking at these mock-ups and drawings, and reading the first-hand accounts, I can’t help but feel these would have improved the final version of the film. This isn’t in every case mind you; most concepts are just that, concepts, and are better left on the cutting room floor.
One of those abstract ideas that I was certainly glad to see not make it past the concept stage, while fun, was the idea of have a “BB Tank” Yes, a massive Resistance rolling tank made to look like our favorite rolling droid, BB-8, color scheme et al. Creature concept designer Jake Lunt Davies even himself thought so, saying “I was just having some fun with this tank. I’m not sure I would have actually wanted to see it realized in the final film.”
Easily the most disturbing images are courtesy of artists Ryan Church, Bob Cheshire, and Adam Brockbank. In Rae Carson’s expanded novel, we get an interrogation scene between Kylo Ren and Chewbacca, something J.J. Abrams completely skipped over. I can certainly make the argument as to why it should have been included, the emotional impact alone would’ve been worth it, but in the end I’m sure J.J. thought it to be too dark a scene.
But it’s clear it was on the table at some point, whether it was left over from Trevorrow’s script or not, I have no idea, but these pieces are haunting. Seeing Chewbacca shackled and chained, something we know he’s experienced too many times, being tortured by someone he’s known, and loved, since they were a child…tough stuff. Maybe it’s best they didn’t include it!
For my money, the planet surface and scenery illustrations are the best the book has to offer. Whether it’s early Rebel Base/Blockade Runner ideas, the bogs and swamps of Mustafar, or the Egyptian inspired ruins on Exogol, artists Chris Voy, James Clyne, Michael Sheffels, and Brett Northcutt indeed create ultra-realistic settings that are a marvel to look at.
But like I said, it’s not just a book full of pretty pictures; it’s a chronicling of the long process that envelope these films which, from concept to screen, takes years to make. To give you an idea of how many moving pieces there are and the juggling act that’s often required, Phil points to several instances where Skywalker wasn’t the only show in town.
Coming off the holiday break in January of 2018, which for J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio meant more writing and re-writing, the Lucasfilm Art Departments were busy to say the least. Not only were they deep into The Rise of Skywalker, but they were also in the middle of pick-ups and reshoots on “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and had begun pre-production on “The Mandalorian”, all within the same week!
The three art departments, based in San Francisco, Santa Monica, and Pinewood, all working, all coordinating, all involved in massive Star Wars projects and Phil puts things in perspective for us. He time stamps much of his contributions and name drops the key players so that we always have a pretty good idea of where we are in the production timeline and who’s involved. Indeed, Phil shows as much reverence for the folk’s involved and the hard work they put in, than the remarkable images themselves.
As for the physical book itself, it’s weighty, like those before it, and feels substantial in your hands. It’ll look great either on your coffee table as a conversation piece, or on your bookshelf next to the others (that’s where mine goes).
The jacket art by Alzmann and Stephen Tappin is awesome and look underneath for an incredible bit of case art by Andrée Wallin and Tappin. Shoutout to Liam Flanagan from Abrams for the design of the book which is equally top shelf.
Personally, regardless of my thoughts on the films, the “Art of…” books are a must-have and essential reading in my opinion, so no matter what, I’m getting them. And like I said, the quality lies not just in the pictures themselves (which are great), but in the story the book manifests. By combining these images, not only with the artists but with personal accounts from those that were there, they've created a narrative that makes this book decidedly compelling.
The bottom line is, if you really want something cool that reminds you of the creative process at its best, this is a great place to start!
Here's the publisher's summary and check out exclusive images from inside the book below!
Go inside the creative process behind the most anticipated film of the century. The latest trilogy in the Star Wars film series brings the Skywalker Saga to a close and The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will take readers into the creative process behind visualizing the epic worlds, creatures, characters, costumes, weapons, and vehicles of the landmark conclusion more than 40 years in the making.
“I did the ones with the splashes of red. The idea is that they scavenge stuff from the Death Star, so you see little bits of elements of what she would have found—which is echoing Rey and The Force Awakens, with her storm trooper goggles."
Art by Glyn Dillon
Art by Ivan Manzella
Art by Luke Fisher
“These were very early designs. We knew J.J. wanted to bring the helmet back, so we started with the approach that Kylo had built a new helmet. I took the current design and began adding more of the Vader aesthetic, as if Kylo were paying homage to his grandfather. We then met with J.J. and discovered the helmet was to be a repaired version of the original.”
Art by Luke Fisher
Art by Chris Voy
Art by Adam Brockbank
If you haven't ordered a copy of "The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" yet and would like to, click HERE!
"The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" by Phil Szostak, and Lucasfilm Ltd. © Abrams Books, 2020
(C) 2020 Lucasfilm Ltd. And TM. All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization
*Cover art by Christian Alzmann
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