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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STAR WARS STORYBOARDS - THE PREQUELS' BOOK



STAR WARS STORYBOARDS: THE PREQUEL TRILOGY

Edited by J.W. Rinzler

Introduction by Iain McCaig

Published by ABRAMS


Reviewed by Scott Weller


As a shiny new STAR WARS universe gears up for production in conceptual art and animatics at LUCASFILM/BAD ROBOT, this weighty behind the scenes tome from J.W. Rinzler, custodian of the LUCASFILM behind the scenes flames, excels as an enjoyable memory lane trip to an artistic, creative renaissance time in the mid-nineties when the Prequel era of creator George Lucas’s considerable imaginings had not yet been treated with such unfair and often unreasonable disdain by die-hard fans. The beautiful looking adventure and drama of the era presented here through the medium of storyboard storytelling (given new high-resolution scanning life), leading up to the birth of the Empire and Darth Vader is evocatively and chronologically charted, but also proves intriguing for what could have been as well as what would be, within its 350 pages.

In this visual medium, before the equal wonders of animatics would win the decisive realms of movie previsualisation, pictures certainly speak thousands of words- something that Lucas was unafraid to utilise in his three blockbuster films that made would make such an impact on moviegoers lives, ingratiating them and infuriating them in equal measure, between 1999 to 2005.

Here, STAR WARS storytelling, via the emerging computer technology in the special effects field, was finally capable of being of the grand scale that had once previously and exclusively resided in his dreams for so long, eventually going beyond what was seen in the previously iconic and beloved Classic Trilogy. Storyboards and mild animatic had been a key factor in those prior films creations, too, but, but in relations to the all-important first film of the new trilogy-The Beginning, later becoming The Phantom Menace, STAR WARS for the next generation if you like -they would be more important than ever in planning the huge special effects and stunt work needed to bring the adventures of Anakin Skywalker and co. to life.

Within its pages we get to see how new characters like comedic amphibian Jar Jar Binks and baddie Sith Lord Darth Maul would evolve within the art, alongside some of the abandoned ideas and concepts linked to them (intriguingly, Maul would almost be of the female persuasion, in the form of martial arts superstars of the time Maggie Cheung or Brigitte Ling, long before the arrival of Sith Witch/assassin Asajj Ventress).

Further foundation building journeying through STORYBOARDS reveals the necessary evolving state of play on the films, especially at the beginning of the new saga, from script to storyboard to screen, and often, in life influencing art, from storyboard to script to screen, too, especially if the influenced Lucas liked certain things coming out of the artists powerhouse.Soon making their cinematic mark in the blossoming worlds of CGI, the battle of Naboo and the first act of the Clone Wars conflict on the hostile Geonosis have some splendid prior artwork.

Unused energetic ideas show us more on the Trade Federation droid takeover of Naboo, the Gungan battle (Jar Jar riding a Stap bike during the conflict looks like it could have been genuinely funny) and the appearance and fighting styles of the more Samurai-like Jedi pairing of Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan learner, Obi-Wan Kenobi. There’s other sequences that were either filmed yet cut for time, or scrapped in advance for proving too costly to the films budgeting or clashing with the nature/tone of the evolving screenplays. 

The talents of the cutting-edge team working in the attic of SKYWALKER RANCH, under the direction of soon STAR WARS legend Iain McCaig, are well showcased through the book, alongside notes from him and other key talents (including Benton Jew, Rodolfo Damaggio and Derek Thompson). McCaig also contributes some new storyboards specifically for the book, notably for the death of Darth Maul-the character he would become most responsible for visually. In these early days, two years before live-action filming commenced on EPISODE I in 1997, its interesting to see the way these new, some old, heroes are visualized prior to actor casting, portrayed by the artists in a different light to they way they would ultimately become, especially little Anakin Skywalker and the Jedi.

EPISODE I has the most storyboards, pretty much all presented here, alongside key action sequences from EPISODEs II and III (the animatics process now starting to take on a life of its own during pre-production from II onwards). Epic battles, incredible vistas and intriguing new aliens to be realised into model and CGI life- moments that only cinema can provide are charted- like the superb adrenaline charged Pod Race through Tatooine’s Jundland Wastes, and the climactic duel between Darth Maul and venerable heroes Jinn and Kenobi. Plus a look at the last minute addition by Lucas of the Geonosian Droid Factory sequence to EPISODE II, which had to be storyboarded in its entirety as a shooting reference, as there was no time to animatic it. EPISODE III presents us with many of the epic ideas that McCaig and his team had for the vital opening of the film-the battle of Coruscant and the rescue of the captured Palpatine from General Grievous (whose conflicts against sworn enemy Kenobi are a major part of this section, going into their final confrontation on Mustafar), and the final cataclysmic scenes relating to Anakin Skywalker, now at one with the dark side, and Obi-Wan- a particular sequence of events that fans had been waiting, anticipating, for years since reading about the fall and rise of Darth Vader in a popular STAR WARS poster magazine in 1978.

Despite a few tantalising sequences which I'd hoped to see not present (primarily EPISODE III's ORDER 66 sequence- was this ever storyboarded?), and a bit of a dearth of big text on the way the art/storyboarding team came together and evolved their work processes over eight years beyond whats noted in the foreword and introduction pages, STAR WARS STORYBOARDS is overall a sumptuous package in the way it shows the power of pencil and imagination in such a memorable and effective way.

AFICIONADO RATING: Another essential purchase for fans to celebrate, STAR WARS STORYBOARDS – THE PREQUELS is an aspirational and enjoyable product. Let’s hope it’s not too long before the Classic Trilogy gets a deserved book in this area as well. 4 out of 5


STAR WARS.COM feature on the book: Star Wars Storyboards—The Prequels  Book Announced | Star Wars Blog

Storyboard artist Benton Jew's blog: bentonsblog




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