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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

AFICIONADO CLASSIC REVIEW: 'SCULPTING A GALAXY' BOOK BY LORNE PETERSON


SCULPTING A GALAXY: INSIDE THE STAR WARS MODEL SHOP

By Lorne Peterson

Published by INSIGHT EDITIONS


Reviewed by Scott Weller


As one of the few people residing in the very privileged club to have worked on all six STAR WARS films, special effects man/model maker Lorne Peterson’s knowledge and anecdotes to fans over the years on the behind the scenes and model building side of the making of our favorite six movie saga had us all crying out “when are you going to do a book on the subject?!”. And, rather brilliantly, he now has! A highly detailed, thoughtfully and stunningly designed hardcover, in fact, that presents us with all the things we wanted, nay demanded, to know about the universe of STAR WARS creations brought to life from George Lucas's imagination, as well as providing a perfect opportunity for a beautiful photographic resume of both his and ILM’s talents in which up and coming model makers of the future will be thrilled to see fantastic close in shots of all the detailed models built for use in the saga. From the beautiful originality of the heroic Millennium Falcon starship and the Rebellion’s X-wing fighters, to the majestic evil of the Imperial Star Destroyers, to the environments of the Prequels planets like Geonosis and Naboo, it’s all here to savor. The Original Saga shines out like a beacon the most-it has more of an edge on the Prequels, but the detail for the latter is much welcomed-the models here being more beautiful than ground breaking but nonetheless still having the distinctive STAR WARS flavour that imitators of the saga can only dream about matching. In many ways, the Prequel designs are a perfect example of pulp science fiction adventure craft that feels both new and familiar all at the same time-the very feeling and instincts within us that Lucas specifically, and successfully, wants us to have when watching these movies.

Lorne (far right in red shirt) with the original 1976/77 STAR WARS model-making team.

There are also some lovely little information snippets amongst the how we did this text, and the detail with which Peterson, ILM and the model making team goes to bring their imaginary universe of George Lucas’s to life are superb. There are also some great quotes and anecdotes, including one that tickled my laughter belly: the story of the JEDI ILM team members “appropriating” specific rare foilage from the outside porch of a San Francisco Doctor’s office to illustrate the Endor jungle (with the local cops, finding out that their caught prey is working for LUCASFILM, soon letting them go when they find out they are working on the new STAR WARS). Also fun is Lorne Peterson’s playful RETURN OF THE JEDI conversation with Lucas about how much it would cost to build the second DEATH STAR should they need to, as well as other early stories about ILM’s genesis and its unlikely cinematic heroes on and off camera.

The photo sections, part of a book which is equally beautifully printed and bound, are much appreciated and the stills photography (though many pics are not rare) is used well alongside the stunning high quality still-life shots of the models (the Millennium Falcon model, after all these years, still looks amazing)-all illustrated with further little technical bits of how they were constructed, and further great stuff on ideas and concepts that were never developed (or at least not yet developed!! LUCASFILM never wastes a good idea!!). The Falcon, the Walkers, Snowspeeders, the planetary civilizations, all have that beautiful, lived in universe look that propelled STAR WARS into our collective consciousness (and keep an eye out for some of the photographed spacecraft built for the films that didn’t make the final cuts, too!). There is a useful section at the end of the book, too, listing all of the models built and used for the films and a photo list of all the creative geniuses who brought them to practical reality. We salute you all!
 

Lorne with a TIE fighter model from STAR WARS.

To compliment the photos, Peterson’s writing style is very good and the book will not blind you with sciences on all the techniques used in the film–making process, and regarding the construction of the models. The info is there but it’s all very accessible and always fascinating. It’s a fine read. Having met Mister Peterson, I can more than say that he is a very amiable, friendly man, also very dedicated to his craft, and the written words of the book are a perfect companion to his mindset and talents. Cementing the authors abilities are some nice complimentary words from Mister Lucas himself (in the Preface), as well as Rick McCallum (the Foreword) and equally groundbreaking effects pioneer Phil Tippett (the Afterword).

The even more expansive 3,000 copies only limited edition box set of the hardback edition, similar to Trisha Biggar’s beautiful costumes book of a few years back, of which there just may be a few copies of both still available online (but probably at very exorbitant collectors prices) also comes with rare unique materials (including an extra booklet, seven replica pieces from the films and a model of Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder), and a DVD of Lorne’s personal and professional memories of making the epic saga, with rare footage and photos that will delight you further, and also including my personal favourite rarity of Peterson’s: the original concept and insert filming for the conflict between Obi-Wan and Pondo Baba (to me he’ll always be Walrus Man!!) in the Mos Eisley Cantina, supervised by Gary Kurtz which were eventually cut for reasons of being too gruesome!! Decapitation wouldn’t really appear again until ATTACK OF THE CLONES and it was far less gory!!

SCULPTING THE GALAXY is the perfect celebration of the model makers and effects men’s craft-and its a real shame that the model department, in this new age of CGI, doesn’t exist as part of ILM anymore-now a separate entity in it’s own right and diversified for use by film companies all over Hollywood and beyond. Regardless of this fact though, we shall continue to enjoy the created models and sheer hard work of the effect technicians, not only on our STAR WARS saga, but many others over twenty eight years, for a long time to come.


Lorne Peterson talking STAR WARS for the 2004 EMPIRE OF DREAMS documentary.

AFICIONADO RATING: A lovely read and one that will appeal to all, not just the model and effects connoisseurs. 8 out of 10

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