Thursday, 15 August 2013


A universe takes shape in STAR WARS: THE BLUEPRINTS - out now from TITAN BOOKS.


Compiled and written by J.W. Rinzler

Preface by Norman Reynolds
Foreword by Gavin Bocquet

Published in the UK by TITAN BOOKS

Reviewed by Scott Weller

Finally available to UK readers, and at an affordable price, from those kind people at TITAN BOOKS, J. W. Rinzler’s love-letter to the dedicated talents of our home-grown STAR WARS design talents, STAR WARS: THE BLUEPRINTS, delivers much for delighted readers to savour, proving a visual treat for both dedicated STAR WARS behind the scenes buffs and film historians in general.

Lavishly composed and printed, it’s a wonderful tribute and timeline to the evolving production history of STAR WARS and its true building block genesis into a series of epic, groundbreaking motion pictures, whilst also being a worthy and very dignified companion to Rinzler’s equally epic trilogy of Classic Saga Making of books.

Like Indiana Jones with the Holy Grail, Rinzler has his creative grip on most of the best surviving archived material-meticulously designed work- from the original films, and also a choice selection from the later Prequels. Its 250 blueprints are backed up with 500 rare photos (a good third of which have never been seen before) consolidating what must be the greatest assemblage, and most immaculate printing yet, of such important behind the scenes artwork.

The beginnings of a movie design legend. All images: © LUCASFILM LIMITED.

Around the blueprints (all brilliantly re-photographed by the LightSource company), ten of which are revealed in lovely gatefold spreads, plus the colour and B/W images inside a lovely design package from Kate Benezra, Rinzler charts the vital warts-and-all genesis of the behind the scenes creative aspects-how a universe of fantasy and imagination became so real on the celluloid and digital screen.

From a small start at Lee Studios, London in late 1975, as backers TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX deliberately dithered about the original films initial budget with writer/director George Lucas and showed little enthusiasm to get it made whatsoever, the project was pushed on at the time only by the young film-maker’s stubborn belief that young people wanted to see a new type of film entertainment, and from his profits linked to AMERICAN GRAFFITI that were now starting to trickle through. His chosen UK designers were soon starting to get stuck in with the project, at first known as THE STAR WARS, primarily with John Barry and Set Decorator, later director, Roger Christian getting caught up the most in Lucas’s imagination and possibilities for the fantasy film, and the tricks and construction process they would expertly need to keep the film in budget at the same time-generating some tricks old, some new and revolutionary, like the buying-in of used scrap aircraft parts in 1975 by Christian.

But its the immense and impressive work of John Barry that finally gets the recognition it deserves in BLUEPRINTS, part of a fine building tribute to him seen throughout Rinzler’s behind the scenes tomes these last seven or eight years. A quiet, unassuming man who was dedicated to his art and profession, Barry worked very well with Lucas in bringing the first Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnson illustrations and concepts from the US to life for filming at Elstree and Shepperton Studios, and creating his own equally important new sets (the book has some great unpublished finds linked to Barry’s black and white art, especially for Tatooine- there’s a terrific rare 1976 illustration showing the planned, but eventually abandoned for time and money, Tunisian filming for a Jawa village sequence- a location eventually used in EPISODE I).

Created from Barry and co.’s original schematic layouts upwards, via crucial, well-thought out design skills and decision-making, an emerging universe of the important and now iconic technology, droids and weapons would come to practically built fruition, as well as floor plans of sets and layouts linked to environments for evocative travel and battle scenes (Classic Trilogy standouts from the UK team are showcased by THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK- some amazing art shows the route of the Imperial Walker’s battle advance towards the Rebel Base and its vital power generators, as well as a full breakdown of the Base’s interior (including three hangars)- even if most of it was never built for the screen, the thought behind the work lends ever more credibility to the overall fantasy environs and the way they should ultimately look on camera).

Collecting spare parts in 1975, then Oscars in 1978!

The original 1977 released film provides the most fascinating genesis story within BLUEPRINTS, with its barely three months of pre-production work showing incredible draftsmanship and dedication on display by the UK design and construction crews- a fraught but ultimately rewarding time for all concerned, uniquely adding to the “used universe” requirements of Lucas that went beyond anything seen in previous sci-fi and fantasy films, and proved the benchmark for things to come. As well as fighting FOX and the inexorable vagaries of time, Lucas and his designers would also face the often bewildered disdain and mocking of a small fraction of the UK filming crew, despite their variety of movie-making experience, based at Elstree during the middle of 1976 (The book particularly, subtly, shows very little love from the designers towards the films British Special Effects expert, John Stears).

More landmark highlights across the first three films include the two design challenges of the Millennium Falcon- the classic we know today and the original that changed shape due to it’s looking too similar to the Eagle Transporter from 1975’s SPACE: 1999 TV series (though sadly, there’s very little on the resurrected Falcon prop with its use in JEDI- the deleted sandstorm scene does get a page and a layout as to the placing of the vehicles for the sequence), EMPIRE’s immense Rebel Base hangar (so big the newly built STAR WARS stage was still too small to accommodate it!) and Bespin’s Carbon Freezing Chamber, JEDI’s Jabba the Hutt Throne Room (built off the floor to accomodate monster puppeteers) and his personal Sail Barge, and the Emperor’s doom-laden Throne Room interior.

The UK design team takes shape in 1975/76.

We also get to see some of the other things created for the original films that ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor, like the little seen background electronic pool table in STAR WARS Anchorhead scenes with Luke and Biggs, and intriguing plans for the revolving area for Luke’s Landspeeder within the Lars Homestead garage.

Outside of the UK, the book also includes the earliest surviving US work of ILM’s visual icon Joe Johnston, as well as some of Steve Gawley’s rarely seen blueprints for the Rebel X and Y-wing fighters that would become on and off important reference work for the model builders at ILM, and the set builders in the UK.

With such an intense period of filming that the original film had, set changes due to budget cuts, studio size limitation or creative considerations would prove an occasional necessity, and BLUEPRINTS charts some of those developments- like Ben Kenobi’s original desert dwelling home before it was reimagined and had to be reduced in size for a smaller soundstage. There’s also the last minute set designs and construction that would occur, like the extra corridor built for the Rebel Blockade Runner’s opening battle, or the Imperial Star Destroyer laser cannon room seen in STAR WARS- a tiny set that was added late in filming and done at Elstree by Gary Kurtz and a second unit literally a day or so after Lucas departed for the US. Then there are one or two sets that would be ingeniously reused and given new set decorating dressings (like a lot of those created for the original Death Star interiors).

A terrific spread for the "Rebel Starfighter", later known as the Rebel Blockade Runner, in STAR WARS.

The book affords us the opportunity to get to see old designs in new ways-to notice details we’d never seen before, like the red lion/dragon hybrid logo on Luke’s T-65 flyer from STAR WARS, or that film’s fourth created Landspeeder- a homage to Kubrick’s 2001- outside the Mos Eisley Cantina in Tunisia.

By 1979, and the success of the original film, Norman Reynolds takes over from the departed Barry, adding his own stamp to the universe but carrying on in the best traditions of his friend and workmate, He also creates his own selection of new sets for EMPIRE and JEDI, too, beyond the conceptual work coming in States-side from McQuarrie and Johnson- most notably EMPIRE’s Art Deco look of Bespin and a lot of Imperial themed sets for JEDI, most notably the immense and dramatically structured Throne Room, for the its climactic duel between Luke, Vader and the Emperor (linked to this latter set is an intriguing 1981 look at the Throne Room before its ultimate realisation- when it was originally going to be located in an underground lava cave, overlooking a huge lava lake- I was aware of the original idea for this but didn’t know just how close it came to becoming realized the following year).

Blueprints to the last-minute built, now iconic, STAR WARS Rebel Blockade Runner corridor.

With exterior sets and props often needed on location, especially for JEDI, Reynolds and the UK craftsmen had to carefully and methodically plan the way their work was to appear and be constructed- beautiful illustration examples include the placements of the Endor Bunker in the California Redwoods in April/May 1982 and for the earlier immense and never to be matched Sail Barge and Skiff built at Buttercup Valley in Yuma, Arizona. These are must-see-to-be-believed drawings.

A look at the Classic Trilogy Millennium Falcon.

Presumably lost from the archives, there’s a few noticeable design absences- no plans for the Lars Homestead Kitchen from STAR WARS, nor EMPIRE’s Medical Frigate. And nothing for the deleted scene of Luke’s building his lightsaber in the Tatooine cave from JEDI-adding further to that sequences filming mystery aura. More than compensating for these losses, however, are several excellent other rarities, like EMPIRE’s “interior dimensional door” conceptualized for Vader’s talking to the Emperor, and, also from that film, a blueprint for Boba Fett in the Slave One cockpit.

The original blueprints for R2-D2.

Profiles of the key design technicians who worked on the film (like Art Director Les Dilley, Set Dresser Harry Lange, and supreme draftsmen Fred Hole and all-rounder Reg Bean) are absorbing reads, alongside some nice anecdotes- not just of their time on STAR WARS but other illustrious, now landmark movies they worked on pre and post Lucas’s odyssey. Undoubtedly, Roger Christian and Norman Reynolds make the biggest contributions to the book, though, alongside Rinzler’s genuinely extraordinary ability to discover amazing new behind the scenes information after all this time- like how Kenny Baker originally quit plans to inhabit Artoo Detoo in the pre-production stage of STAR WARS, and how fellow small person Deep Roy, who went on to play Yoda for a walking scene in EMPIRE, was planned as his replacement. Only one slight error in the book can be found- for the JEDI Imperial Shuttle in the Death Star hangar bay, Rinzler accidentally selects an image from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: SPECIAL EDITION instead. Oops!

The superb Sail Barge.

Onto 1996 and the UK’s Leavesden Studios-the new home to the STAR WARS universe- where we see Gavin Bocquet, with his prior work experience on RETURN OF THE JEDI, beginning his nine-year reign as an accomplished Production Designer on the new, highly anticipated Prequels, again an admirable choice and successor to Reynolds as he had been to Barry, making his mark on modern movie history with a just as dedicated old/new team.

Some things may change with the progress of time, but the new Trilogy’s set design and construction schedules remained as fast and intense as before, with the development of digital technology by ILM in the movie saga’s intervening gap years proving crucial to Lucas’s filming abilities, often requiring only half completed sets being built for stage filming rather than full ones - a necessary cost cutting exercise for such expensive and pioneering projects in the late nineties, though all are no less well executed in their blueprints genesis, as seen  in this book. It’s a fusion of two forms of artistry that would set new precedents for film-making techniques in the digital age.

The Battle of Hoth.

Impressive wonders from Bocquet and his teams STAR WARS mindset include EPISODE I’s Jedi Temple, the Mos Espa spaceport (filmed in Tunisia- an old location which ultimately proved a lucky charm for Lucas and co. during 1997 filming there), and the Theed Hangar of Naboo-the biggest set constructed for the movie, for the exciting finale battle, plus lots of space vehicles and weaponry.

Life on Tatooine.

Alongside the fresh sets there’s also the challenge with EPISODEs II and III of starting to visually “bridge” the two STAR WARS universes together, with impressive, built from scratch set recreations, like the Lars Homestead (seen in EPISODE II), and the Alderaanian Star Cruiser, later Blockade Runner, for EPISODE III-true standouts. Sadly, despite the advertising blurb accompanying the book, there’s no blueprints for General Grievous ship’s bridge, home to the opening EPISODE III duel between the Droid leader and the Jedi, but there are some corridor plans for the vessel. Again, a minor niggle.

And so, a six-film saga would be seemingly complete by 2005. But now, as Lucas passes the creative torch to Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams, the Skywalker dynasty of adventure and romantic heroism looks set to continue anew. Can we expect STAR WARS: BLUEPRINTS II by 2020?

AFICIONADO RATING: With a nostalgic preface by Norman Reynolds and a foreword by Gavin Bocquet, the two men who most importantly shepherded the practically made visual look of the saga, STAR WARS: THE BLUEPRINTS’ 336 immense and beautiful pages will make you re-appreciate the entire saga’s amazing design work, and its full and diverse range of talented imaginators- so good that, in many places, it’ll make you go “Wow!” all over again! 4.5 out of 5

Get hold of STAR WARS: THE BLUEPRINTS, priced £59.99 from TITAN BOOKS, here: Star Wars - The Blueprints: J.W Rinzler: Books

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