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Friday, 4 October 2013

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STAR WARS ART: CONCEPT' BOOK


Ralph McQuarrie's seminal art of Deak Starkiller and Darth Vader lightsaber duelling launches STAR WARS ART: CONCEPT. Images: LUCASFILM/ABRAMS BOOKS.


STAR WARS ART: CONCEPT

Foreword by Joe Johnston

Preface by Ryan Church

Introduction by Doug Chiang

Afterword by Erik Tiemens


Published by ABRAMS. Price £25.00


Reviewed by Scott Weller


It started with a meeting between two remarkable men: youthful up and coming film director George Lucas and commercial artist Ralph McQuarrie: quiet and unassuming individuals, intelligent and likable with big ideas and incredible imaginations- visionaries coming together in an almost symbiotic fusion sharing a passion to create a believable yet inspiring universe in the best “feel good” factor traditions of the old Flash Gordon/ Buck Rogers serials of the past, for a project that would first become known as THE STAR WARS. McQuarrie’s first two pieces for this adventure of story and film-making, a few little ships in outer space chase and combat, followed by some audience winning conceptual art for “a boy, a girl and a universe”, soon set the standard for a created fantasy playground that, several years later, its blue touch paper having been lit, saw STAR WARS explode into an incredible and enduring worldwide phenomenon, spurring five further films and spin-offs galore, of every type, in the thirty plus years ahead, as many great artists, young and old, savoured the dream and following in McQuarrie’s immense footsteps, continuing the scope of romantic adventures and science fiction/fantasy a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

The beautiful ABRAMS books series dedicated to the incredible art of STAR WARS in all its versatile and stunning forms continues apace with its latest release: CONCEPT, truly a wonderful celebration of McQuarrie and beyond-an instant purchase and a visually intoxicating treat for the eyes and soul.

Some of those now legendary 1975 paintings from the original STAR WARS launch the book in classic style, followed by spirited and stylish ILM co-designer Joe Johnston, bringing his own unique and accessible pedigree, along with his Padawan learner/protege Nilo Rodis-Jamero for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Then comes a mixture of Johnston and a soon project departed McQuarrie’s rarely seen colour art for the Classic Trilogy’s artistic piece de resistance, RETURN OF THE JEDI during its early pre-production phase- a tantalizing glimpse of worlds and situations not actually seen in the final film.
 
STAR WARS ART: CONCEPT. Iain McCaig: Padme Wedding Costume. Concept art for ATTACK OF THE CLONES. Pencil and Marker on paper.

Into the saga’s wilderness years, the STAR WARS juggernaut may seemingly slow down after such a supernova start, but soon begins to build up fresh momentum a few years later, of which it has now never looked back, starting off with a couple of lovely Nelvana Studios concepts for the eighties DROIDS TV series showcase, plus some all too cute EWOKS art. Then its onto the controversial but beautifully realized Prequels, as George Lucas’s film-making ambitions for a whole new saga took digital flight and captured the worlds attention from 1999 to 2005- notably the concoctions and labour of love art from EPISODE I’s Doug Chiang- a worthy successor to the retired McQuarrie- whose pen and ink style, merged with a fresh new eye, gave such life and detail to an expansive Old Republic finally being seen for the first time (the book also including several EPISODE II Chiang concept paintings I’d never seen before), the legacy continued by Iain McCaig, whose evocative character and costume ideas would have such intrinsic and iconic importance, especially to the emerging role of gutsy Naboo Queen then Senator, Padme Amidala.

Erik Tiemens and Ryan Church become a later but no less vital find for the last two Prequels- the next generation of WARS imaginators, bringing gritty, earthy drama, clever use of atmosphere colour and a sense of realism to their key represented spreads-the desert world at war that is Geonosis and EPISODE III’s tumultuous finale Clone Wars battles within world dense fantasy environments: from the misty hills and jungle beached seas of the Wookiee world of Kashyyyk, to the hot and dusty underground levels of the outer colony city of Utapau. With the middle of the book firmly dedicated to the Prequel finale, and its important crossover links, another core talent, Sangjun lee, makes many spirited contributions.

After 2005, the film saga may have then been declared “complete” by its creator, but the remaining huge scope and life span of the Prequels and their lead-in to the original films was ripe for exploration, and would continue to make a mark through the five ambitious years that would be the animated run of THE CLONE WARS (this book dips in and out of several seasons material, of which Kilian Plunkett catches STAR WARS lightning in a bottle- another worthy find to the roster, but also intriguingly shows some so far unseen concept art for so far unseen season six episodes: notably the planned return of the Sandpeople of Tatooine), and the varied excitements of many video game spin-offs, all bringing evergreen new worlds, ships and technology to the continuing palette .
 
STAR WARS ART: CONCEPT. Richard Lim: Rebel Troopers Concept Art for STAR WARS: FIRST ASSAULT proposed video game. Digital.

Sadly, proving one spin-off too far, the two preview pieces of art for Lucas’ on hold animated comedy series DETOURS fails to capture my imagination, though its presence in the book will be greatly enjoyed by today’s many younger fans. The renderings concept art of Jabba the Hutt in his palace and Darth Vader in his meditation chamber capture the feel and continuity of the films in this less than serious effort, but, nonetheless, I consider it a pointless endeavour. Thankfully, more iconic pre-production art from some of the classic LUCASARTS videogames take us back to worthier pursuits, especially the brilliant sabers clashing, spacecraft destroying warfare for THE FORCE UNLEASHED (C’mon, who doesn’t like seeing Amy Beth Christenson’s crashing Star Destroyer, or her stylish imaginings of Vader charging into battle against Wookiees!), as well as in the thick of it ground conflict scenarios from FIRST ASSAULT, and the re-teaming of Jedi heroes Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano, facing monster mania within JEDI ALLIANCE.
 
STAR WARS ART: CONCEPT. Ryan Church: Coruscant Underworld Entertainment Corridor. Concept art for STAR WARS: 1313 proposed video game. Digital.

The book rounds itself off nicely with a look at the put on the shelf intrigue and shady characters of the underground 1313 domain, with the notable return of Ryan Church and Erik Tiemens, bringing a mixture of light and darkness in the striking and story potential packed deep lairs of Coruscant- some of it akin to the kind of modern hell landscapes seen in Ridley Scott’s eighties classic sci-fi urban nightmare, BLADE RUNNER. Perhaps many of these unused ideas might make their way into the likely equally gritty, post RETURN OF THE JEDI universe realms of JJ Abrams upcoming, world-anticipated EPISODE VII? We can but hope.

Back to the future, Joe Johnston’s foreword reflects on that unique time of his life working on the classic films, the way that Lucas gave him so much artistic freedom and helped generate a sense of team spirit: where anything conceptualized or storyboarded was possible, followed by Ryan Church’s preface on how the design aesthetic of the original films captured his heart and mind-set from an early age, making him want to be an artist, as their influence continued to play such a large part in his life and career. Doug Chiang’s introduction takes us back to the nineties and how he found and channelled his inner child to design a new universe, creating art without fear.

Finally, LUCASFILM Executive Editor J.W. Rinzler, the modern day behind the scenes chronicler of the STAR WARS movies, sits down with Erik Tiemens for a fun interview about his work on EPISODEs II and III: the early ideas, the influence of Lucas, the creation of conceptual art and the fluidic, evolving process such work undergoes in making its final appearance on celluloid.

AFICIONADO RATING: Dreams given form. Some of the greatest collected conceptual pieces ever to be assembled for a STAR WARS book, and another wonderful celebration of past, present and future from LUCASFILM/ABRAMS. 4 out of 5



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