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Friday, 6 June 2014

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STAR WARS STORYBOARDS - THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY'



STAR WARS STORYBOARDS: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY

Edited by J.W. Rinzler

Foreword by Joe Johnston

Introduction by Nilo Rodis-Jamero

Published by ABRAMS BOOKS


Reviewed by Scott Weller


Another Holy Grail for STAR WARS fans finally materializes from the hidden depths of the LUCASFILM ARCHIVES- the book that Classic Fans in particular have waited years for. J.W. Rinzler and ABRAMS BOOKS previous collaboration with STORYBOARDS: THE PREQUEL TRILOGY was a bona fide visual feast, but STORYBOARDS: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY…? Well, this is a veritable banquet!


Beautifully compiled and designed to the highest stands of visual excellence, bearing an immense 1,200 pieces of art, its no wonder that artist and director Joe Johnston, possessing such a high-calibre reputation as one of STAR WARS finest visualists after the equally distinguished Ralph McQuarrie, calls it one of the best behind the scenes STAR WARS books ever published. And after other equally worthy book companies had tried and failed in securing his work/contributions in book form, its pleasing to see Johnston deciding to play ball and begin to enjoy his previous association and important historical contributions to the original STAR WARS universe, joining forces with Lucasfilm in assembling this superb package.
 
Late 1975: Joe Johnston choreographs future storyboard movements using the original Colin Cantwell models created for THE STAR WARS.  

Back in the day one couldn’t underestimate the key role storyboards were to Hollywood movie making, especially for a project as large, vivid and production complex as the original STAR WARS and its subsequent sequels would be. Early animatics cobbled together from old war films would be a factor in helping the newly launched ILM visual effects crew get a sense of speed, urgency and rhythm to the action that creator George Lucas had planned, but the pencil and ink drawings rendered by Johnston and his team over nearly eight years would be equally important and valid- their relatively small frames setting up camera directions and all the required frame elements (live action and effects) needed in a shot, and forever more recognized in setting up the incredible and richly diverse realms emerging from Lucas’s imagination. ILM would soon become the dream cathedral- the place where artistry would become unparallelled, its pencil and ink fantasists quickly joining the elite “superstar’s club” of visual effects history.
 
1979: Ralph McQuarrie at work on storyboards in London, for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

Within its 352 pages and gorgeous showcase spreads (including never before seen, recently unearthed material), work from 15 incredible artists (the likes of Johnston, Ivor Beddoes, Alex Tavoularis and Ralph McQuarrie, as well as lesser known names like Roy Carnon and David Russell) show us the early genesis of incredible spaceships, like Han Solo’s trusty Millennium Falcon, heroic and industry-sleek X and Y wing fighters, and the TIE fighters that, like real-life Bumble Bees, shouldn’t be aerodynamically possible, but fly into battle for the necessary realms of sci-fi storytelling. Other rare gems to behold, some seen in rare embryonic form here: Ben Kenobi’s non-demise in the original storyboards for EPISODE IV, and looks at planets and vistas that disappeared and re-appeared in the evolving stories, to specific ambitious shots that would be tweaked, replaced or re-engineered over time, some inching to be reincarnated within the late nineties love ‘em or hate ‘em SPECIAL EDITIONS.
 
Battle on the Blockade Runner. Art by Alex Tavoularis.

From the floating world of the Aldreraanian prison planet years before it became the Bespin mining colony of EPISODE V, to the haunting visages of the Death Star superweapon above the forest moon of Endor, it’s a treasure trove- a window into spellbinding beauty, some of it perfectly translated to the screen, whilst others that never quite made fruition prove equally compelling in their own way, giving us an intriguing look into the STAR WARS that could have been had other certain artistic choices and additional production budget funds been available. Used and unused, all are beautifully presented, put on the page in an easy on the eye yet compulsive to savour style from designer Liam Flanagan. You can see how encouraged in their ideas and input Johnston and colleagues would be by Lucas, who often changed his storytelling to bring in their material.
 
"Death Star approaching." Art by Joe Johnston.

Despite the family space fantasy aura that the Classic Trilogy often projects, there’s also a sense of the Gothic in some areas of the books visual revelations- moments that may have been just too much for young viewers if such boards had been realized, like Luke’s decapitated hand moving of its own volition during the sail barge battle of JEDI. In general, decapitation would become a large part of the STAR WARS universe, and more had been planned-look for JEDI storyboard carnage showing a detailed battle between Luke and ruthless Boba Fett, slightly different to the one we saw in the final film, as our Jedi hero literally takes the bounty hunter’s gun arm off. Thirty years on, and into my adult sensibilities, that would have been such a cool moment!
 
The Imperial Death Fleet. Art by Nilo Rodis-Jamero

The What If’s of the book are mostly linked to the original film, though, what with its in-development space ships and environments ever changing with the revised scripts and pruned back budgets. The ambition and scope broaden noticeably with each subsequent STAR WARS film, however, and these are equally paid tribute: the drama and excitement of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, with its incredible opening Snow Battle and the later asteroid field chase, and RETURN OF THE JEDI’s full-on spectacle, of which many of that films presented boards, whether they were revised or not in the pre and post production phases, made their way into the completed film. JEDI has enough action for three movies let alone one STAR WARS adventure, with its huge scenes of Rebels against Stormtroopers on Endor and the eye-capturing epic space battle- situations key to making that particular film so beloved. And the road to that latter sequence was a fraught one: hundreds of elements and moments from it would be altered, deleted or completely replaced at the last minute under orders from Lucas during his complex editing process. This book gives us an all too brief glimpse of some of the sequences likely filmed and still so far not yet to have seen the light of day as deleted scenes footage on DVD or Blu-ray.
 
The Ewoks attack! Art by George Jenson, Rodis-Jamero and Johnston.

I know that the book’s main objective is to keep to the chronologically filmed sequences, but one disappointment is the lack of storyboards accompanying the then 1981 original scripting of RETURN OF THE JEDI, before it changed quite considerably by the time of shooting in 1982. Omissions like the original world of Sicemon, the two Death Stars and the finale lava cave duel between Vader and Luke are notable and would have been nice to see. Perhaps the material is being saved for a second book?

Surely one of the most time-consuming projects to assemble, J.W. Rinzler excels once more in his continued status as the most respected behind the scenes archivist and history-charter that George Lucas and STAR WARS could ever have, helping to solve mysteries from the Classic Trilogy’s production that have occasionally lingered - some of these specially solved for the publication of this book, alongside his hunting down, in a nice way, the names of specific artists who left LUCASFILM’s employ once their freelance contacts were up in 1983/84. He also provides short but articulate passages on key plot and behind the scenes information, giving us more background on the emerging ILM art department, as they also individually recall how they got to be involved in the project/saga, alongside conveyances and reminiscences on the attitudes and teamwork of ILM and the general ambiance of that magical and intense time period.

We’re hoping that the new art and design teams of the upcoming STAR WARS Sequels enjoy this new book as much as the fans do, and that its superb images are inspiring them to concoct equally worthy and exciting new avenues for the continuing past future adventures of the Skywalker family.

AFICIONADO RATING: A truly dynamic and breathtaking look at the universe of STAR WARS, STORYBOARDS: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY is the essential book purchase of the year so far. 4.5 out of 5

STORYBOARD NOTES/HIGHLIGHTS

"I got him!" Art by Joe Johnston.

STAR WARS (1977)

Alex Tavoularis: His work on the opening scenes show a more adult and violent take on the battle between Rebels and Stormtroopers than we’ve seen before: bodies with leaking pools of blood, heads being blown up, and Darth Vader’s cruelly decapitating a rebel trooper- perhaps the genesis of the limb losses that would affect the saga on and off!

There’s also more human looking versions of Threepio and Artoo, plus the approach and Imperial capture of “the pirate ship”, later named the Millennium Falcon, towards the Alderaan prison facility high up in the clouds.

More on Tavoularis’s work recently found, linked to the second and third drafts of the movie, show Luke when he had briefly changed to a girl searching for her captured brother, whilst Chewbacca is a more lemur-like being. Plus, a couple of boards more heavily realized from Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art.

Joe Johnston: His refinement of the early Colin Cantwell spaceship designs in the run up to effects filming, and his work on the changing face of the epic Death Star trench battle, with help from Ronnie Shepherd and Paul Huston. There's also the intense process of creating the boards and how, during the original STAR WARS, the behind the scenes pressure saw him create a record breaking forty boards in one twelve-hour day!

The Falcon escapes Cloud City. Art by Joe Johnston 

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)

The superlative Walker battle – the longest and most changed/evolved boarded sequence of the movie. Its also one that Johnston is most proud of.

Its interesting to see just how similar Johnston, Rodis-Jamero and new recruit David Carson’s artistic styles are on the boards, contrasting the different but nonetheless effective styles of Ivor Beddoes and, later on, Roy Carnon and Brook Temple. Also, spot the cute in-jokes that Johnston and co. often put into their boards for both this and JEDI.

Working alongside Ivor Beddoes and director Irvin Kershner in the UK during 1979, many previously unpublished Ralph McQuarrie storyboards make the book, notably for the worlds of Hoth and Dagobah.

An intriguing deleted scene: an early Hoth wilderness shot where the Probot blasts a Wampa in the ice- a scene filmed in Norway either with the snow beast or with a rodent-like creature instead.

Ivor Beddoes prime showcase in this section is his work on the Dagobah swamp world showing Luke interacting with the diminutive Jedi Master Yoda, revealing several training scenes and intriguing character moments that never made the film- some being too complex to bring to the screen. His later Bespin lightsaber duel imagery is methodically and meticulously worked out for the director and stuntmen to consider.

Luke Skywalker has a limb fetish for Boba Fett. Image: Artist Unknown. 

RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)

British artist Roy Carnon (who prior worked on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) and ILM-based George Jenson are highlighted here: Jabba’s Tatooine stronghold and Palace, and parts of the Shield Generator conflict on Endor- enjoy some of the rare forest battle comedy gag boards with the Ewoks and Chewbacca.

A less lighthearted early depiction of Jabba’s palace and its creature nightmares is boarded: the grotesque gangster, prior to inheriting Threepio, uses its tail to whack a former protocol droid interpreter senseless, which is then hacked to bits by Gamorrean guards! Later on, Johnston gives us an early deleted Luke and his new lightsaber scene, plus one further special board linked to the infamous Sandstorm sequence.

Another key Johnston highlight: the entire board sequence for the Endor speederbike chase adapted from early animatic tests, which pretty much appears intact from the page to its final onscreen realization. Keep an eye out for a few intriguing omissions, though...

Superb Endor space and land battle images are further assembled from Johnston, Rodis-Jamero, and David’s Carson and Russell: later difficult to shoot B-wings and Y-wings swoop into battle during the space bound aspects of the Battle of Endor, plus a colourful, differently choreographed Roy Carnon take on the opening part of the lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker (wearing attire very much like his farmboy look from EPISODE IV).



Get hold of STAR WARS STORYBOARDS: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY here: Star Wars Storyboards: The Original Trilogy: Amazon.co.uk: J.W. Rinzler: Books

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