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Thursday, 23 October 2014

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STAR WARS ART: POSTERS'

Drew Struzan captures the epic duel to come between Skywalkers in 1983's RETURN OF THE JEDI. A perfect cover choice for the newly released STAR WARS ART: POSTERS book. All poster images: copyright LUCASFILM. 


STAR WARS ART: POSTERS

Compiled by J.W. Rinzler

Foreword by Drew Struzan

Introduction by Roger Kastel

Published by ABRAMS BOOKS, priced £25.00


Reviewed by Scott Weller


Mastering the science of spectacle, never has their been more enticing and exciting posters for the motion picture genre than those created for the STAR WARS saga. Back in those early days of 1977, no one yet knew who Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia or Darth Vader were, but the promotional art they were encapsulated within, alongside science fiction/fantasy action and distant worlds so vividly realized, certainly weaved its spell onto a collective generation, quickly making us want to find out more about them and their adventures. Thirty-seven years on, five (so far) sequels later, and beyond in numerous related avenues, we’re all still entranced by the magic of George Lucas’s potent and endearing Imagineering, and grateful to the many talented artists that have contributed so much to his modern odyssey.

Steven Sansweet’s 2005 THE STAR WARS POSTER BOOK gave us the definitive history on the behind the scenes creation of the vast majority of these front of house gems, but now its time to genuinely celebrate their place in pop culture as artistic wonders, courtesy of J.W. Rinzler, Godfather of the LUCASFILM history archives, as he takes us on a warmly nostalgic journey with his newly published STAR WARS ART: POSTERS- the fifth and final book of ABRAMS stunning series.
 
Drew Struzan: Final painted artwork for STAR WARS:THE SPECIAL EDITION theatrical one-sheet, 1996.

The majority of these classic poster images, now firmly engrained in our hearts and minds (both original and re-release), make their all present and correct appearances (finally minus cast and crew credits) within the book's 180 pages, from the esteemed likes of Chantrell, McQuarrie, Alvin, Berkey, Struzan and Kastel (the latter two artist icons additionally providing some pleasing opening anecdotes on how they became so firmly associated with the STAR WARS universe and how their finest pieces evolved into life), alongside other definitive “plates” from the original official fan club, merchandise and restaurant tie-ins/promotions. Many of these pieces, specially rescanned for greater clarity and appreciation, are additionally presented close-up in bold spreads that really show us the colour, detail and brushstroke breadth of the artists, of which Howard Chaykin’s 1976 teaser poster for the film, later adapted as the cover to the first issue of the MARVEL comic, is a genuine showpiece. 

Creatively, the book gets off to a splendid start via Ralph McQuarrie’s classic 1975 poster concept idea for what was once known as The Star Wars - an orange skied arena of heroic assemblage (including a female Luke Skywalker/Starkiller), years on becoming the litmus test paper to homage and reinterpretation, adapted to all-new success via the animated hits THE CLONE WARS and STAR WARS REBELS.

Veteran film illustrator Tom Jung then cements himself as one of the Original Trilogy’s key artists- truly capturing its newly launched spirit in his finished work, but also within further lovely unused variations. Certainly, Princess Leia has never looked sexier under his watch!

Then there are the artists whose early interpretations of the battle between Empire and Rebellion proved intriguing if not quite capturing of the tone, like John Solie, whose evocative piece feels more like a space-age version of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, or sci-fi great John Berkey, whose broad canvas work commissioned concepts would be utilized more successfully in other areas, like book covers and album posters. Intriguingly, though, and with their names so synonymous with the saga and fantasy in general, those illustrious illustrator brothers that were the Hildebrandts, forever linked to one of the classic first released teaser posters, are conspicuous by their absence!
 
Dan Nichols: Final painted artwork for STAR WARS Coca-Cola poster, 1977.

Glimpses of international territory art also prove a firm draw as we continue delving into the book’s glossy pages- interesting and stylish, the Italian, Hungarian and Polish territories give us their "window" into STAR WARS- the latter’s Wojtek Siudmak’s EPISODE IV piece being the most striking. The Japanese market’s almost symbiotic love of the saga  is also keenly represented by the likes of Noriyoshi Ohrai, who, from 1978 to 1983, adeptly mixed the classic characters with their incredible hardware and spaceships; and, later on, his natural successor in Tsuneo Sanda- his rich conglomerations equally packed with imagery but layered in supreme beauty via wisely chosen colour palettes.

As the innocence and wonder of A New Hope gives way to the explosive and fiery retribution of The Empire Strikes Back, McQuarrie’s now-immortal Vader In Flames image continues to resonate, but it’s a further joy to see that the LUCASFILM Archives are still discovering more rare pieces of his, like a lovely 1979 logo idea featuring Han, Luke and Leia ready for action. Additionally, Jung’s return to concept duties also see-in some nice hero presentations, whilst Manuel Sanjulain provides a denser interpretation of the GONE WITH THE WIND style ideas ultimately approved and used via Roger Kastel. But its Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, who is very clearly the standout star of this new film- one piece has him firmly back in his TIE fighter leading his squadron into battle. The half-man, half-cyborg also menaces Luke in an early Struzan piece, as our face-in-shadows hero arrives into a deserted Bespin.
 
Robert Hunt: Black-and-white concept treatment for RETURN OF THE JEDI style "B" theatrical one-sheet, 1982.

Sadly, there’s very few concept pieces for the concluding Return of the Jedi, but Robert Hunt provides a pleasing one-off pencils entry, Jung gives us a striking, never before seen image of Luke, Han and slave-costumed Leia perched atop Jabba the Hutt, whilst John Alvin’s fairytale-like concept ideas presents Luke and party entering a dreamy Endor forest (that wouldn’t be out of place in THE COMPANY OF WOLVES), with the towering presence of Vader above them, that proves visually fascinating and arresting. Finally, Tim Reamer’s now evocative hands-on-lightsaber concoction for the early 1983 teaser poster shows us how Luke Skywalker’s emergence as a fully-fledged Jedi will shake the stars, and an Empire.
 
Tim Reamer: Final painted artwork for RETURN OF THE JEDI style "A" theatrical one-sheet, 1983.

Into the later eighties and beyond, the STAR WARS empire begins a new phase in the mindsets of pop art culture: there’s the emerging spinoffs like the Ewok TV movies (quickly released internationally into movie theaters), the well-recognized but ultimately all-too samey Prequel Trilogy posters and their long-awaited, scene-setting adventures of Anakin Skywalker and his fall into darkness, followed by the unceasing popular universe variants engineered by LEGO. Hitting the small screen, the licensing art from the numerous THE CLONE WARS series highlights Lucas’s enthusiasm for the power of both the pencil and the computer (a highlight being the Season Five DVD release poster showing Ahsoka Tano’s departure from the Jedi Order), and several pieces for the newly launched STAR WARS REBELS series, of which Amy Beth Christenson’s flourishes with her Empire recruitment posters- modern stand-outs that truly capture the look and feel of DISNEY’s next chapter in STAR WARS history.

Proving that STAR WARS is indeed forever to each successive generation, the internet and the Photoshop have also helped usher in a new utopia of ideas, artistic styles and interpretations on the saga’s classic themes of good and evil, with enthused fans, now professional illustrators, sharing their wide-ranging passions and personal perceptions to invigorating note- from this immense pool comes the poster tributes of Olly Moss that fuse environments with key characters, a striking portrait of bounty hunter Boba Fett’s face composed from parts of his armour, both clever and striking, from Louis C. Hebert, to humour via Dave Perillo. Plus the art deco capturing’s of the female aesthetic via Craig Drake, and warm-hearted spoof horror genre crossings courtesy of Mark Daniels and Mark Steele. All different, and all appealing.
 
Rob Jones: King's Lead Head, 2010. Limited edition Mondo screen print with metallics ink.

Bringing fitting visual closure to George Lucas’s creative rein, there’s truly something for everyone to recognize, reevaluate or discover anew in this rich compendium that is STAR WARS ART: POSTERS. Let’s raise a glass in thanks to those defining artists who have gone before, and to those whose new road to illustrating history lies ahead.

AFICIONADO RATING: This spirited mixing of art and entertainment has never been more visually addictive. 8.5 out of 10

With thanks to ABRAMS BOOKS UK for all their time and co-operation in the creation of this review. 




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