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Saturday, 3 February 2018

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STORMTROOPERS: BEYOND THE ARMOR'

At last- the Empire's finest get their own celebratory book.

Right from the start they were an incredible and threatening sight as they blasted their way down the corridors of the Rebel Blockade Runner in May 1977- the original Star Wars was making an impact with impressionable an enthused cinemagoers from the get-go, the evil Galactic Empire's unleashed villainy given its first en masse visual identity in the form of ground-pounder Imperial Stormtroopers, the distinctive use of white as their costumed-armour now a symbolism for evil in a way not previously thought of before in the realms of onscreen sci-fi/fantasy. Soon enough, these single identity-looking troops would become of iconic importance, representative to the saga's villainous side almost to the heights of popularity enjoyed by the demonic Darth Vader himself. A tribute book on these fascinating foot soldiers of the saga has long been overdue. Now, writers Ryder Windham and  Adam Bryce take us on an informative and celebratory journey of the Stormtroopers history, in all their main and divergent forms from 1977 to 2017 (and beyond), as Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor marches into bookstores via Harper Design.

An early TIE pilot/Stormtrooper storyboard. Art by Alex Tavoularis.

In that early genesis for The Star Wars during 1973-75, the look of the formidable and frightening Stormtroopers soon became a key and accessible visual- the project's main conceptual artist of that time, Ralph McQuarrie, honing their original look beyond creator George Lucas story treatments, and giving us not just the main into-battle ranks of the Stormtroopers but other ranks in service to the Empire-  indeed, a TIE fighter pilot art image by Ralph McQuarrie, back in 1976, would be one of the earliest images used to promote the film whilst it was still heavy-duty deep in its post production phase...

The original STAR WARS Stormtroopers patrolling the Death Star.

It's from this early genesis onwards that Beyond the Armor becomes the most detailed compiling of data yet about the Stormtroopers' visual creation, as those early concepts by Lucas and McQuarrie, and in further violent action storyboards by Alex Tavoularis, are further refined to practicality for UK 1976 filming by British costume designer and military history enthusiast John Mollo, alongside key sculptors Liz Moore and Brian Muir. Despite some aspects that can't be discussed (due to potential legal issues), the Stormtrooper costumes construction at Elstree Studios is fascinating to read about, comprising some fine behind the scenes info and cast/crew quotes compilations, alongside facts that I'm sure many readers will not have know previously. (Until this publication, I didn't realize there were other major film differencies between the dusty Sandtroopers and the regular Stormtroopers, beyond the lapels and heavy backpacks.)

One of the classic 1978 Stormtrooper-related toys from KENNER- the Dewback

With the success of Star Wars and its subsequent sequels, the Stormtrooper became a key figure for publicity and merchandise in all kinds of tie-ins and spin-offs. The book gives us a fun and detailed look at the 'Legacy' era of which this fertile and hugely successful period has now become known- from intriguing mask-less Stormtroopers appearing in the Russ Manning newspaper strips of 1977, MARVEL COMIC curiosities, to specially designed toys like KENNER's superb Imperial Troop Transporter, now deservedly a firm part of the modern era officially appearing in the Rebels animated TV series. Plus Micro Toys and many, many others launching an eventual avalanche of sure-fire cash-cow merchandise hits- so much of which would bear the distinctive mark/involvement of the Imperial Stormtrooper. There's also a smattering of very rare photos here and there to savour, especially linked to the toys: the reptilian Dewback and trooper from a US toy Fair of 1979 being a lovely example.Sadly, there are a couple of niggly omissions here and there, too - presumably for reasons of space, as well as a couple of date errors that likely escaped the fact-checking correction process of the book's production phase.

Exploring the weird and wonderful 'Legacy' era involving the Stormtroopers. Image: Harper Design.

Some of this visual history is housed within gorgeous gate-folds truly showcasing some of the many gems from the Lucasfilm Archives - production stills, art, storyboards from across forty years, and lots of the aforementioned nostalgic merchandise. Plus, a further specially chosen bonus set of five reprinted pieces of Stormtrooper nostalgia included via attached envelope at the back of the book, done in a similar fashion to what appeared with Steve Sansweet's STAR WARS Scrapbook, published back in 2007.

Cold weather warriors! The Imperial Snowtroopers debut in 1980.

Going into the two sequels of the Classic Trilogy, the classic Stormtroopers would get some mild cosmetic alterations, but the evolution, refinement and branching off the Imperial forces would continue further via striking all-new costume additions that were to become as popular: we discover more about the production of the Snowtroopers for The Empire Strikes Back, and the genesis of bounty hunter Boba Fett after his early origins as a 'Super Stormtrooper'. Following on, Return of the Jedi's forest adventures on Endor sees the debut of the Biker Scouts, whilst the Death Star II in space witnesses the arrival of the enigmatic crimson Royal Guards of the Emperor. The fusion of artistry and practicality needed to bring them all to filming reality in 1979 and 1982 is further outlined.

In service to their master! The Emperor's Royal Guard make a mysterious 1983 arrival.

As well as successfully charting the onscreen developments, so too does Beyond the Armor chart the way the Stormtroopers go from scary figures of war to unlikely figures of fun over a twenty-year pop culture legacy, the mockery primarily emerged from critics and die-hard fans noting their inability to shoot at people. Thankfully, the Stormtroopers go back to being more sinister and refined figures for an all-new evil, initiated by the newly emergent First Order, for the new sequels that would arrive in cinemas from 2015 onwards. Of important note between phases of evildom, there's a rewarding examination of the good works made by the worldwide 501st Legion Stormtrooper fan costumers, and how their presence alongside the saga in general has enriched the lives of so many STAR WARS fans through good times and bad, and in the face of great emotional and physical adversity and hardship.

Launching the Attack of the Clones on Geonosis in 2002.

And let's not forget the innovative Prequel Trilogy of 1999 - 2005, which saw George Lucas taking bold creative storytelling risks and using all-new digital technology to give us the origin of the Stormtroopers via the many Clone Soldiers earlier created as pawns for a duplicitous galactic war waged by the Sith Lords against the fading Jedi and their Republic. The full onscreen history of the Clone Trooper armies, their focal point in bounty hunter Jango Fett, and their importance to the trilogy in binding two sagas together, is given valuable analysis by the authors, alongside some colourful gate folds of The Clone Wars animated TV series concept designs, as well as a look at the series best episodes utilising the Clone Trooper 'heroes' during its six-season run.

The next phase! Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and her First Order legions.

As the Prequel era sequels back to the beloved Classic Trilogy era (and the Special Edition take-over), Disney's eventual ownership of the franchise in such expanding ways ultimately sees the return of the original Stormtroopers for all-new marketing endeavours (some not necessarily for the better, either!). Of key importance, though, is their eventual return to film via an all-new redesign, courtesy of acclaimed film talent Michael Kaplan (and others)- the Empire may be long gone after the events of Return of the Jedi, but the sinister and encompassing First Order employs their kind by the thousands, its 'recruits' encased in armour and weaponry upgraded anew for the next generation of fans to enjoy with The Force Awakens and the newly released The Last Jedi. This book vigorously goes behind the scenes on the saga's rebirth and how this new breed of troopers and their overseers (most notably the chromed female warrior leader Captain Phasma) are out to regain their original 'mojo' roots as an effective and sinister military force.

Hero or traitor? John Boyega contemplates the First Order Stormtrooper!

However, as The Force Awakens begins, it seems that not all of the First Order's trained-from-birth soldiers are happy about killing- the idea of one of their own going rogue to become an idealistic hero of this new trilogy proving a bold and invigorating creative decision from returning writer Lawrence Kasdan, of which John Boyega, the British actor who plays FN-2187 (later 'Finn'), provides a nice foreword to this book, celebrating the fun of being in STAR WARS, the importance of the iconic Stormtroopers, and the responsibility of becoming one (especially enduring the heavy costume in over one-hundred degree location heat!).

The formidable Death Troopers redress the balance with regards to Stormtroopers hitting their targets!

Finally, there's the bold introduction of separate 'anthology' films set in and out of the franchise's timeline - the first out of the gate being Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - an exciting return to the Classic Trilogy post EP III yet pre IV- the book revealing the sinister creation of the unstoppable elite Death Troopers squads from the McQuarrie legacy, alongside another complete costume upgrade being necessary for the classic Stormtroopers' armour, due to the changing face of high definition camera technology. There's also more about the adventure's unique feat and special notoriety as the biggest variant showcase yet for the Stormtroopers - more so than had been prior seen in the entire Classic Trilogy combined!

A selection of highlight spreads from the book. Images: Harper Design.

Boba Fett and the Snowtroopers.

A look behind The Force Awakens.

Back cover art.

AFICIONADO RATING: Celebrating the artistic and manufacturing talent of the many people involved in the film series, and beyond, this worthy and highly informative book is a comprehensive and rewarding endeavour, which all fans young and old will enjoy. 3.5 out of 5

Get Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Star-Wars-Stormtroopers-Beyond-Journey/dp/0062681176/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517589424&sr=1-1&keywords=stormtroopers+beyond+the+armor

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