Star Wars Art: Concept :Foreword by Joe Johnston, Introduction by Doug Chiang (book review)

August 3, 2016 | By | Reply More

A large part of the visual grandeur and scale that the ‘Star Wars’ films show on screen is down to the work of key conceptual artists. George Lucas was smart enough to recognise that in order for the imagery in his films to have impact, he would need to employ artists to realise and translate his ideas into something that could be seen. It is the work of these concept artists that is celebrated in ‘Star Wars Art: Concept’.

Star Wars Art: Concept LucasFilm Ltd, preface by Ryan Church, foreword by Joe Johnston (Abrams, £25) Copyright © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. and TM.

Star Wars Art: Concept
LucasFilm Ltd, preface by Ryan Church, foreword by Joe Johnston (Abrams, £25)
Copyright © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. and TM.

The original ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ employed three key artists to bring Lucas’ unique vision to life. The most recognisable and celebrated of these is, of course, Ralph McQuarrie. His ability to combine drama, scale and action made him the contributing artist in the look of the first three films. His design work continues to influence the new ‘Star Wars’ movies and TV shows today. Joe Johnston was a designer who took a chance with the fledgling ILM outfit, he would go on to be Art Director for ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ and ‘Return Of The Jedi’ and would go on to direct movies such as ‘The Rocketeer’, ‘Jumanji’ and ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’. Johnston provides the foreword for this book. Finally, Nilo Rodis-Jamero, whose evocative black and white style breathed life into Stormtroopers and, who also shared an office with Johnston, would also go on to design across all three films as well inputting into the ‘Star Trek’ series of films.

Amy Beth Christenson Star Destroyer crash Concept art for The Force Unleashed Copyright © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. and TM.

Amy Beth Christenson
Star Destroyer crash
Concept art for The Force Unleashed
Copyright © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. and TM.

These three artists take the lead in ‘Star Wars Art: Concept’, but by no means contribute to the whole of the book. The prequel series had a number of concept artists including Doug Chiang and Ryan Church. Both sets of artists share their love of large landscapes, compare McQuarrie’s vista of Cloud City to Erik Tiemans’ tumultuous Kamino sea. We also get close-up character designs, such as Joe Johnston’s concept for Yoda and Sang Jun Lee’s dignitary from Utapau. What is nice to see, in comparing the two sets of films, is the variety offered in the types of art and styles of drawing, despite the obvious advantages digital brings in the 90s and 2000s.

Richard Lim Rebel troopers Concept art for Star Wars: First Assault Copyright © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. and TM.

Richard Lim
Rebel troopers
Concept art for Star Wars: First Assault
Copyright © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. and TM.

The book contains further concept art than just the films. There is a gorgeous and heroic-looking painting of Boba Fett as concept from the Nelvana animated series, ‘Droids’. Likewise, the ‘Sacred Tree’ art from the series ‘Ewoks’ is equally evocative. ‘The Clone Wars’ TV series is also referenced and we’re treated to Killian Plunkett’s costume designs for Kad Bane as well fantastic landscapes for planets like Orto Plutonia and Raxus.

Ryan Church Coruscant underworld entertainment corridor Concept painting for Star Wars: 1313 project Copyright © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. and TM.

Ryan Church
Coruscant underworld entertainment corridor
Concept painting for Star Wars: 1313 project
Copyright © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. and TM.

Computer games are also well-served, particularly of interest is the art for the abandoned game ‘Star Wars: 1313’ that explored life in Coruscant’s underworld. There are a number of illustrations from the unfinished game that really evoke the seedy side of ‘Star Wars’. I very much liked the hollowed out R2 unit acting as a fire for some homeless street dwellers.

The book is lovingly packaged from Abrams. It is a landscape format hardback complete with many double-page plates and full artist biographies. While it again falls into the category of a coffee table ‘Star Wars’ book, it is so lavishly illustrated why wouldn’t you want to show it off? This title works as both an excellent visual stimulus for worlds of fantasy as well as an excellent companion to other ‘making-of’ titles.

John Rivers

July 2016

(pub: Abrams. 2013. 179 page hardback. Price: £25.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-41970-862-6)

check out website: www.abramsbooks.com

Category: Books, Illustration, Star Wars

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