With Episode VII only a mere month away, anticipation for the next Star Wars film is at an all-time high. The toys are selling out, the opening day tickets are already sold out, and the movie tie-ins are exploding out of every possible franchise. This is truly a great time to be a nerd.
The Star Wars Universe is known for its acclaimed visuals, whether it is character design, vehicles, alien species, or cinematography. I have always been a big fan of these movies as well as art books, so I had to get a copy of “Star Wars Art: Concepts” when I first heard about it during NYCC 2015. I own many books with production art from a variety of movies, but I will always have a soft spot for Star Wars, and this book did not disappoint.
Released by Abrams Books, who have a fine library of Star Wars books already out including their tremendous books of Star Wars Storyboards that I highly recommend, this colorful tome is over 170 pages of art. This includes a foreward by Joe Johnston, my favorite storyboard artist from the original trilogy, a preface from Ryan Church who worked on the prequels, and an introduction from Doug Chiang, who also illustrated scenes and layouts for the prequels.
All of the work by those gentlemen are featured here, along with the legendary Ralph McQuarrie, designs from prequel artists such as Iain McCaig, Sang Jun Lee, Erik Tiemens, and video game artists Fabian Lacey, Jonathan Bach, and Amy Beth Christenson to name a few of the many brilliant contributors to the look of this franchise. I have always preferred the art from the original trilogy, personally, since much of the concept art from the prequels were done digitally. Seeing them all side-by-side in one book allows you to see a natural progression of technology and ability, much like how Star Wars has evolved their look and effects over time to perpetually be on the cutting edge.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, I own a lot of art books and plenty from Star Wars, but most of the time, the art has to be shrunk a bit to fit the pages. Thanks to the wide format of this book, the artwork is often a two-page spread, which allows you to get very up-close and intimate with the artwork. It adds a new level of appreciation for the painting skills of Ralph McQuarrie, the linework of Joe Johnston, and the emotionally-charged ambiance of Ryan Church’s work.
The book features concept artwork spanning not only the movies, but also the expanded universe of video games (both released and unreleased) and the Clone Wars animated series. There are plenty of never-before published pieces of art here, which is a testament to the amount of work that went on behind the scenes to make these movies and to how prolific this series has been. One of the most striking pieces was a gouache painting by Joe Johnston of an Imperial Shuttle flying above a planet during a sunset. It’s rare to see bright colors associated with the evil Empire, but this piece used color to evoke a grim mood as well as adding a unique change to how the Imperials are illustrated that makes for a memorable and gorgeous painting.
For hardcore Star Wars fans, the biggest reason to buy this book is for all of the artwork from unreleased Star Wars projects. This includes video games like “Star Wars: 1313”, which was supposed to be about Boba Fett, “Star Wars: First Assault”, and even the unreleased TV show, “Star Wars” Detours”, which would have been a sketch-comedy show in the Star Wars Universe with highly-stylized character designs. It is one thing to see a leaked photo or scan on the internet, it is another to have a hard copy of this great art in your hands to admire forever.
You can buy “Star Wars Art: Concepts” from Amazon.com for around $25, which is a very good price for this excellent Star Wars book. It might not have much in terms of written content, but a picture is worth a thousand words, so that makes this worth a few million dollars. In this case, it’s quite the investment in the arts, but more importantly, it’s a new way to appreciate the hard work that it took to make Star Wars into what it has become today.