In Review: The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This is the "Must Own" item for Star Wars fans this Christmas.

The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Phil Szostak

Published by ABRAMS, December 18, 2015. Hardcover of 256 pages at $40.00. This is an oversized book measuring 10.9 x 0.9 x 11.8 inches.

The covers: The dust jacket has two different images: on the front is Kylo Ren with his lightsaber ignited, standing in a a snowstorm, while on the back is a close-up of Poe’s crashed TIE fighter on Jakku. Removing the jacket, one comes upon an entirely different image on the cover: the Millennium Falcon racing through the crashed Star Destroyer’s innards, chased by four TIEs. All the images look good, but the one on the cover showing Solo’s iconic ship looks amazing because of its composition and colors. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the inside front cover, “For the very first time, step inside the Lucasfilm art department for the creation of the fantastical worlds, unforgettable characters, and unimaginable creatures from one of the most anticipated films in history. The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens will take you there, from the earliest gatherings of artists and production designers at Skywalker Ranch and Lucasfilm, to the fever pitch of production at Pinewood Studios, to the conclusion of post-production at Industrial Light & Magic, all with unprecedented access. The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens will introduce you to director J.J. Abrams’s and producer Kathleen Kennedy’s incomparable gathering of the very best film artists from across the globe, led by award-winning production designers Rick Carter (Jurassic Park, Avatar) and Darren Gilford (TRON: Legacy, Oblivion), and veteran Star Wars art director Doug Chiang. Together, this incredible team of “Visualists” reimagined George Lucas’s beloved franchise for a whole new generation from the inside out, reaching all the way back to legendary Star Wars concept artists Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston for inspiration, and forward to the very bleeding edge of technology and technique. Exclusive interviews with the entire team impart fascinating insights in bringing Abrams’s vision to life; unused “blue sky” concept art offers glimpses into roads not traveled. Bursting with hundreds of stunning works of art, including production paintings, concept art and sketches, storyboards, blueprints, and matte paintings, this visual smorgasbord will delight Star Wars fans and cineastes for decades to come. The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens will stand as the definitive expression of how the latest chapter in the Star Wars saga was dreamed into being.” I purchased this book to look at all the concept illustrations and if it’s able to document the evolution of characters and settings, I will have more than gotten my money’s worth. Overall grade: A

The sections: The book is broken into a Foreward, an Introduction, a Who’s Who, “Guided Imagery” Concept Phase, Pre-Production, Production, Post-Production, and “Who Is Luke Skywalker?” The Foreward is by Rick Carter, the film’s co-production designer, who states what the group was going for. The Introduction by author Szostak puts the production of the film in context and echoes Carter’s sentiments on what the designers would do. A helpful Who’s Who summarizes in one page all whose work is shown or is quoted on the following pages. The “Guided Imagery” Concept Phase begins on October 31 of 2012 and moves into showing the illustrations in earnest, placing each within a dated context, showing the readers how the story and look of the film’s design evolved. There are several surprising images here, including ones of Luke, underwater settings, and possible Ren helmets. Pre-Production moves to July of 2013 as the Star Destroyer interior battle takes shape, images of Anakin (!!!), BB-8’s creation begins, and the differing stormtrooopers are realized. This is the largest section of the book and the most informative. Production jumps the proceedings to May 17, 2014 and sets, costumes, creatures, and characters are locked. The highlights of this section are the many images of the First Order’s settings and tech, with the actual set floor plans included. Post-Production starts at August 27 of 2015 and is comprised of only four pages, but feature large images of ships. “Who Is Luke Skywalker?” is the book’s coda, focusing on Carter’s opinions of what the Force is and how it relates to message of this film and saga. There is also a two page index that tells reader which artist illustrated which image, and it is invaluable. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: Each image, whether used or passed over, holds a tale that may reappear elsewhere, but will fascinate fans for hours, if not years. This is the “Must Own” item for Star Wars fans this Christmas. No matter their age, Star Wars fans will love this book. Highly recommended. Overall grade: A+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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