Currently occupying the top box office slot in the US, Star Wars is back and bigger than ever, and the purveyors of merchandise stand to make a killing. Cashing in is The Art of Star Wars, a set of three re-released books boasting new artwork and text which show how creator George Lucas has taken the opportunity that nearly 20 years of technological development has brought to add new special effects and more of the special ingredients that made the films such a hit back in the Seventies.
The Star Wars movies have always been fascinating for anybody with an interest in design. The creation of an entire fictional galaxy meant that virtually every prop was created from scratch.
The editors of the Art of Star Wars are obviously well aware of that fact, but seem to assume that their readers aren’t. “Even the most sophisticated audiences are not aware of the immense contribution made by artists and designers,” says the introduction to the second book, which covers the making of The Empire Strikes Back.
That is not strictly true; many will have seen the Making of… documentary films which were typical Boxing Day fare for television programmers when the Star Wars movies received their firstterrestrial airings, and showed the laborious process behind the special effects. But these books could certainly further their education.
Large format softbacks, they contain preliminary and development sketches for all manner of intergalactic paraphernalia, from Princess Leia’s famous bagel-inspired haircut to spaceships, via laser pistols, alien life forms and robots. Plus there are stills from the films and photographs of models to show how the sketches were later made real. The books also contain scripts, production paintings (used to decide how shots would be framed on-screen) and occasional insights into science fiction film-making.
Samples of art from the numerous spin-off industries which formed around the films are covered, such as promotional posters and comics from around the world. It could, though, be judged as overkill to have included letters and crayon drawings sent to George Lucas by child fans. In fact, it could be positively embarrassing to adults of a certain age.
There are inconsistencies in the books: for some reason those concerning the first and third films in the series (A New Hope and Return of the Jedi) contain the scripts, while the second one doesn’t. And the captions to some illustrations give the impression that the films’ designers had lost their grip when it came to distinguishing the real world from their fantasy one: “These platforms hold delicate measuring devices that monitor the changes in pressure and the types of gases in the shaft,” reads one. It’s not real, says the reader.
But the main impression readers are likely to get from the books is one of the huge scale of these productions. It would appear that a George Lucas film can provide full-time work for an average-sized town, probably for several years – an idea reinforced by the fact that when he has finished making it he will probably go back and do it all again.
The Art of Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are released on 14 March by Titan Books, priced 18.99 each. Star Wars is released in the UK on 21 March.