azing adoringly at gorgeous works of art has always been part of the Star Wars community. Whether it’s appreciating the masterful works that eventually make their way into the feature films or pouring over hundreds of pages of unused concepts, witnessing the complex, intimate creations put forth by the Lucasfilm Art Department has been a treat unlike any other for every Star Wars fan.
Beginning with The Force Awakens, Abrams Publishing began releasing “The Art of” books that combined breathtaking visuals with fascinating interviews with designers, sculptors, directors, and more to bring the reader directly into the design process of a galaxy far, far away.
The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker by Phil Szostak continues that tradition brilliantly, but before we dive into the specifics of this entry into the lauded series, we need to answer one very important question.
What is the purpose of an art book?
Months ago, various images from this book were leaked online thanks to an early international release, and a number of fans immediately rose as an angered collective. Some of the images they saw featured scenes that did not occur in the movie, and a number of the pieces reflected what those fans believed was a superior product than the final Episode IX that was received.
“The art cannot exist in isolation as pure spectacle. It needs a purpose. It needs to serve the story first and foremost.” - Doug Chiang
This decision to use the wonder of the art book to dismantle the film, regardless of your opinion on its success, not only diminishes the truly massive amount of work that went into creating the final product, but it also rips away the beauty of the endeavor that is exploring this book to its fullest.
Let me be the first to tell you that within the 250 pages of The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker reside thousands of potential avenues for the final film. Interviews with producers, writers, and art directors point us toward scenes that were cut before they were written and ideas that were scrapped before a single phone call was made.
But the beautiful thing about that? There’s art for all of it.
And that’s the incredible thing about this collection. We are given the ability to dive directly into the creative process of the last entry in the Skywalker Saga, and whether or not we agree with the decisions that were made, we are able to experience them firsthand with every turn of the page.
And that is the purpose of an art book. To explore every corner of the wondrously unique process that is concept design in the most famous universe in the history of fiction. All we have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
HONORING THE PAST
Just as The Rise of Skywalker carried the burden of rounding out the Skywalker Saga, so too did the art team carry the burden of honoring the four previous decades of Star Wars design. The Foreword and Introduction by Dough Chiang and Phil Szostak, respectively, do an incredible job of setting the tone for the entire process before we dive into any of the new work.
“George insisted that the new ideas be grounded in the old, just as fantasy has to be grounded in reality, and movie sets have to be rooted in real places.”
Chiang highlights the importance of Lucas’s original vision and idea that the world of Star Wars must be one of reality. This philosophy repeatedly makes itself known in the rest of the book as you turn through pages upon pages of practical designs, model molds, and images based around the world that we all know.
It’s a crucial distinction that I had never fully considered until I read Chiang’s words.
He goes one step further in his preparatory statements for the reader by explaining the two phases of design: The Brain Dump Phase and The Production Phase. This dichotomy is crucial in understanding the concept I outlined above, because it liberates the reader’s mind from the belief that every single picture that doesn’t appear in the film is a waste.
They’re all part of a larger process. A process that takes time, care, and hundreds and thousands of people to get right. And that’s the way it’s always been.
And that’s the lesson that Szostak tapes one step further in his introduction. The people behind the design of the Star Wars franchise have been working in this system for years and years, and there’s a real reverence to the way they’ve created some of the most formative images of our lives.
Before I looked at the first concepts, I was wowed by the way these two masters of the craft were able to explain a process that I knew absolutely nothing about. And then...it was time for the main event.
It was time for the art, itself.
What struck me the most about the first few collections of production designs wasn’t necessarily the spectacular use of color nor the variance of architectural layouts but rather the way that every single painting and quotation expanded my idea of the characters of the saga.
From the start of the book, the interviewed creators are very clear about the fact that the Sequel Trilogy is female focused, and the designs go hand-in-hand with that concept. Leia’s role as matriarch was discussed just as much with the art team as it was with the writers, and despite the inability to film new sets of dialogue with Carrie, the entirety of Lucasfilm remained dedicated to the idea of her power and importance.
These themes transferred further to Rey, and as the reader flips through the initial renderings of Rey’s costume evolution, you can literally see the artists figuring out just how much this character has grown over the past few films, and that is the element that stuck out to me most clearly.
The art team is defining character just as much as the actors and the writers.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of costume renderings can be found in this book, but rather than stiff, inorganic representations of fabric and material, every figure is imbued with life and purpose far beyond the page. Just as you may try on a plethora of different shirts before finding your right fit, so too did the artists try on different styles, moods, and affectations for every character before any of them stepped foot on set.
Finn had a golden jacket, Zorii Bliss was draped in fur, and Poe had a beard at one point! And J.J. Abrams was involved with all of it to varying extents. The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker shows us the design, explains where it existed in the process, and tells us who made the final decision on its usage in the eventual product. Through this lens, you can see what information was gifted to Daisy, John, Oscar, and Adam long before any words were put into their characters’ mouths.
Because that’s what good character design does. It creates a template for the actor to inhabit and mold to their liking, and this book clearly shows how many marvelous templates our favorite heroes had to work with from the start.
And it goes far beyond the main outfits they wear. How would they adapt to various environments? How would background characters be outfitted to both draw attention yet sink into the background? What could the posture of your character’s rendering tell you about your intention for an upcoming scene?
Endless questions beget endless answers, and the designers behind The Rise of Skywalker were clearly all too happy to provide them.
SETTING THE SCENE
Beyond the look of the characters is obviously the look of the world. The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker not only provides an incalculable amount of reference and mockup for the planets we witnessed in Episode IX, but it also provides a snapshot of the schedule on which they were created.
For instance, I had no idea how much work went into molding the universe of this film before J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio had written a single word. Because the timetable for this movie was so much shorter than the previous two installments, the art team was working to create preliminary environments and fleshed out ideas months before the script had its first letter.
This type of creative process resulted in the creation of a wondrously large amount of unused concepts, locations, and plot lines that can all be found within these pages, and you can almost lose yourself in the infinite possibilities.
For me, this is where the book shines the brightest.
The idea that the production team behind this film was creating locations, aliens, and even props without a firm idea of where the final product may end up is simultaneously baffling and fascinating. The designers simply had to trust that they knew what this universe was going to look like, and in order to do so, they went back to discover what helped create these worlds in the first place.
If you’re a fan of easter eggs and references to previous films like Rogue One, Solo, and more, you will discover an absolute treasure trove within these sections. The choice of colors, set models, ship designs, and more are all detailed by the people that made the decisions to use them, and their love and respect for what came before is astonishingly evident.
The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker creates a gateway into a world inhabited by masters of their craft. You can easily spend hours and hours pouring over the details of every costume, weapon, ship, and skyline that was painstakingly created in the service of making the best movie possible.
Can you also piece together the fragments of a film you would have enjoyed more than The Rise of Skywalker? Absolutely. But that would, in my opinion, diminish the wonder and value that this book holds within.
After reading through The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in its entirety, I have a newfound appreciation for the care and effort that goes into creating every single piece of content that’s seen onscreen, and I stand in awe of the work of those that have been crafting those moments for one, five, or even forty years.