Review by C.J. Bunce
What many don’t realize about movie concept art books is that, from the best of them, you can learn more about the filmmaking design process from the accompanying text than from the images selected. Make no mistake–The Art of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is chock full of many stages of concept artwork. But what unfolds over its more than 250 pages is a rare peek behind the scenes at director Gareth Edwards, Lucasfilm executives, and the art design team as they figured out what story to tell in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
We learned last year in Roger Christian’s Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien (reviewed here at borg.com), that George Lucas knew immediately he wanted to create the look of Star Wars as a sort of documentary, a historical account of a long ago event. To that end he tapped Christian to create environments made from real world components. As explained in The Art of Rogue One, director Gareth Edwards knew he needed to emulate that style of filmmaking and overall look, and his route was using a readily available team of concept artists to create the visuals of Rogue One from day one, even partnering with artists to create the ideas for the film’s story elements in advance of a completed story. These elements included featuring a female lead, a rebel strike squad like that in Force 10 from Navarone, a key droid team member, a battle reflective of Vietnam, a battle reflective of Paris during World War II, and a dark planet for the home of Darth Vader. Edwards wanted to create an echo of Luke Skywalker’s hero–who wished he could join the far away war–with Jyn Erso, a heroine raised in a life of war who only wished to escape it. The proof of the efficacy of Edwards’ process is in the result. Has Edwards begun a new way of making movies, and will future filmmakers take this tack?
“I look at Star Wars as a real historical event that took place in the universe, and George Lucas was there with his crew to capture it. And now we’re there with our cameras and our crew, filming as it passed through us,” Edwards says in Abrams Books’ latest film art book, The Art of Rogue One. “When you look like you’ve come in with a plan, it can feel too prescribed and a bit false–but when it looks like you’re capturing the images, like you’re watching them unfold in real time, it just feels more real. I’m always trying to find that little thing that knocks you off your path–the idea or the ingredient that we didn’t come in trying to create, the curveball that makes the story feel unique.” Edwards directive was similarly unique: How the artists remembered the images of seeing Star Wars for the first time became a more important focus than copying the look of the environments exactly from the original Star Wars source material.
It turns out that the development of Rogue One was quite comparable to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” always among discussion as the top of all Star Trek franchise stories. Behind the scenes of that episode were numerous contributors, producers, writers, many “cooks” that normally would spell certain doom for a story. So, too, was the handling of the concept work for Rogue One: Dozens if not hundreds of minds combining to both emulate something that George Lucas might have conceived, creating something both loyal to a 1970s classic, and at the same time releasing a film reflecting the film technology available today. And like “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” which emerged as a triumph as much out of circumstance and luck than by grand design, Rogue One, as detailed in The Art of Rogue One, is the result of a constellation of the right creative minds coming together to conjure all the elements necessary for a space fantasy blockbuster at the top of the franchise’s films.
Unlike many directors documented in “Art of Film” books we have reviewed here at borg.com over the past several years, Edwards had key cast members known early on, to the point that much of the concept art for the character designs serve as portraiture of the actors as the characters–again, even in the early developmental stages. For the Star Wars fan and readers of The Art of Rogue One, this means the quality of the concept art used for the film and incorporated into the book are on par with Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art for the original film. That, too, should be no surprise for Star Wars fans, as Edwards’ design teams were open about using McQuarrie’s early Star Wars concept work as a guide for Rogue One.
Written by former Lucasfilm publicist Josh Kushins, The Art of Rogue One, one of the best concept art books and Star Wars books you’ll find, contains data on characters that were intended to be in the Rogue One strike squad but were cut from the team. The most spectacular and memorable scene from the trailers was Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso emerging in a lighted tunnel. Edwards explains how and why he filmed that scene, knowing full well that and other great scenes would not make it into the final cut of the film. You’ll learn the rationale and inspiration behind the locations, ships, environments, and even colors selected for Lah’mu, Yavin IV, Jedha, Eadu, Mustafar, and Scarif. The development of costumes, aliens, and retrofitted Stormtrooper armor also gets plenty of discussion and image coverage.
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