Book Review–The spectacular Sculpting a Galaxy: Inside the Star Wars Model Shop

Review by C.J. Bunce

We’ve reviewed dozens of books here at about the filmmaking process.  Great books like Special Effects: The History and Technique, and movie-specific, behind the scenes masterpieces like Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars Limited Edition and Star Wars Frames.  More books have been written about Star Wars than most films, and accounts like Roger Christian’s Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien really take fans back to 1976 and 1977 to learn how such an important series of films began.  With this week’s announcement from Disney that we can look forward to Star Wars spinoffs into the 2030s, the franchise has never had greater worldwide appeal.  One superb account of the Star Wars filmmaking process we have not yet discussed is Lorne Peterson’s Sculpting a Galaxy: Inside the Star Wars Model Shop Limited Edition, originally published in 2005, still available from Insight Editions in both its standard and deluxe format.

Sculpting a Galaxy: Inside the Star Wars Model Shop is the ultimate look at the making of Star Wars models by Lorne Peterson (shown above), about the fantasy worldbuilding work of Peterson and his peers at Industrial Light & Magic from Star Wars: A New Hope through the prequel trilogy.  More than half of this deluxe hardcover book features ships and other vehicles–large, full color photographs (more than 300), and many gatefolds, with sections on each major ship and nearly every minor ship and vehicle created in both 1:1 and small scale for the original trilogy and early prequels, plus those creations digitally rendered by ILM for the later prequel films.  ILM co-founder Peterson provides the creative vision behind each ship–like the fact the Rebel Blockade Runner was originally designed as the Millennium Falcon and why it was changed into its now famous form.  Many of the final models were the product of kitbashing–using parts from model kits of the day like car engines and World War II German tank components to create a look of tangible reality to the construction of the Star Wars galaxy, similar to the method of using “found” items for production used by Roger Christian to create sets and props for the original film.


Peterson also looks at set models created for many environments needed for the six films, plus those creatures and robots ILM worked on for the series.  Diehard fans will appreciate references to paint colors used, and sources for components for various ILM creations, including blood for the Tatooine Cantina scene and full views of the escape pod that R2-D2 and C-3PO used to get there.  Anecdotes like the fact that ILM used modifed Six Million Dollar Man action figures in the seats of many vehicles make this book a fun read.  (Guess who really drove the Landspeeder in its original trip to Mos Eisley!).  Those who may not be fans of the prequels will no doubt appreciate the artistry behind creating the vehicles and sets for the film, shown scattered throughout the pages of the original trilogy in a way that creates its own comprehensive history.  Boba Fett’s Slave 1, the Imperial Probe Droid, AT-ATs, extensive coverage of the Millennium Falcon, the Death Stars, the Star Destroyers (including the unused prototype), the Naboo Rebel Starship, X-Wings, A-Wings, B-Wings, TIE Fighters, and the Landspeeder–all the models fans want to see can be found here.

The standard edition of Sculpting a Galaxy includes a preface by George Lucas, a foreword by Rick McCallum, and an afterword by Phil Tippett.  It is available here at, and usually sells for around $50, but for the ultimate version you may want to check out the Sculpting a Galaxy Limited Edition, signed by Peterson and limited to 3,000 copies.  The Limited Edition is a grand, hefty, unique collectible, including a replica of the top of the rear section of the Millennium Falcon integrated into a sturdy and elegant clamshell display box.  Still listed as a current product at Insight Editions, throughout the past 12 years it can be found here at Amazon as well from time to time.

In addition to the standard book edition, the Limited Edition includes plenty of extras to justify the high-end collectible pricetag (usually $395 and up):  Seven hand-painted reproductions of the Death Star surface panels molded by Lorne Peterson; a re-created edition of the lost version of the Landspeeder with Luke, Ben, and the droids, and a reflective stand to simulate a floating effect; a DVD of documentaries and behind the scenes images; accordion foldouts of ship cutouts; five gatefolds not found in the standard edition; four perforated postcard sheets; From Putty to Pixels book; a booklet describing the white model process; a foldout of ILM creatures; and a booklet about the ILM model shop–all storable in the 16″ X 11.75″ X “5 display box.

A companion collectible to Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars Limited Edition and Star Wars Frames, featuring valuable information for fans of the original Star Wars trilogy and the prequel trilogy and anyone interested in the movie model design and modelmaking process, Sculpting a Galaxy: Inside the Star Wars Model Shop should be considered a must-read.



  1. A great companion book to Peterson’s epic tome is Derek Meddings’ 21st Century Visions. While much more modest in scope (and price), Derek’s only foray into the printed page is packed with wonderful anecdotes and detailed breakdowns of how he and his talented team created the numerous vehicles and miniature environments called for in the many TV series produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

    Supercar, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, Stingray, Fireball XL-5, UFO, and Thunderbirds all get their due. Forever the perfectionist, the man never allowed grueling television time schedules, or the serious lack of funds to get in the way of producing some really memorable effects. While realism was put on the back burner, in its place, eye-popping pyrotechnics and old-fashioned thrills were the order of the day.

    Like Lorne, Derek wasn’t beneath taking a stroll through kitchenwares at the local Woolworth’s to track down the perfect Tupperware bowl needed for some alien base or what have you. Darn, those were the days!

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