Book review–The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi answers many questions

Review by C.J. Bunce

A new book takes a look behind the scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Abrams Books’ The Art of Star Wars: The Last JediAs with the prior entries in its series: The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Art of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it reflects fascinating and interesting images from the film, plus commentary and interviews from director Rian Johnson and his staff of creative professionals.  Most of the concept art provides a look at ideas left behind, with some exceptions, like the exotic new animals and beasts that could be seen throughout the film, like the sea cow, the porgs, fathier horse-like animals, and the crystalline shard foxes.  Johnson notes in the book’s foreword the challenges and hopes of making his new movie “Star Wars-y.”  Browsing this new book, it will be up to each reader and moviegoer to determine if he was successful.

As with past books in the series, the book was created parallel with the final post-production and film release, so a few key spoiler scenes are not included in the film.  Handily, this edition includes a follow-up section including the death of Han Solo that was omitted from The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  So a few elements are not addressed in this book many fans will want to know about, but perhaps those areas will be included in the behind the scenes volume for Episode IX.  But you will find plenty here to interest any fan–plenty of ship designs and concept art for the film’s new environments and sets.

The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi tells two separate stories, one in the text explaining the decisions made by director Rian Johnson and the visual artists and staff, and the second via the concept artwork that was translated to the screen and the artwork left behind.  The book lists 77 creators behind the backgrounds, landscapes, sets, vehicles, props, and costume designs.  It will take the reader who has seen the film five minutes of flipping through the book to realize it is Jock’s final character rendering work that is seen in the final cut of the film that landed in theaters: Old Luke’s fantastic island garb, Rey’s updated costumes, Rose’s and the Resistance’s uniforms, DJ and Leia’s costumes.  Really all the great, final designs that made it to the screen for the main cast came from the pen and paint of Jock.  But for whatever reason Jock was not interviewed for the book.  What were his influences?  Why this or that design?  It’s unfortunate because it really looks like Jock’s designs for Oliver Queen in his Green Arrow: Year One series directly influenced his designs for Old Jedi Master Luke and that would have been great to learn.

Surprisingly, a lack of any real deference to the original trilogy comes through in the conversations with the creators of The Last Jedi that were interviewed.  The filmmakers seem to give an obligatory quick nod to the old to pacify the fans of the original trilogy, but with a turnabout to discuss choices amounting to leaving the past behind–almost cementing the theme for the entire forward path of the franchise.  Never do they explain why they all saw this mandate, other options considered, or other paths that might have been taken that might have pleased fans of both the old and the new.  According to director Rian Johnson, “What do you keep from the past and what do you not?  What is the value of the myths you grew up with?  What is the value of throwing those away and doing something new and fresh? … Ultimately my allegiance comes down with Rey.”  This in part explains the fandom split over the film, especially considering that Johnson said early on the film would not be another The Empire Strikes Back, when in fact it’s framework follows that film in many obvious ways.

Highlights of the book include designer Doug Chiang’s 2013 idea for Luke’s submerged X-Wing, which was targeted for inclusion in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  The text also includes director Rian Johnson struggling with what to do with Poe and Finn, swapping their place in the story ultimately from early concepts.  And if the look of Canto Bight feels rushed, it could be because Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy scrapped the original look of the casino, saying it wasn’t Star Wars enough.  So an entire scene that took place there was cut from the final version, and the design quickly redone.  Luke’s flashbacks were also an eleventh hour addition, while many explanatory scenes were excised that may have better prepped audiences.

For fans after a view behind the scenes of the film, the latest concept art book of Star Wars design has it, complete with quality color photographs.  A must for every Star Wars fan, and providing great insight into the creation of the new film, The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, by Phil Szostak, is available now in hardcover from Abrams Books here at Amazon.

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