The Art of Solo showcases the most evocative new Star Wars concept art since The Empire Strikes Back

Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of the original Star Wars trilogy and the new film Solo: A Star Wars Story should take note of the fourth installment of Abrams Books’ Star Wars artbook series.  The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Phil Szostak not only looks behind the scenes of the production of the second of the modern anthology movies and fourth of the modern sequels, it reveals the finest and the most evocative Star Wars-styled concept art created since The Empire Strikes Back.  Taking a different path from the episodic sequels, the creators that imagined the look for Solo took their inspiration directly from the work of Ralph McQuarrie (original trilogy production illustrator and concept artist), Joe Johnston (original trilogy ILM art director), Harry Lange (original trilogy art director and set decorator), and Colin Cantwell (the first Star Wars spacecraft designer), concept artists behind the original Star Wars movie.  Including artwork both used for the final creation of sets, effects, and costumes, as well as imagery that didn’t make it to the final cut, The Art of Solo provides visuals fans back to the 1970s have only dreamed about.

Solo is also the first movie of the post-Disney period of Star Wars to draw back to the actual input from George Lucas for more than merely sketches and early descriptions of his earliest ideas from 1973.  Lucas was involved from the beginning, planning a Han Solo movie since before the Lucasfilm sale, and so this sequel has inspiration and concept direction from the creator of the franchise himself.  Lucasfilm/ILM lead concept designer James Clyne, production designer Neil Lamont, costume designers Glyn Dillon and David Crossman, Neal Scanlan‘s creature department, and Rob Bredow and Pat Tubach‘s visual effects team were aware of the unique challenge facing this film–creating something faithful to the original trilogy and beloved characters while also taking the look and feel of the space fantasy into new territory.  The result is a film full of different worlds that still feels “Star Wars-y,” as the designers call it.  For this film, that meant a Western homage mirroring the American journey of settlers from the East Coast to the West Coast, and also importing story elements found in Akira Kurosawa’s Westerns, among many other classic films.

Many of the portraits and landscape paintings are poster-worthy.  Earthbound physical locations were tracked down to define new worlds Corellia, Mimban, Vandor, Kessel, and Savareen, along with CGI renderings, all to look like they belong in the Star Wars galaxy.  As Star Wars was created in the 1970s–taking place ten years prior to the original Star Wars–the artists looked for styles and ideas from the 1960s via movies, bands, computers and technology, and other cultural influences for costumes and set decorations.  So before Emilia Clarke was cast as Qi’ra, images of the character needed to establish her locations and costumes included drawings that look very much like Grace Kelly.  Incorporating images of younger versions of both Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams were obvious choices for creating their first looks, like the duo at the gambling table where Lando would lose the Falcon to Solo.  But soon Alden Ehrenreich’s image became the face of Han Solo.  All along, Chewbacca was Chewbacca, only the crew aimed to convey a different view of the Wookiee, where having all his hairs styled in place was no longer important–this was the young, wind-blown companion from the past, the one quicker to tear someone’s arms off.

Key concepts were driven by the story writers Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan and Lucasfilm creative director Doug Chiang.  Who were these characters when they were younger, what made up the new characters, and how did the writers and artists get there?  What elements of story were important to tell?  The train scene was inspired by the train robberies of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Other scenes point back to different inspiration.  Most fun for fans will be ideas introduced and left aside, like Han rescuing Chewie or Chewie rescuing Han on the battlefield at Mimban, early ideas of Qi’ra and Dryden Voss saw them each as alien beings, the early Millennium Falcon went through hundreds of versions before arriving at a final, and ILM senior concept artist Brett Northcutt designed a beautiful Star Destroyer image for an early opening sequence of the movie.

Here are some pages from The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story courtesy of the publisher:

It probably shouldn’t be surprising, but director Ron Howard, who entered the production very late, is not mentioned or interviewed in the book, nor are original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.  The team that put together the ideas for Solo were assembling ideas during the production of The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi, sometimes working on artwork for multiple movies in the franchise at once–well before any director involvement.

This hardcover release features hundreds of color images, production paintings, concept art, sketches, storyboards, and matte paintings.  It will have fans of the original trilogy thinking back to McQuarrie and other Star Wars artists of years’ past.  And if you missed them, don’t forget to check out our prior reviews of books from the series at these links:

The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Art of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

A great companion to the three other books in the series from Abrams Books, The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story is recommended for Star Wars fans whether or not you’ve read the prior volumes.  Best of all, we think you’ll agree this volume includes the best Star Wars concept artwork since The Empire Strikes Back.  The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story is available now here at Amazon.


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