Review–The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian tops four years of the best Star Wars concept art books

Review by C.J. Bunce

It really is the ultimate holiday gift for your favorite Star Wars fan.  The nostalgia in the ideas for the Disney+ series The Mandalorian, as illustrated and explained in The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian, is exactly what fans were hoping for in their next Star Wars experience, probably dating all the way back to the anticipation of the release of Return of the Jedi back in 1983.  There’s a reason for the universal praise for the series, and why it’s one of the best television series of the past ten years, if not one of the best Westerns ever.  Jon Favreau, Doug Chiang, & Co. figured out how to please a diverse fandom.  By including the concept artwork in the end credits for each episode, they took us back to the Ralph McQuarrie paintings that inspired the first Star Wars film.  But those images are only the beginning.

Written by Phil Szostak with a foreword by Doug Chiang, The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian is the best dive into the creative minds who delivered the series, a combination of the storytelling and directing experience of Jon Favreau, decades of production design work and involvement by Doug Chiang (Rogue One, Attack of the Clones, The Phantom Menace), Dave Filoni′s years working on the films and animated series (The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels)–developing a detailed knowledge of the corners of Star Wars people, places, and things, and the vision of production designer Andrew L. Jones (Alice in Wonderland).   Readers learn that the series tapped into legends from Western mythology, stories like Lone Wolf and Cub, and film classics like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Sergio Leone movies, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, Frankenstein, even Lion King, Battlestar Galactica, Pitch Black, and Mad Max, plus designs from World War II, leaning the most on earlier Star Wars franchise projects, vintage Kenner toys, and George Lucas’s own influences: the films of Akira Kurosawa, and classic Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials.

From new and old aliens, beast designs and vehicle creations to environments, crisp, full-color paintings and storyboards tell the detailed story of the entire first season.  And no, they didn’t forget early versions of Baby Yoda–yes, even the designers and author call him that.  Concept design supervisor Christian Alzmann′s painting of the green-eared baby is exactly what was translated to the screen–inspired in part by Warner Brothers cartoon characters.  Readers will find plenty of cool tidbits, like seeing the helpful babysitter/mechanic character Peli Moto initially was drawn like actress Linda Hunt (Silverado). 

Exactly how many riffs can you play on Boba Fett and Jango Fett?  Concept artist Brian Matyas seems to have tapped into them all.  Concept supervisor Ryan Church takes readers through the steps that arrived at the final look at the Razor Crest.

Szostak explains the groundbreaking digital and camera visual and special effects would combine 360-degree panospheres in a 70-foot wide video wall displaying photogrammetry–stitching together digitally real-world locations to create a virtual location–plus scale model ships and motion control technology.

As with the other books in the Abrams Books Star Wars concept art library, most of the textual content is in the descriptions of each image, but even more surprising content seems to be tucked into each paragraph than in prior books.  This is the first time a book in the series was released after the fans had a year to watch the series, usually the books are issued at the time of a film’s release, meaning key spoiler artwork iss held back.  So here absolutely nothing was excluded.  Even better, the spine of the books sports the number 1, so expect each season to get similar treatment.

When I reviewed Abrams Books’ last behind the scenes look at the Star Wars franchise in The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, I mentioned I was hoping that the publisher would get the rights for The Mandalorian series so we could get a close-up look at the costumes, props, and production art–and continue with a sixth volume of Abrams’ superb series of behind-the-scenes looks at the franchise.  Not only was I not disappointed, the love for Star Wars shared by the creators of the series, and the abundance of nostalgic throwbacks in this volume makes for the best content so far in these books.

Along with the entire Abrams library of The Art of Star Wars books, including The Art of The Force Awakens, The Art of Rogue One, The Art of The Last Jedi, The Art of Solo, and The Art of The Rise of Skywalker, don’t miss The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian, by Phil Szostak, available for pre-order now here at Amazon, arriving December 1.

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