LUKE SKYWALKER RETURNS TO THE GALAXY, FROM DECEMBER 15TH, 2017

ARRIVING IN THE NETHERLANDS, FROM 30/9/17. BOOK NOW FOR THE ULTIMATE 'STAR WARS' EXHIBITION

Friday, 31 May 2013

ROTJ AT 30: THE LIGHTSABER CRUCIBLE


Our month of daily celebration for RETURN OF THE JEDI comes to an end with this stunning, of its time poster illustration for the STAR WARS ORAL-B toothbrush range, showing the climactic, emotional and exciting finale lightsaber duel between father and son, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, watched by the evil Emperor.


CLASSIC REVIEW: 'SIZE MATTERS NOT' BY WARWICK DAVIS


SIZE MATTERS NOT

THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE AND CAREER OF WARWICK DAVIS


An autobiography by Warwick Davis

Published by Aurum Press

Reviewed by Scott Weller

With a diverse range playing everything from a cute teddy bear helping to topple a deadly empire “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”, to being a kindly professor, and from being an unexpected hero in a fantasy of sword and sorcery, to bringing the world down around him as a miserable paranoid android, actor Warwick Davis has spent the last twenty seven years entertaining the world in all manner of mainstream film and TV blockbusters, plus some truly weird and wonderful cult projects, and often acting within a veritable cornucopia of guises and performances that have cemented his place in audience hearts and minds forever, and making him a firm fixture of the fantasy and science fiction universes. And all this undertaken for the sake of entertainment. Plus, he’s played E.T., too!! How’s that for the film-history books! And, even luckier, he managed to get his hands on Jennifer Anistons’ shapely legs long before Brad Pitt ever did! Extra kudos there, too!!

Beyond his many iconic on–screen roles, his unique small person size certainly hasn’t restrained or diminished his creativity and enthusiasm for his profession (which he kinda slipped into with the ease of Cinderella putting on her missing slipper), and his love of life and his family happily knows no bounds. So, it’s nice to report thatWarwick’s new autobiography, SIZE MATTERS NOT, is a warm distillation of the very best ingredients of the man, and is lively, intelligent and truly nostalgic to read. You will be much entertained.

It’s certainly very humorous, with lots of cheekiness and bad puns aplenty-you are so duly warned! SIZE MATTERS NOT doesn’t just generally please film fans with its anecdotes of many great films and TV shows which Warwick has been involved in, but its also a great showing of his triumph over both adversity and tragedy in his life-from the moment he was born (having both Talipas as a child, and the ultra rare condition, only later diagnosed in his life, of spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenital (try saying that one when you’re drunk!!)), Warwick has fought all the way with courage, tenacity and humour, and his hard work, persistence and love of life and work has paid off- with a nice dollop of luck thrown into the equation alongside him - which readers will enjoy discovering, appreciate and understand as the fruits of his successes continue within its pages.

And to think it all started with the help of his Nan!!

That’s right, beloved Nan Davis, she of the Haunted house (I kid you not!!) that Derek Acorah and Yvette Fielding should have investigated years ago for MOST HAUNTED, who heard a radio ad on LBC requiring small people to work on the third STAR WARS film. Warwick soon proved to be the right guy for the right job and, with a youthfulness that inspired the films cast and crew, was quickly whisked into the wonderful world of making movies!! His portrayal of the furry young Ewok warrior-to-be, Wicket W. Warwick, alongside the rest of his cuddly race, would soon prove irresistible on screen to both young children and families everywhere, as he and his Endorian buddies helped our heroic Rebels overthrow an Empire with their primitive, but highly effective weaponry. In many ways, Warwick and the Ewoks would overshadow Harrison Ford in the film, whether he liked it or not!!

Warwick and his JEDI alter-ego.

The making-of section devoted to Warwick’s initiation to STAR WARS/JEDI (of which he and millions of others had their fates intermixed at such an early age- the original STAR WARS being his first film memory as an always excited seven year old – and making him a true member of that illustrious original viewers club of the series!!), and the youngsters introduction to film-making in general, is well put together and very interesting in places - it’s fun to see how a lot of Wicket’s scenes were improvised by Davis and ended up on film, egged on by an enthusiastic George Lucas and Assistant Director David Tomblin- but ultimately there’s only a few little bits of new information here and there if you’re a true die-hard behind the scenes nut (like revealing to us exactly who Ewok actor Nicky Read was on the film- a fellow 11-year alongside Warwick on the set of JEDI), with so much having already been previously revealed about the Ewok filming in the last twenty five years.

I imagine that, being so young, Warwick probably wasn’t too aware, or was oblivious, of the kind of juicy behind the scenes things going on around him with regards to JEDI’s shooting, like the problems between Dave Prowse and LUCASFILM, and the top secret filming with Sebastian Shaw, or anything like that, until after the fact, and very little is talked about the films director, Richard Marquand, which is a bit of a shame. Annoyingly, the STAR WARS related text also has one big error that often sticks out like a thorn in this reviewer’s side: Lightsaber is still being spelt wrong in the publishing world (as “lightsabre”)-when will people get this right!!

Who's a lucky boy, eh?

The much vaunted rare photos linked to the film’s making, and other parts of Warwick’s life and career, are good, and there are some nice behind the scenes shots (loved the Carrie/Warwick images, and the one with Mark Hamill on set)- with many pics specially chosen from sources including the LUCASFILM archives- though some are represented a tad too small or under-reproduced (more colour inside would have been a nice bonus, even if it would have meant a price increase), where they could have been better laid out by the books obviously talented design team (applause, though, for the opening collage of images showing Warwick’s different moods-a fun way to launch the book and show the spirit of his autobiography in general).

Linked to JEDI there’s also a nice section about the RETURN OF THE EWOK/ Warwick Davis film project that was being made at the same time in 1982, but there’s still not enough detail about its behind the scenes making or enough on Warwick’s friendship/filming memories with good friend David Tomblin, though the reproduction of screen grabs from this occasionally seen at conventions short film, as part of the nostalgic colour section, are fun to have. With JEDI and EWOK, it looks like Warwick, being a child, was able to get away with absolute murder on set, and must have been a refreshing and innocent change of pace for cast and crew to have enjoyed working with on the top-secret filming, both at ELSTREE STUDIOS and at the US location filming.

On location in California, our iconic STAR WARS heroes say goodbye to Warwick in RETURN OF THE EWOK.

Warwick’s deserved rise to further success as Wicket the Ewok would continue a few years later in the spin-off TV movies, CARAVAN OF COURAGE and THE BATTLE OF ENDOR, and that too gets a brief mention, where he notes their popularity and cult status with fans of all ages. There’s also a great sequence where he talks about dressing up as Wicket for George Lucas’s adopted daughter Amanda’s fourth birthday, which is an amusing sequence to read (and with a great accompanying B/W pic to boot!). Warwick’s continuing friendship with George Lucas ever since JEDI is something to be proud of, and the STAR WARS creator provides an equally pleasing view of their friendship in a nicely written foreword to the book.

Thanks to Lucas, the emergence of the fantasy film genre with, and since, the release of the original STAR WARS saga would soon prove to be a great source of enjoyment and financial income forWarwick, as all manner of film and TV projects burst forth in the proceeding chapters requiring his unique talents. After JEDI, he recalls on-set life acting with David Bowie on Jim Henson’s LABYRINTH and, outside of performing, briefly acting as a production runner on WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, before deciding life in front of the camera, rather than behind it, was more preferred.

Then comes WILLOW- Warwick’s first lead role in a film, and at just seventeen years old, acting in a project specially conceived by Lucas for him to star, and in which he shows a maturity as an actor beyond his years in this cult hit directed by Ron Howard. This is a terrific, highly detailed section of the book, and it’s nice to read about how strong a friendship Davis has shared with fellow actor Val Kilmer, both on set and off, and has continued since the original filming (there’s a lovely, albeit brief, reunion between them at the end of the book). Kilmer was almost like a sword and sorcery version of Han Solo in the movie as Madmartigan, and was most impressive. This project was a lot to put on Warwick shoulders, so it’s no wonder that Ron Howard was also looking/testing for older actors in the demanding role, but Davis ultimately pulls the task off very well and on screen pretty much makes it look like the easiest thing in the world to achieve. It may not be a classic film, but WILLOW has survived the test of time and been enjoyed by families due to the vitality and conviction of its lead stars within the fantasy framework.

Another of the books best behind the scenes chapters involvesWarwick’s experiences, invited by David Tomblin, visiting the last day of shooting on to the set of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, where he’s accompanied by his best friend, Daniel (whom Davis regularly describes as an “idiot!!”- in a lovable way of course!!). The camaraderie of Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Steven Spielberg is nicely re-visited.

Big head, big powers!

STAR WARS and WILLOW may be the most recognized ofWarwick’s work, but how could we not mention the equally fine, detailed sections of the cult phenomenon of his six bizarre but priceless LEPRECHAUN films (LEPRECHAUN IN DA HOOD!! Now, THAT’S a title!!). These sections are clearly some of the most enjoyable parts of the book, and the info on how these much loved B-movies came to fruition and spanned six films (yes folks, SIX films!! So far!!) is very amusing, with Warwick clearly enjoying the diverse low budget filming experiences.

Having been dormant for a long time, despite continued merchandise success, STAR WARS was ready to return to cinemas once again, bursting forth like an active volcano with Lucas’s phone call to arms to Warwick, telling him to be ready, in 1997, and its here that his love of Chocolate Digestives comes in handy for his survival against food poisoning during location filming in Tunisia for EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE. This section is another strong point of the book, and has some nice tales I hadn’t heard before, plus some great bits of BTS info I wasn’t previously aware of. He played four characters in the film (Yoda (for a brief walking scene), Anakin’s friend, the Rodian named Wald, a grimy extra on the Mos Espa location set (later called Greaser), and a pod racing spectator (nicknamed an older Willow by the production team). Warwick’s return to the STAR WARS universe is obviously one of his most pleasant, and continually nostalgic, jobs, and to see in the birth of a new Prequel trilogy must have been great for him to have been involved with.

With the birth of the STAR WARS saga comes the quick succession birth of the STAR WARS conventions, of which Warwick has been a loyal participant/guest for many years, so it’s surprising that he doesn’t talk about his experiences on them very much. Perhaps he wants to keep his distance from us “geeks”!! Or he’s saving those experiences for another book?

Surprisingly, after WARS, it is the HARRY POTTER section of the book that, apart from his initial casting and work in the first film, seems to have few anecdotes, especially as he has been in all of the films to a more or less degree, though his affection for Michael Gambon’s wicked humour and storytelling clearly shows (I also loved Warwick’s earlier description of another acting legend, the ex-DOCTOR WHO, Tom Baker (whom he worked with on the BBC TV versions of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA)-check the book to find out what he says).

Beyond all previous make-up applications and body suits that he’s worn and been used to, it will be everyone’s favourite depressive robot, Marvin the Paranoid android, for the movie version of Douglas Adams’ book THE HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, that proves to Warwick’s toughest acting gig to date, driving him almost to the point of mental and physical exhaustion within its restricting confines, and its obviously a part he was glad to see the back of, despite his love of the cast, the director, and the finally released film. Further strains take place with his adventures in Tic-land for PRINCE CASPIAN, but the book enters happier climes as it takes us up to the birth of his most recent child, Harrison, and his TV work, including a memorable role in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s UK comedy series EXTRAS, and the start of a great relationship between the trio, and their getting together to make a pilot episode of Davis’s newly created comedy series format- LIFE’S TOO SHORT (think CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, but smaller!), which we hope will make its way to a full series.

As well as digestives, there’s also a memorable section on his life as a master of ceremonies at the annual Stilton Cheese Rolling Championship in Peterborough. Now that he has revealed his indulgence in cheddar, Warwick is likely to be inundated with it by fans at conventions!! He’s also diversified himself into the realms of television presenting, show organizing (look out for the section of the HALF MONTY!!-don’t trust him to book your venues!!), and handling the reins as a producer and film-maker extraordinaire (something that goes back to his teenage roots- there’s a funny section on the home made movies he made as a kid. I liked the one of the early VCR that eats people!). There’s also his innovative WILLOW casting agency for small and tall people that he has with his business partner Peter Burroughs (father of his wife, Sam), which Davis has made a well-deserved success from many “why didn’t anyone think of this before?” types of idea linked to being small.

The book comes full circle with another STAR WARS high, asWarwick recalls the fun and nostalgia of it all with his recent home Jacuzzi encounter with lovable UK TV presenter Justin Lee Collins for the reasonably successful BRING BACK STAR WARS TV show interview/reunion.

Warwick’s telling of his life-story may show a little bit of occasional ego (and if you’re going to be working in the film and TV business you’ve certainly got to have it to survive) but its certainly nothing belligerent-his willpower to succeed positively in life is balanced with a lot of charm and humility. With the help of a very grounded family and older sister growing up, Warwick has got his head firmly on his shoulders about life, is fun loving but also highly disciplined with himself, especially related to his career, which, to his credit, he has run the crest of the wave of good fortune with and survived intact to prosper – his is a self evolver to be proud of, and he’s a fine provider for his family.

Beyond the clearly enjoyed film work, life as a short person is clearly not without its difficulties, especially in his day-to-day dealings with the general public (he and his family are very popular with Irish and Japanese tourists, who all want to touch them for luck!!), and whilst I’m sure it must be terribly frustrating, Davis observations on life as a short person are surprisingly upbeat and I never got the feeling at all that he’s bitter about his life. In many ways, being little has opened up some wonderful doors at the right times and places, and with the right kind of people you want as friends. At 40, Warwick’s done more so far in his life than many of us will ever achieve in a lifetime. With his varied life experiences, you can see why the aforementioned Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant want to turn his life into a TV series. It should be quite a ground-breaking and hilarious show, which, like SIZE MATTERS NOT, will show Warwick’s clear candidness in his writing, alongside his vital sense of humour, honesty and courageousness, and a personal integrity at work and at play that’s much to be admired.

SIZE MATTERS NOT is certainly a fine mirror of the man named Warwick Davis, and a very enjoyable biography. As the book concludes, it’s obvious that there’s still so much more to come from him. He’s definitely a person who is high and mighty, where size matters not. The future has never looked brighter, and I wish him the best of success!


AFICIONADO RATING: This is a large book for a man whose enthusiasm and love of life transcends all size!! With Warwick it’s never been a case of how he’ll adjust to the world, it’s rather how the world will adjust to Warwick!

And, to follow Warwick’s advice for surviving life: “Always make sure your nuts are tight!” 8.5 out of 10

Thursday, 30 May 2013

ROTJ AT 30: FANTASY CHECK A-OK.


George Lucas and Howard Kazanjian make a final inspection of the various ILM built models being used in the special effects filming of RETURN OF THE JEDI. With thanks to the STAR WARS ARCHIVES website for the image.

A few years back, Mister Kazanjian very kindly gave AFICIONADO a superb interview about his time working on JEDI, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and other fascinating films. Check it out here: http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/6337672/howard-kazanjian-interview-2009-pdf-1-7-meg?da=y





Wednesday, 29 May 2013

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STAR WARS STORYBOARDS - THE PREQUELS' BOOK



STAR WARS STORYBOARDS: THE PREQUEL TRILOGY

Edited by J.W. Rinzler

Introduction by Iain McCaig

Published by ABRAMS


Reviewed by Scott Weller


As a shiny new STAR WARS universe gears up for production in conceptual art and animatics at LUCASFILM/BAD ROBOT, this weighty behind the scenes tome from J.W. Rinzler, custodian of the LUCASFILM behind the scenes flames, excels as an enjoyable memory lane trip to an artistic, creative renaissance time in the mid-nineties when the Prequel era of creator George Lucas’s considerable imaginings had not yet been treated with such unfair and often unreasonable disdain by die-hard fans. The beautiful looking adventure and drama of the era presented here through the medium of storyboard storytelling (given new high-resolution scanning life), leading up to the birth of the Empire and Darth Vader is evocatively and chronologically charted, but also proves intriguing for what could have been as well as what would be, within its 350 pages.

In this visual medium, before the equal wonders of animatics would win the decisive realms of movie previsualisation, pictures certainly speak thousands of words- something that Lucas was unafraid to utilise in his three blockbuster films that made would make such an impact on moviegoers lives, ingratiating them and infuriating them in equal measure, between 1999 to 2005.

Here, STAR WARS storytelling, via the emerging computer technology in the special effects field, was finally capable of being of the grand scale that had once previously and exclusively resided in his dreams for so long, eventually going beyond what was seen in the previously iconic and beloved Classic Trilogy. Storyboards and mild animatic had been a key factor in those prior films creations, too, but, but in relations to the all-important first film of the new trilogy-The Beginning, later becoming The Phantom Menace, STAR WARS for the next generation if you like -they would be more important than ever in planning the huge special effects and stunt work needed to bring the adventures of Anakin Skywalker and co. to life.

Within its pages we get to see how new characters like comedic amphibian Jar Jar Binks and baddie Sith Lord Darth Maul would evolve within the art, alongside some of the abandoned ideas and concepts linked to them (intriguingly, Maul would almost be of the female persuasion, in the form of martial arts superstars of the time Maggie Cheung or Brigitte Ling, long before the arrival of Sith Witch/assassin Asajj Ventress).

Further foundation building journeying through STORYBOARDS reveals the necessary evolving state of play on the films, especially at the beginning of the new saga, from script to storyboard to screen, and often, in life influencing art, from storyboard to script to screen, too, especially if the influenced Lucas liked certain things coming out of the artists powerhouse.Soon making their cinematic mark in the blossoming worlds of CGI, the battle of Naboo and the first act of the Clone Wars conflict on the hostile Geonosis have some splendid prior artwork.

Unused energetic ideas show us more on the Trade Federation droid takeover of Naboo, the Gungan battle (Jar Jar riding a Stap bike during the conflict looks like it could have been genuinely funny) and the appearance and fighting styles of the more Samurai-like Jedi pairing of Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan learner, Obi-Wan Kenobi. There’s other sequences that were either filmed yet cut for time, or scrapped in advance for proving too costly to the films budgeting or clashing with the nature/tone of the evolving screenplays. 

The talents of the cutting-edge team working in the attic of SKYWALKER RANCH, under the direction of soon STAR WARS legend Iain McCaig, are well showcased through the book, alongside notes from him and other key talents (including Benton Jew, Rodolfo Damaggio and Derek Thompson). McCaig also contributes some new storyboards specifically for the book, notably for the death of Darth Maul-the character he would become most responsible for visually. In these early days, two years before live-action filming commenced on EPISODE I in 1997, its interesting to see the way these new, some old, heroes are visualized prior to actor casting, portrayed by the artists in a different light to they way they would ultimately become, especially little Anakin Skywalker and the Jedi.

EPISODE I has the most storyboards, pretty much all presented here, alongside key action sequences from EPISODEs II and III (the animatics process now starting to take on a life of its own during pre-production from II onwards). Epic battles, incredible vistas and intriguing new aliens to be realised into model and CGI life- moments that only cinema can provide are charted- like the superb adrenaline charged Pod Race through Tatooine’s Jundland Wastes, and the climactic duel between Darth Maul and venerable heroes Jinn and Kenobi. Plus a look at the last minute addition by Lucas of the Geonosian Droid Factory sequence to EPISODE II, which had to be storyboarded in its entirety as a shooting reference, as there was no time to animatic it. EPISODE III presents us with many of the epic ideas that McCaig and his team had for the vital opening of the film-the battle of Coruscant and the rescue of the captured Palpatine from General Grievous (whose conflicts against sworn enemy Kenobi are a major part of this section, going into their final confrontation on Mustafar), and the final cataclysmic scenes relating to Anakin Skywalker, now at one with the dark side, and Obi-Wan- a particular sequence of events that fans had been waiting, anticipating, for years since reading about the fall and rise of Darth Vader in a popular STAR WARS poster magazine in 1978.

Despite a few tantalising sequences which I'd hoped to see not present (primarily EPISODE III's ORDER 66 sequence- was this ever storyboarded?), and a bit of a dearth of big text on the way the art/storyboarding team came together and evolved their work processes over eight years beyond whats noted in the foreword and introduction pages, STAR WARS STORYBOARDS is overall a sumptuous package in the way it shows the power of pencil and imagination in such a memorable and effective way.

AFICIONADO RATING: Another essential purchase for fans to celebrate, STAR WARS STORYBOARDS – THE PREQUELS is an aspirational and enjoyable product. Let’s hope it’s not too long before the Classic Trilogy gets a deserved book in this area as well. 4 out of 5


STAR WARS.COM feature on the book: Star Wars Storyboards—The Prequels  Book Announced | Star Wars Blog

Storyboard artist Benton Jew's blog: bentonsblog




ROTJ AT 30: CALAMARI CREWMAN!


A Mon Calamari ground crew officer is one of the many Rebels seen in the background within the immense Base One cruiser, as General Han Solo and his combat team prepare to depart for Endor.


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

ROTJ AT 30: THE BOSS HAS ARRIVED


Darth Vader welcomes the Emperor and his special entourage of evil in one of the massive hangars of Death Star II, which took up the entire STAR WARS Stage at London's Elstree Studios in March/April 1982, and still proved too small to house its confines and shuttle.


Monday, 27 May 2013

ROTJ AT 30: MONSTER REHEARSAL!


Safely ensconced in his music machine, blue skinned Max Rebo and his human operator (Simon Williamson) get ready to film the creature's memorable music number scene - Lapti Nek - inside Jabba the Hutt's Throne Room at Elstree Studios, circa January 1982.


AFICIONADO CLASSIC REVIEW: 'STAR WARS - THE ART OF RALPH McQUARRIE'. A STAR WARS: CELEBRATION JAPAN EXCLUSIVE - 2008



STAR WARS: THE ART OF RALPH McQUARRIE BOOK – A STAR WARS: CELEBRATION JAPAN EXCLUSIVE

Published by DREAMS AND VISIONS PRESS 


Reviewed by Scott Weller


With the STAR WARS saga’s Thirtieth Anniversary last year, a lot of magazine features and television programmes would often start off declaring: can you imagine a world without STAR WARS. More to the point, however, can you imagine a world without the art of STAR WARS by Ralph McQuarrie?

In case anyone out there has been stranded on an island with the passengers of OCEANIC FLIGHT 815, Ralph McQuarrie is what we South Londoners would call “The Guv’nor”-the man George Lucas looked to in 1975 to create a series of conceptual art pieces that he could use to visually depict the space fantasy film he wanted to make and sell the risky idea to the film studio chiefs that he hoped would finance it. All five of the paintings he would produce would become seminal, iconic classics, including his first work-showing the brilliant METROPOLIS like version of See-Threepio, with a trundling Artoo Detoo trying to catch up behind him, on the desert world of Tatooine. The paintings worked, FOX took the risk of making it, and Ralph McQuarrie was there on and off throughout the film’s Pre and Post-Production periods, creating further art, helping to define the all important characters, hardware and planetary landscapes that we know and love today. As George Lucas fought the studios, the unions, the effects men, to bring his vision to celluloid, McQuarrie was silently, brilliantly helping General George in creating the visual blueprint that the film needed to have, not just on this movie but on the further two sequels it later spawned in the wake of it’s mighty box office success.

The rest, as they say, is history…

I had been aware of Ralph McQuarrie’s name relating to STAR WARS after it’s UK release during Xmas 1977 (though I wasn’t actually able to see the movie until January 1978), but it wasn’t until my brother bought me for a present from his weekend visit to a science fiction convention later in the year that I could see just who Ralph McQuarrie was, and what amazing work he’d done for the movie. That present was the STAR WARS PORTFOLIO comprising the majority of Ralph’s conceptual work for the film. Twenty-one pieces of the artists amazing work for the film. I was blown away by it!! These were probably the first pieces of serious art that I’d ever really appreciated-even at that tender age I knew that this portfolio was very special, far beyond anything I’d seen before or since (for me, none of the Prequel artistry, which I do love, has come anywhere this close in greatness!!). What impressed me was the way the images had been selected and printed on really nice glossy paper (though, thirty years on, they’ve faded a bit, even though I’d kept them in the original packaging), at a size you could really appreciate-and then there were the subtle differences between Ralph’s paintings and what was seen on screen. So much of it had made it to the final movie, but there were some additions to the work that I’d wished had made it to the big screen-I’d have loved to have seen a lightsaber wielding Stormtrooper (and the look of the background of that painting, white and labyrinth, was inspired). I absolutely adored that portfolio (which, along with the MARVEL comic books, inspired me to draw lots of my own little comic book STAR WARS tales (looking at them now, my attempts were pretty rubbish and un-original, but, hey, I was eight!!!)), and the subsequent EMPIRE and JEDI ones, but this first one, for me personally, has a special place in my affections.

Now, in 2008, to celebrate Japan’s theatrical anniversary of the first film, Ralph McQuarrie’s dedicated art representatives, the guys and gals at DREAMS AND VISIONS PRESS, have released a new soft cover book volume specially for the event of Ralph’s work that is, unlike their previous and stunning hardcover book, THE ART OF RALPH McQUARRIE (which was devoted to the artist’s entire career, including STAR WARS) is a full, one hundred per cent concentration on just his STAR WARS artistry. His considerable input to this Saga has had such an effect on pop culture that it continually surprises and amuses me, whenever I listen to Ralph in interviews, that he has always been so humble about his work on the original three films, especially so on the first film-the very genesis for everything to follow in the years, decades, afterwards. That such a generous, hardworking, almost shy person has done such instrumental work often makes me want to shout out “Ralph’s brilliant” to the rooftops (in much the same way Peter Finch did in the movie NETWORK!), and I, like so many other fans, are sad that we’ve never been able to meet him at any conventions. So wide-ranging has his work been, and so many people have become artists because of him, that I think we should be having CELEBRATION RALPH days out there-his visual links to the Saga is such that they’re almost symbiotic!!! And let’s not forget his sequels work, either-especially on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK-for building and improving on material that was already so successful. The amount of material he produced for the first Sequel was probably greater than that for STAR WARS and yet there was no dip in quality and imagination. Consistently beautiful art-always striking, always ingenious, always inspiring, Ralph’s work helped to make the second STAR WARS movie less of a risk visually-helping to make it look even more wondrous and ambitious than the first adventure.

And this new book collection is not only special in the fact that it compiles so much of his Saga work, but there’s the fact that it has also been give a unique position in STAR WARS publishing history. A very special position. Normally, any books written by actor’s/ people involved in the STAR WARS films (i.e. something like Jeremy Bulloch’s recent autobiography), being produced outside of their official license, can only cover a certain amount of pages regarding the STAR WARS film/s they worked on. So, for a book, which has been published outside of LUCASFILM’s own publishing chain, to be given a reality, and such a unique access is a testament to how much the company respects and admires Ralph, and how they, like the fans, want to see this work published at it’s best. DREAMS AND VISIONS PRESS have responded to the challenge and rewarded LUCASFILM, and us, with the kind of publishing present we’ve all been wanting ages for..

Seeing the original Conceptual/ Pre-Production paintings at such a nice size and presentation makes you aware of the talent of the artist more than ever-the depth and detail that you may not have noticed before when many of the recognizable images have been reproduced at smaller sizes, and not as well printed in other magazines over the years. Looking at the art more, closer, you get to discover a lot about the thoughts of the man behind the images. There is a clarity in the art that’s very refreshing and a lovely use of colour and depth to be appreciated.

Anything to do with the genesis and evolution of STAR WARS has always fascinated me, and these artworks are so important-these are the cornerstones of the making of the film series. From the development of the droids, to Darth Vader, to the human characters, this volume is the best reference you’ll get. The evolution of said characters, across all three films in the book, is a fascinating process to behold, and it’s interesting how some of the subtle changes made by Ralph work so well, swiftly becoming so iconic and ingrained in the public consciousness. His look and design style is so strong that, even now, thirty years on, the STAR WARS universe enjoys revisiting it and adhering to its continuity. Just check out the various recent animated series for instance, and you can see his touch everywhere, which is fantastic.

Beautifully designed and executed in this new format, the book is indeed the ultimate compliment to both STAR WARS and Ralph McQuarrie, and also boasts lots of newly discovered pieces of artwork which were found at the artists house after the first ART OF RALPH McQUARRIE hardback had already been released (amongst these new pieces for STAR WARS are early costume designs for Luke, Leia, more details on Threepio, early concepts for Luke’s landspeeder, and unused planetary art composites for the Death Star approaching Yavin and Alderaan, whilst for EMPIRE there are some lovely conceptual images/sketches for Bespin, and some brilliant unused logos/art pieces for cast/crew buckle's (including an unrealized, but wonderful, T-shirt image of Luke on a Tauntaun-they could easily make this as a comercial item now-I'd buy one-it'd sell like hot-cakes!!!). Away from the paintings there are also other equally important items reproduced, like one early document from Ralph’s own hand, from a meeting with George Lucas (I presume from 1975), listing the characters he’d be working on, including the unseen Aquillian Rangers, who were later cut from the first film for budgetary reasons.

As mentioned earlier, besides the new material, this collection volume pretty much, with a few exceptions, reprints all the material first seen, and specially selected by the artist, in the now sold out deluxe hardcover of THE ART OF RALPH McQUARRIE, and is all the more richer for it. Though this book is in a smaller soft cover size, and some design changes have been made, the art images are still just as well reproduced and great care has been taken in the new size transfer, with Ralph’s thumbnail sketches, also printed on the page at a bigger size than they were ever intended to be seen, looking absolutely superb - the detail in those little images is incredible (check out the Vader/Luke duel from EMPIRE as an example). Personal highlights for me? Well, where to start, I could spend all day (it must have been an absolute nightmare, in a good way, though, for the DREAMS AND VISIONS PRESS people working with Ralph on what was going to be selected for inclusion), but must sees for me include THE HOLIDAY SPECIAL images (I love the shot of the Wookiee tree houses and the attention to detail-this was a project, which despite it’s reputation, Ralph actually enjoyed working on), some of the amazing Hoth Rebel base images (many of which have been reproduced for the first time between these two books-love the Tauntaun area shot and some of the stalactite enclosed corridor/fighter bay areas, of which I always wanted EMPIRE to have had more atmospheric establishing shots like these), any images of Darth Vader (who always looks far more scary and malevolent in Ralph’s world than he often looked in parts of the live action movies), and of course, much of the original art work that launched STAR WARS (I’ll always love that Han/Greedo confrontation (so alien looking that the finished film, despite it’s iconic film representation, never quite caught the unusual feel and distinctly dangerous atmosphere of the painting), that TIE fighter cockpit shot as it fires on the Falcon, and the original look of the Alderaan Prison with the TIEs approaching it, before it became the Cloud City of Bespin.

Sadly, Ralph’s contributions to the final film of the Original Trilogy are good but too few, due to the fact that he left the project in its Pre-Production phase and then came back only to work on the film in the capacity of handling its commercial art portfolio a year later. Looking at the nearly thirty pages devoted to RETURN OF THE JEDI in this instance, I love the early work the most-the Pre-Production stuff he had a chance to work on, like Jabba’s Palace, and the Sail Barge (which is still one of the greatest alien vehicles ever designed for the big screen, let alone STAR WARS or any other science fiction movie)- rather than the Art Portfolio work that’s also included, which look too much like stills photos from the finished film, with very few connections to the kind of original pieces Ralph should have been allowed to compose-the kind of freshness and unique interpretive feel of the artist we had liked from the earlier films is not present (the later JEDI situation was indeed one that Ralph disliked, feeling that he was being pushed into that area of making the images more like the finished film for the Portfolio by, we assume, the merchandise bosses at LUCASFILM).

As well as the huge amount of material of Ralph’s that made it in to the films there’s also the tremendous amount of great material of his thatdidn’t make the final cut, and a treasure trove is here to discover, like sampling the mysterious abandoned city on Hoth (with Han and Chewbacca trundling through the snow fields nearby (one of the first pieces of work that Ralph did for George on the film in 1978/9)), and the Ion Cannon control room, for EMPIRE, the amazing vistas for the Emperor’s Throne Room deep in the DANTES INFERNO like bowels of Imperial Homeworld (before it became Coruscant in the Expanded Universe) for both EMPIRE and RETURN OF THE JEDI, and the chilling, almost vampire like bat visage for the Emperor as it attacks Luke Skywalker, from the latter’s Portfolio-what a challenge for the make up team that look would have been if it had ever been approved back in 1981, eh!! Ralph even shows us the very first pieces of thumb nail space art he did for George Lucas back in 1975!!!

Additionally, beyond the film, the book also has some of the pleasing Xmas card art he did for LUCASFILM for a few years whilst the early films were being made (loved the Santa Chewie pic, with his red hat on!!), as well as the classic STAR WARS FAN CLUB Death Star trench battle poster, and the EMPIRE Bounty Hunters at Cloud City (one of Ralph’s favourite pieces of work for STAR WARS, which he spent a long time on getting just right as a composition/final piece. Twenty eight years on, it’s just as terrific as ever and looks great in its large reproduction).

In comparison to the earlier McQuarrie book there are, however, for reasons of space, pieces of art missing from this new volume- some of the early Yoda and Jabba the Hutt designs, a page of Bespin inhabitants images, a selection of thumbnail art pieces from all three movies, and material he did for the ILLUSTRATED STAR WARS UNIVERSE book from 1995 (of which Ralph contributed new planetary depictions for Alderaan, Imperial Homeworld and Tatooine) but, in fairness, these omissions aren’t as important as what has been selected for reproduction in this new volume-the newly discovered material more than counterbalances the loss. For the moment, there are no plan to release this book with an English text, either (however, this is STAR WARS, a land where “never again” doesn’t necessarily mean that!!), but the images speak louder than words, anyway, so just settle back and enjoy the visual cornucopia-the range of art from across the three films.

A beautiful production that you’ll always want to dip into, STAR WARS: THE ART OF RALPH McQUARRIE is a warm tribute to the great artist and his work on the classic films. Don’t delay, pick up a copy from www.starwarshop.com, or, for more information, head over towww.dreamsandvisionspress.com (and look out for that companies also available to buy RALPH McQUARRIE: ILLUSTRATOR DVD release, which interviews the artist about his fascinating life and career, and a lot about STAR WARS, too!!).


With thanks to John Scoleri at DREAMS AND VISIONS PRESS for all his research help.