Book Review: STAR WARS ART: RALPH McQUARRIE Is A Giant Heavy Treasure Trove

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
(The Holy Star Wars Trilogy may have finally gotten itself a Bible...)

Currently I'm 47 years old, and it's safe to say that for 39 of those years, I've been collecting stuff about Star Wars. Episodes IV, V and VI of that franchise have had a strong hold on me, and I'll avidly defend their merits when confronted with non-believers.
As such a fan I was fully aware that while George Lucas was the father of the Star Wars universe, artist Ralph McQuarrie could be seen as its mother. Involved with the Star Wars project from the very start, McQuarrie's designs would shape much of what has become iconic about the series. In my collection I have many articles about his work, and copies of his famous paintings.

So when I heard a year ago that publisher Abrams Books would release a big picture book about Ralph McQuarrie's Star Wars artwork, my interest piqued. That interest turned to dismay once I noticed the intended price-tag, but the dismay turned back up into elation when I read that the book would have a whopping 800 pages!

After some see-sawing between "ooh-expensive" and "wannawannawanna" I decided to pre-order and, well, wait it out to see what happened. I mean, 800 pages? Really?
What happened was that the book started to look better and better, while its price nearly doubled. Then, last Thursday, it finally arrived (luckily for its original price, thank heavens for pre-ordering...), and I have been totally smitten with it ever since. In 2015 my favorite film-related bought item turned out to be a book, and unless this year throws me a massive curve-ball in its last three months, this will be true for 2016 as well.

For Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie is awesome, and incredibly comprehensive. Looking through my old collection, I have yet to find a single image which is NOT in this book. And with 800 pages, rest assured there is an enormous amount of pictures I've never seen before.

Written and edited by Brandon Alinger, Wade Lageose and David Mandel, the huge tome chronologically covers the first three Star Wars films and Ralph McQuarrie's artistic involvement in them. For text, they use descriptions and many outtakes from interviews, not just with George Lucas, Ralph McQuarrie and special effects legends like Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett, but also directors like Christopher Nolan. And there's lots in there I didn't know yet, which is (ahem) no mean feat.

And while the book remains very much on-topic, it's not just the three Star Wars films which get covered, as Ralph McQuarrie also designed some things for the infamous Christmas Special and the two Ewok films.

But the meat of the book is in the Star Wars images themselves, and those are gloriously rendered. I expected to see the famous ones, of course, but to my surprise Ralph McQuarrie had a habit of painting over previous paintings whenever he wanted to re-use a foreground or a group of people, so the version I was aware of is often only the final one. For many paintings, this book shows the different versions, which for me (as a knowledgeable fan) resulted in some revelations which made my jaw drop.

It's been my privilege to actually see talented designers brainstorm in real life (Richard Raaphorst and Sarina Reilingh come to mind...), producing and changing great art on the fly. This book brings me the closest I'll likely ever get to such discussions as they happened between George Lucas and Ralph McQuarrie.

So would I recommend this book? If you're any kind of Star Wars or movie design fan, the answer is YES, wholeheartedly. I realize I lucked out immensely by pre-ordering though, as it is a very, very expensive book. Would I have paid the full price for it in advance? Maybe not, and it would have left me pining for the book forever, muttering angrily. But now, owning it, if I could have spoken to an alternate version of myself who hadn't pre-ordered it, my advice would be "Do it, you won't be disappointed....".

Like with that other book last year, I'll end this review with a gallery of pictures, so you can get an idea about just how good this release looks.
Click on the arrow buttons at the edges of a picture to move to the next, or in its center to see a bigger version!

Here it is: a big, BIG cassette, with an early design painting of R2D2 and C3PO on the front.

And by BIG, I mean 13.2" x 4.0" x 17.5" (which is 33.7 cm x 10.2 cm x 44.4 cm).

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