The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships + Battles by Landry Walker (book review).

August 19, 2020 | By | Reply More

In episode 2 of ‘The Mandalorian’, now streaming on Disney Plus in the UK, our eponymous hero finds his spacecraft disassembled, cannibalised and generally wrecked. The scene reminds viewers of one of the great features of the ‘Star Wars’ universe, the physical and mechanical nature of its spaceships. It’s on this subject and how creative’s have brought that vision to life, that Abram’s latest book for junior readers ‘The Moviemaking Magic Of Star Wars: Ships + Battles’ is based.

When I was growing-up, ‘making of’ TV specials were a staple of holiday television. This glimpse behind-the-scenes was a great way to understand how amazing spaceships that flew through the galaxy were brought to life. In ‘Ships + Battles’ or ‘Ships & Battles’ as the book can’t make up its mind, Landry Walker has provided a movie-by-movie look at how this was achieved.

The first thirty pages of the book are devoted to the achievement of the concept art, model-making and camerawork of the original ‘Star Wars’ (1977). Led by the creative direction of George Lucas, Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie developed designs that would then be brought to life by model builders such as Grant, McCune, George Cantwell and Lorne Peterson.

These models and designs were then part-created into physical sets by designers such as Roger Christian and John Barry in the UK while, back in California, John Dykstra pioneered new filming techniques to make it look as if the models really were flying and exploding through space. This is part of the magic of ‘Star Wars’, a technical achievement of planning and engineering that brought a whole world to life.

The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships & Battles by Landry Walker (Abrams Books for Young Readers, £22.99)
Image Credit for both interiors: © and TM 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd

Over the next eight years, ‘Star Wars’ launched two sequels ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980) and ‘Return Of The Jedi’ (1983) and the book covers the making of the various ships and vehicles for that in detail, too. In fact, nearly half of the whole book is dedicated to showing how spaceship and battle effects were created for the first three films, which might seem a little unbalanced, as the book then talks about the seven subsequent films, with two pages containing a preview of ‘The Rise of Skywalker’.

The explanation is simple enough. The arrival of CGI, a technical marvel that enabled the breadth and scope of visual effects to increase enormously, also makes for less interesting reading. Pictures of animators and development teams hunched over PCs crunching code is not as visually interesting as a model-maker holding an X-Wing to touch-up its paint job.

Walker still manages to collate photos of the few physical sets and the more readily available concept art, but it doesn’t convey the same level of technical achievement that the 70s and 80s section does.

The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships & Battles by Landry Walker (Abrams Books for Young Readers, £22.99)
Image Credit for both interiors: © and TM 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd

Being an Abrams publication, what is on display is expertly presented. Art is clear and interestingly shown, while flaps in the book keep younger readers interested by being able to flip up production stills to see how concept art compares to a matte painting for example. These may seem gimmicky to the older reader, but I enjoyed how these elements enabled me to quickly compare and contrast how something was designed or built.

For the younger ‘Star Wars’ fan, who will have now grown-up knowing nothing but CGI FX in films, ‘Ships + Battles’ provides an in-depth look at how the ‘Star Wars’ production changed modern-day cinema, not once, but twice. It also provides fans with access to all of the names for vehicles which, at least when I was young, was invaluable information.

‘Ships + Battles’ is great addition to the Abrams Cinemagic range and demonstrates not only how VFX have progressed over the decades, but also how ‘Star Wars’ has embraced many different design styles to create a visually diverse and often jaw-dropping galaxy.

John Rivers

April 2020

(pub: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 142 page illustrated A4 hardback. Price: £ £22.99 (UK), $29.99 (US), $37.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-41973-633-9)

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Category: Books, Star Wars

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