Book review: ‘The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ digs deeper into the story behind the story

Getting a notification that a book is on hold for me at my local library always brightens my day, and especially when it’s a Star Wars book. However, getting to pick up “The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” was an even more fun surprise, because I’d totally forgotten I’d even requested that book from the library in the first place.

I must have placed that request back before concerns about COVID-19 really started ramping up, and then my library shut down for a long time as part of our statewide quarantine procedure. Anyway, our library has now reopened for limited, social distance book pick-up, and I was excited to dive into this volume of Star Wars behind-the-scenes art.

Written by Lucasfilm creative art manager Phil Szostak, “The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is a gorgeous collection of concept art from Episode IX. Concept art works in tandem with the development of a screenplay; it’s a collection of illustrations used to explore visual ideas for a film. For example, before the scene featuring Rey and Kylo Ren fighting on the sunken Death Star was filmed, concept artists created paintings and sketches showing director J.J. Abrams and other crew members what this scene might look like. Concept art also is used to brainstorm ideas for creatures, costumes, ships, and so much more.

As a Star Wars fan, I’m automatically excited by anything involved in the filmmaking process of these movies, but I started getting more interested in concept art specifically after I heard Star Wars concept artist Iain McCaig speaking at Planet Comicon in 2019 (he worked on designs for Padmé Amidala and Darth Maul, characters with some of the coolest costumes in the prequel trilogy). I don’t think concept artists always get the appreciation they deserve for their key role in bringing a film to life; although screenwriters determine what a character’s personality will be, concept artists help shape what that character looks like and what kind of world they live in.

Will this book change your mind about ‘The Rise of Skywalker’?

Now, if you’ve spent any time in the Star Wars fandom the past couple of years, then you probably know that both “The Last Jedi” and “The Rise of Skywalker” stirred up some controversy amongst fans (though for different reasons). What you’ll get out of this Ep. IX concept art book will probably depend on your feelings regarding the film itself.

If you loved Ep. IX, then this “Art of” book will likely help you enjoy the movie even more as you dive deeper into the behind-the-scenes process of making the movie. If you hated Ep. IX with a flaming passion…well, this “Art of” book probably won’t change your thoughts on the film, and might make you even more frustrated with the storytelling choices.

Of course, it’s always completely fair to love or not love a film, and if you really didn’t like “The Rise of Skywalker,” you’ll probably want to give this book a pass. However, if you found your feelings on this movie a little mixed, I’d encourage you to pick up this book anyway.

It’s hard not to feel hurt when a movie you were really looking forward to disappoints you, but I think it’s important to remember that filmmakers (normally) aren’t trying to purposefully upset fans. There’s a lot of love and passion for Star Wars to be found in the pages of “The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and even if you disagree with the plot choices this film made, this book shows readers that crew members really did care about the work they were doing.

A few highlights from the book that stood out to me:

I love learning more about costuming for films, and it was cool to see concepts for different looks for the main characters. Rey has some neat potential costumes that weren’t used in the film, and I would love to see these outfits show up in books or comics when the character eventually appears again.

I definitely don’t need more Rey cosplays (I already have three!), but…I kinda want to do a cosplay of some of these looks.

I also really love the Aki-Aki Festival of the Ancestors featured in film on the desert planet of Pasaana, and I liked seeing all the detailed brainstorming work that went into creating the aliens, costumes, and environments that appeared in this sequence.

This “Art of” book pairs nicely with the documentary bonus features that accompanied “The Rise of Skywalker” home release. I know Ep. IX got some flak for its heavy use of a blue filter in some of the cinematography, but I personally feel it’s a visually beautiful film, and this “Art of” book really shows that.

The one downside to concept art books is that sometimes it’s hard not to dwell on the “what ifs.” This book talks about a number of concepts that didn’t make it into the final film, and several times I found myself thinking, “Wow, that sounds so cool — I wish that had made it into the movie!”

Maybe this would have worked on screen, but maybe it wouldn’t, and in the end perhaps it’s better that we got what we got.

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