BOOK REVIEW – THE ART OF THE LAST JEDI BY PHIL SZOSTAK

Although called The Art of The Last Jedi, in actual fact this book has a large section dedicated to the latter half of The Force Awakens. A strange mix then given the distinctions between the direction of those two films. There are however fascinating images provided on the final moments of Han Solo, and the design of the internal dimensions of Starkiller base. The sections on Ahch-To obviously complement each other well and help the book segue from one film into the other. The pages on the design of the different elements of Ahch-To and the wider development around Rey and Luke’s spiritual journeys were very interesting; an insight into the film that might have been.

Throughout the book one thing that becomes apparent is the fact that Rian Johnson is definitely a Star Wars fan, and “gets” what makes the saga so beloved to so many people. In one part of the book he refers to an experience that I also recall, namely that often as childhood fans in the 1980s there was no ready access to the actual films. Therefore a lot of the memories we form of that period were of the creative imagination, supplemented by other “artefacts” such as sticker albums, novelizations and soundtracks. That material was mythologised as “sacred text” in the absence of continual access to the films. Johnson even recalls the waiting list to rent Star Wars in the video rental store, something that I had forgotten all about but which I recall quite vividly.

To me these references secured Johnson’s credibility as a deep fan. Accordingly I view his changes to the style and tone of The Last Jedi in that light. The contentious aspects of Johnson’s tenure in charge of the Sequel Trilogy remain his choices over the direction of the film and Star Wars lore. People’s opinions are personal on that matter and this book won’t act to change your mind on the final choices.

Although this book was an enjoyable read, the clincher is obviously the standard of the internal artwork. Firstly the presentational quality of the art is second to none. These are plush publications and the quality of the paper, to the cover design, to the dust cover is up there with the very best.

There are also a couple of observations that I have on the actual art. For me the tone of The Last Jedi was dark, and it is striking how many of the images in this art book are very dull in colour in comparison to The Force Awakens and Rogue One books. Black, browns and gray form the predominant colours and this means that this book sometimes looks a little murky and uniform. The other point is that the further we travel away from Ralph McQuarrie art work I find that there is an increasing tendency to lean on an “inspired by original Ralph McQuarrie designs” mantra within Lucasfilm to justify creative choices. I’m unsure whether that is borne out by this book, and likewise I’m unsure whether the newer original material which drives the design at present is just as awe inspiring for me. Maybe there is a need to develop a style with greater distinctions from Ralph McQuarrie’s work.

Elsewhere the concept art is quite computer generated in appearance, almost looking like actual film stills at times. I’m not sure if this is quite what I want from these books, although I am aware that this is probably the material that genuinely shapes the concept nowadays rather than old fashioned pen and ink design work.

One final small point is that there is some excellent detail here on the textile choices used for the costume design. Both Luke Skywalker’s costume on Ahch-To and the design of the Praetorian Guards armour is particularly noteworthy in this regard.

On balance, while I don’t think this book was as strong as the others in the Abrams Books series, it is still an interesting read. Value-wise, if it is the imagery you are buying this for then actually I think the Visual Dictionary provides greater value for money. The original artwork in this book didn’t hold the same magic for me as The Force Awakens or Rogue One. That said, for the volume of content, the quality of the production and the text within the book, I still think that this delivers a lot for a reasonable price. Maybe though a book more for the collector this time round.

Editor’s Note: All images subject to copyright and can be removed upon request.

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