Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Art of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Book Review)

(C) 2005 Ballantine/Del Rey Books

In 1979, almost a year before the release of Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, I purchased my first copy of Carol Titleman's The Art of Star Wars.

The trade paperback edition of a hard-to-find Limited Edition hardcover published by Ballantine Books, Titleman's book not only had the stuff you might expect from a book titled The Art of Star Wars - sketches, production paintings, storyboards, costume and set designs, and pictures of the various models used in the movie - but it also contained the complete fourth revised draft of George Lucas' screenplay for the movie.

Titleman's book - which was later reissued in 1997 as The Art of Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope - was only the first in a series of Art of Star Wars tomes; each of the live-action Episodes plus the new Lucasfilm Animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars has had an "Art of" volume dedicated to it.

J.W. (Jonathan) Rinzler's The Art of Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was originally published as a coffee table type hardcover a few weeks before the release of the 2005 Prequel Trilogy finale.

As you might imagine, I wanted to get that book as soon as it became available, thinking that it would contain, as most of the Art of books, the screenplay to the movie.

For some reason, the original edition of Rinzler's book only contained portions of Lucas' screenplay but not the complete, so I passed on it because, as an aspiring film writer myself, the script has always been the main draw for me.

This omission is not unique to the first edition of The Art of...Revenge of the Sith. Deborah Call's 1980 The Art of The Empire Strikes Back and the 1999 tie-in to Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace
didn't include the screenplays to those movies either. (Lucas Books and Del Rey/Ballantine, in their defense, did publish stand alone editions of the scripts in 1980 and 1999.)

Interestingly, before the paperback edition of The Art of Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was published, the only way to read the script was as an e-Book.

Whether it was a result of fan protest or harsh online reviews, Ballantine and Lucas Books decided to not just merely place the contents of Rinzler's original version of the book in the softcover but to include the complete draft of the Sith screenplay as well.

A Look at the Book:

Like all the other Art of Star Wars books, Rinzler's tome on Revenge of the Sith is an oversoze trade paperback edition. It's divided, for chronological and design reasons, into four sections (not including the introduction and the index.

Part I: Pre-Production
Part II: Principal Photography
Part III: Digital Shot Creation
Part IV: The Script to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Im addition to the aforementioned introduction and index, there's a Who's Who list of the artists whose work appears in the pages of The Art of Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Ranging from costume designer Trisha Beggar to production artist Feng Zhu at Skywalker Ranch, this list includes most of the Art Department staff, as well as producer Rick McCallum and writer-director George Lucas.

The book. of course, is a carefully chosen selection of sketches, preliminary costume and vehicle designs, production paintings, maquettes, sculpts of creatures and digital characters (such as General Grievous) and photos of the main dramatis personae in their finalized outfits, as well as some digital paintings and previsualizations.

The artwork is presented in pretty much chronological order and follows the evolution of the movie as it goes from preliminary story form to the final version of Episode III. Because of this, we are given a glimpse into how some ideas for the settings, characters and vehicles went through a process of elimination as Lucas tweaked the story and the screenplay itself.

Some ideas, like showing various battles of the Clone Wars taking place at the beginning, were discarded in favor of the film's eventual start sequence at the Battle of Coruscant.

Others, such as the destruction of the mining facility on Mustafar were developed later and adjusted later as the story went through the inevitable process of revision and rewrites.

The layout and design of this book are, on the most part, very nicely done. The paintings and photos are complimented nicely by the placemment of Rinzler's text and captions.

The script, too, is interesting and, as in The Art of Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of the Clones, is illustrated here and there with selected photo stills and digital artwork. Like in the other volumes of the Art of series, the screenplay is pretty close to the finished film but includes scenes that were later deleted or cut down significantly for dramatic or running time considerations.

The one thing I don't like about the design is the annoying way in which some of the text is presented.

While most of the text is done in a normal, easy to read format, the book's designer got trippy and decided to do all chapter and section headers in a surrealistic mix of lower case and upper case characters. Often, you'll see Revenge of the Sith appearing as ReVenge OF THe Sith or little captions and section headers such as machiNes at War (or something along those lines; it's hard to replicate on here).

Unlike earlier editions of The Art of Star Wars books, the binding and glue tend to grip the glossy pages of the thick paperback much better. Other pre-1997 editions tended to shed pages even after one read-through, which sucked because the books were often hard to find and not exactly cheap, either.

Naturally, if not handled with care or stored improperly, The Art of Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith can get dogeared and even shed pages, but so far I've managed to avoid any major damage to my now three-year-old copy.

© 2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved