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The Empire uncovered! Amazing spin-off Star Wars art

We're still reeling from the news that Disney plans to make Star Wars Episode 7, to be released in 2014, but whether you feel it's a good idea or not, it's certainly concentrated the mind on how awesome the original trilogy was.

New book Star Wars Art: Illustration follows previous book Star Wars Art: Visions into that particular galaxy far, far away. But while its predecessor focused on art inspired by the films, Illustration concentrates on artwork and illustrations from the myriad books, games and trading cards licensed by George Lucas’s colossal empire. As a result the book follows Star Wars’ corporate ideologies more closely, but it’s just as interesting a project nonetheless.

The book unites for the first time a lot of art that has appeared in a lot of places, some easily accessible, some hard to find, from limited edition prints to licensing artwork. Artists include Ralph McQuarrie, Jerry Vanderstelt, Christian Waggoner, Paul Youll, Brian Rood, Terese Nielsen, Tsuneo Sanda, John Alvin, Dave Dorman and Hugh Fleming.

An early layout featuring Christian Waggoner's artwork

An early layout featuring Christian Waggoner's artwork

As the foreword by Lucas Licensing president Howard Roffman explains, the expanded Star Wars universe didn’t really take off until the publication of Heir Of The Empire, a novel released in 1991. As a result, the majority of art featured in this epic tome dates from the 1990s and 2000s, and so brings with it its own unique perspective on the history of (very) modern art.

Almost the entirety of the art in the book is created using good old acrylics or oils, and this old-fashioned approach suits Star Wars’ classical myth building and aesthetics. The fact that most of this art bears the sleek and polished hallmarks of digital painting is testament to how well-defined and designed the Star Wars universe is.

The book unites everything from limited edition prints to licensing artwork

The book unites everything from limited edition prints to licensing artwork

Character art makes up the majority of the book. Jerry Vanderstelt’s stately, brooding portraits of Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin - from Topps trading cards, no less - are particular stand outs.

Elsewhere Tsuneo Sanda presents Yoda, an Ewok, the droids
and Jar Jar Binks in floral settings surrounded by butterflies, which makes for an eloquent juxtaposition.

Character art makes up much of the book's illustrations

Character art makes up much of the book's illustrations

There are some genuine oddities here. Star Wars design legend Ralph McQuarrie’s 1980 Lucasfilm Christmas card features C3PO and R2D2 helping out Santa Claus, and his 1979 change-of-address card includes familiar Star Wars characters making their way through Hollywood’s Lankershim Boulevard. The less said about Hugh Fleming’s take on a rapping Jar Jar Binks and a breakdancing Darth Maul the better, though.

It’s a great compendium of all things Star Wars, and it’s nicely rounded off with a concise but informative introduction from School of Visual Arts’ Steven Heller, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the history of sci-fi art. We can’t think of any other film franchise that could inspire such a variety of work. 

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This review was originally published in our sister title ImagineFX, the world's leading magazine for fantasy and sci-fi digital artists. Every month it contains an eclectic mixture of in-depth workshops from the world's best artists, galleries and interviews, features, community news, software and hardware reviews, and the latest sci-fi and fantasy films and comics. You can get a free sample issue here!