I was totally unprepared for an old memory the new “Star Wars Art: Visions” book would rekindle within me. Sometimes I take for granted how powerful an awakening “Star Wars” was in terms of pure imagination and joy for my generation. 1982 was the first time I felt a real leaning towards any type of creativity when my 5th grade classmate Ralph Racine and I were walking home from school and talking about creating our own stories – a seemingly radical notion back then since at St. Ann’s Polish School in Jersey City, Sister Hospitia was far too concerned with her workman-like school curriculum to deal with daydreamers. My story was simply called “Action Han and Uncle John,” written on two sheets of loose leaf paper with my Erasermate. I’m forever grateful to “Star Wars” for remaining a muse that many use for inspiration.
“Star Wars Art: Visions” is a book that demonstrates that George Lucas’ space epic remains as boundless as it is timeless. In its pages, renowned artists from across the world have been brought together to interpret “Star Wars” as they remember and see it, with plenty of gusto and originality. Of particular interest to comics fans are the inclusion of original pieces by Alex Ross, Amano, Gene Colan, William Stout and Moebius, among the many dozens of luminaries. The Abrams published hardback was bred from an idea that George Lucas brought forth himself, who wanted to see his franchise taken into the “unexpected.” Well, he must take great delight in seeing that the results are simply inspiring, because this book takes the subject into all sorts of new and interesting directions.
In November, I interviewed J.W. Rinzler, an Executive Editor at Lucasfilm about “Visions.” A “New York Times” best-selling author, Rinzler wrote “The Making of Star Wars” and “The Complete Making of Indiana Jones,” both considered the definitive books about their respective films. We spoke about “Visions,” the different takes on the Star Wars mythology participating artists created for the book, the possibility of a sequel to this book and more.
POP: What initiated the creation of “Star Wars Art: Visions?” This project reminded me a little of the “Star Wars Galaxy” trading cards from the past, except with an even higher caliber of illustrators.
J.W. Rinzler: Right, a lot of these guys are actually painters, fine artists who’ve trained in the traditional methods for years before starting out on their own. It’s almost like they served their apprenticeship, so to speak. If you read the introduction that I wrote, it explains that I was working on this other book with George, which is actually coming out in a month or so, called “Star Wars: Frames.” We were working on that every Friday for a couple of hours or longer, and a couple times he turned to me for ideas that he had for other books, and this was one of them. He just said he’d like to do an interpretive art project and that I should go out and start recruiting artists, basically.
Did he mention any artists?
The one that I wrote down at the time was Jamie Wyeth. We did get him in the book. He mentioned “Heavy Metal” magazine, and we did get a few artists from “Heavy Metal.” I think those were the only ones he mentioned by name at that time. There were other artists that we tried to get but who didn’t participate. We batted over .500, I’m pretty sure.
How long have you been at Lucasfilm?
It started in 2001, about a year before they finished “Episode I,” so I was working on the “Episode II” books, but I didn’t write any. Really, I was never hired to write anything. I talked to Rick McCallum, the producer, about the “Episode III” book right as we were finishing the “The Making of Star Wars: Episode II.” I pitched the idea of doing a book that followed production around like they used to do, from the very first day up until the very last day. Rick thought it was a good idea, and later introduced me to George. I basically became the person following them around for three years, and didn’t know I was going to be writing the book until about two-thirds of the way through it. There was a series of circumstances. Although it might sound implausible, I did resist, saying, “I can’t write a book. I’ve never written a book before.” But Rick said, “You know you can do it.”
I thought you did a great job on capturing the era in “The Making of Star Wars” and “Empire.” They really take you back to 1980 and 1977.
With the newer ones, I pitched the idea of doing the 30th Anniversary “Making of Star Wars,” because we’d actually never done one. George OK-ed it, partially because we had already worked on “Episode III,” so he had a certain level of confidence going into it. I always wanted to do it from archival sources, but I didn’t know that we were actually going to find the [Charles] Lippincott transcripts and the tapes that were in the archives. That was just a huge, huge bonus.
Regarding the artwork in “Star Wars Art: Visions,” did Lucas react to any of the artwork that he saw? Did he like any piece in particular?
Oh, yeah. That’s a good question. He really liked the “Incident (at Mos Eisley Spaceport)” painting by Michael Grimaldi. That was really one of his favorites. He really liked the Daniel E. Greene “Queen Amidala” that’s hanging now in the boardroom here. A lot of them are going to be hanging all over the place, but that one was the first to go up.
Will the art pieces have a road show, or will there be some sort of an exhibition?
I really hope so. We’re looking into it. It’s definitely something we’d like to see happen.
Was George specific in asking about any comic book creators besides the “Heavy Metal” artists? Because there are a couple of artists, like Alex Ross and Gene Colan, that are represented.
To be honest, I think those guys are my idea. At a certain point we kind of did a regrouping and had Acme Archives help us recruit. George saw that we were getting a lot of illustrators and he sort of pulled back and said, “We really need to get more fine artists and more comic book guys, guys who do Western art and people who do military aviation artwork and F1 racing cars.” And we did this whole sort of second wave where we got about 60% of the artists. I was just doing a lot of research, and then I’d run everything by George and then he would approve them, obviously, and then I’d go out and try to talk them into doing it. [Laughs]
Were you happy in the different ways this book took “Star Wars” into some new arenas?
Well, I’m glad you think so. George is a big art collector, and we wanted to go out and get guys who were really traditional figurative artists. There are a few guys from “Heavy Metal” in there who are great artists, like Moebius, Philippe Druilliet and I believe Enki Bilal had done “Heavy Metal” artwork. Then we got guys like Paul G. Oxborough, Daniel E. Greene, Jeremy Lipking, Allan Banks and people who are not household names but were just fantastic fine artists. They really hit grand slams. Steven Llevin, and also Arantzazu Martinez and his incredible painting of the woman and the Rancor. When you see these up close, you realize their level of craftsmanship is way, way above your average painter. Just a totally different league.
It’s interesting to see how “Star Wars” continues to inspire as people keep re-imagining the characters and the scenarios, keeping it fresh.
It was really interesting! I talked with artists of all different ages, and there were a few older guys who were like, “‘Star Wars?’ I don’t know,” and their grandkids would say, “Grandpa, you’ve got to do it! You’re doing these boring landscapes all day! Here’s some ‘Star Wars’ stuff!” So, literally, a couple of them did it because of their grandkids. Then there were other guys who were younger than me, who were, like, five when they saw “Star Wars” or “Empire,” and they grew up with it Even though they’d normally do nudes and still lifes, as soon as I mention “Star Wars,” they were like, “Oh, yeah! Sign me up!” I didn’t have to say anything to them; you just send them a ton of resource materials and those guys just went off and did their thing.
You also avoided making this a Slave Leia book. If left to their own devices, a lot of comic artists can’t stop drawing that.
It’s true, comic book artists, perhaps, are some people that tend to do Slave Leia. Also, there’s fans who like to dress up, apparently, as Slave Leia, quite a bit. Both sexes, apparently. [Laughs] If somebody had already done Queen Amidala, and somebody else said, “Oh, I want to do Queen Amidala,” I would try and steer them away from that unless they had a different interpretation.
If “Visions” proves to be successful, will there be a sequel?
I think there will be a sequel one day. If you notice, the title of the book is actually “Star Wars Art,” and so, essentially, George is starting up a new series. I can’t tell you what the second and third books are, yet, although pretty soon we’ll announce them. He did say he would like to do another “Visions” down the road.
Beyond this book, you’ve had a busy year. You’ve had three books out this year, right? Was it three or four?
Well, this one is just an introduction, so really only two, “Sounds of Star Wars” and “The Making of The Empire Strikes Back.”
But you oversaw “Visions” quite a bit, so it took time.
Oh, yeah. It took five years to do, but there was about two years of pretty intense work. But, you know, that’s my job. I edit books here, and some are more complex than others. This book, “Star Wars: Frames,” is coming out in a month, and that was also a five-year project.
That’s what, frames from the film?
Yeah, frames from the film blown up to very large proportions so that people can see all the artwork, all the production and all the craft that went into every single frame of the film. Not all 500,000 frames or whatever it is from each film. It’s 236 frames from each film.
Wow. Before you worked for Lucasfilm, were you a “Star Wars” fan?
Yeah. I mean, I wasn’t a “Star Wars” fan in that I didn’t even know the expanded universe existed. I kid you not. They asked me about that during the interview and I said, “Well, what’s that?” I just had no idea. I loved George Lucas’ films. I loved “THX,” I loved “American Grafitti.” But I loved cinema in general, and, to me, the “Star Wars” films were among the best films ever made. And so, since I was moving back to the Bay area, I figured Lucasfilm was the best place to work.
Okay, that sounds good. So will there be a “Return of the Jedi” book?
I’m waiting to find out. It depends on the sales of “Empire.”
I’m sure this will do well. I think this one is better than the first one. For some reason, I just can’t let this one go.
I’m really glad to hear that. I always have my doubts when these things come out, so it’s nice to hear that.
In addition to “Star Wars Art: Visions,” in stores now, 2010 has seen the release of Rinzler’s jovial interactive “The Sounds of Star Wars” tome and “The Making of The Empire Strikes Back,” an impeccable companion to the treasured classic. Next up for the writer is “Star Wars: Frames.”