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Star Wars: Aliens, Creatures and Droids Is Charming But Hardly Essential

Publisher
Titan Magazines

Star Wars Insider: Aliens, Creatures and Droids by Titan Magazines is an exhaustive compilation of every article about the non-human inhabitants of our favorite galaxy far, far away that has appeared in the specialized magazine Star Wars Insider. The amount of information it contains about world-building, from A to Z, will be a prized addition to the library of anyone that needs to invent creatures for a living, be they makeup artists, sound designers, robotics experts or science-fiction writers.

The volume is divided into two sections. The first part is mostly about droids, and although it's logically skewed toward C-3PO and R2-D2, including a selection of Anthony Daniels' best Star Wars Insider "Wonder Columns," it also has some rough gems waiting to be excavated: the first sketch of R2-D2, and an in-depth article about Leslie Dilley -- the art director and set decorator of A New Hope -- that painstakingly describes the process of turning script ideas into complex, functional droids in a time when 3D printing didn’t exist, and a great interview with the late Kenny Baker, who wore R2-D2’s metal suit in the first six movies of the saga. This section also has useful descriptive rankings of combat robots, but very little material on the new droids, like BB-8 in the sequel trilogy and K-2SO from Rogue One.

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The only exception is L-3 from Solo: A Star Wars Story. However, while the article about her motivations in the movie and the larger role that droids might play in the future is intriguing, it only highlights the conspicuous lack of information about the other new additions even more.

The transition piece is an eight-page article about the 1980s animated series Droids and Ewoks, created to maintain fans' attention following the 1983 release of Return of the Jedi. The article is well-written and -researched, and it contains many world-building ideas that seem more in line with Disney’s multiverse than with Lucasfilm; the pictures that accompany it are superb. It also includes a small section about memorabilia from these series that will be the delight of Star Wars collectors.

Another highlight is the inclusion of Thank the Maker, a comic book panel by Ryder Windham and Killian Plunket of a between-scenes moment in Cloud City in which Darth Vader reunites with his first creation, C-3PO, and decides to spare the dismembered droid.

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After that, the volume transitions into the Aliens section, which opens with a spectacular triple feature about the three alien species introduced in Revenge of the Sith: the Nosferatu-looking Utapauans, gorgeous with their ugliness with their ridged skin; the intriguing insectoid Mustafarians, who are becoming more and more embedded in the story of Darth Vader and the dark side of the Force, despite themselves; and the gentle Polis Massans, who assisted Luke and Leia’s delivery -- and who were directly inspired by Studio Ghibli creatures.

Of course, no compilation about strange Star Wars aliens would be complete without Jar Jar Binks gossip, and this book delivers by taking the reader on a trip from the initial concept to Ahmed Best’s interpretation and the conversion of motion capture into a fully animated CGI creature.

Sound engineers on the making will have a picnic on page 148’s article The Grievous Growl about Matthew Wood, the supervising sound editor and sound designer at Skywalker Sound by day… and General Grievous by night. Wood goes through the process of creating the very specific rasping, asthmatic voice of the cyborg General, and he throws in a hilarious piece of trivia: the whooping cough that Grievous sports in the films is none other than George Lucas himself, who was directing Revenge of the Sith with a terrible cold and whose coughing Wood sneakily recorded and reused.

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The book closes with a charming piece about Warwick Davis' short film The Return of the Ewok, which the entire team of Return of the Jedi filmed in parallel to the movie. It features an 11-year-old Davis playing himself as a hopeful child actor traipsing around the movie set, trying to find his place in the gigantic production and inspiring the adult actors along the way.

It must be said that despite its many charms, this book compendium could have been better; the order of the articles within each section weren't in any specific order, typos were left as they first appeared, some of the pieces contained redundant information and there was only one woman featured in the entire compendium – actor Femi Taylor, who played Oola, Jabba the Hutt’s dancer in Return of the Jedi. This could have been balanced by swapping the article about Boba Fett included in this volume with the Maria de Aragon (the actor that played Greedo in A New Hope) article that appears in Rogues, Scoundrels and Bounty Hunters, also a Star Wars Insider compilation published by Titan.

Also, most of the information about creatures, aliens and droids from the sequel trilogy was sorely missing, particularly as The Force Awakens came out in 2015 and The Last Jedi came out in 2017. One ingle article about L-3 simply doesn't make up for that massive omission (where are the Porgs and the Thala sirens? What about the incredibly rich aliens of Canto Bight, or Unkar Plutt, played by Simon Pegg?)

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Star Wars Insider might be saving this information for future books, but that means that, although Aliens, Droids and Creatures is a great behind-the-scenes look at the prequels and the original trilogy, it's not a definitive guide to the novelties that the galaxy under Disney has to offer.

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