Book Review | The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures + Aliens
Mark Salisbury explores how the visual mastery of Ray Harryhausen inspired George Lucas to create some of the greatest icons of the Star Wars universe…
In 1958, aspiring filmmaker George Lucas took his seat in the auditorium of his local cinema and had his concept of movie making changed forever. Boasting a new stop-motion animation technique that the studio had dubbed Dynamation, the 7th Voyage of Sinbad was presented in vivid color and boasted our first look at a world never seen on screen before. The film featured the acting talents of Kerwin Matthews and Kathryn Grant, but it was the man behind the camera who would go on to be the true star of the movie. The motion picture opened with Sinbad the sailor and his rugged crew navigating treacherous and unchartered waters and stumbling upon an uninhabited island paradise. Desperately low on previsions, the starving crew disembark to begin the search for food and water but the discovery of a colossal stone face with a cavern leading into the unknown serving as its mouth stopped them in their tracks.
The enormous rock formation had the markings of an ancient civilization and with the cave serving as the mouth of the face, the wall appeared to be crying out in terror, frozen in time, destined to warn would-be travelers away from what lies beyond the endless darkness within its walls. However, unable to restrain his curiosity, Sinbad leads his party toward the mouth of the cavern until a monstrous roar stops them in their tracks and chills them to the bone. The sailors draw their cutlass’ and prepare for battle, but what emerges from the darkness of the cave is like no enemy they have encountered before. With the legs of a goat, the torso of a man, and growing to monstrous proportions, a monster of Greek Mythology erupted from the cave and sparked the imagination of a generation of would-be moviemakers.
The one-eyed Cyclops exploded from the cavern roaring with barbarous aggression at the group of startled sailors who were petrified where they stood, but the appearance of a fleeing magician at the hooves of the monster sparked them into action. Together, the sailors lunged toward the beast but the monster towering over them was unfazed and launched into an unrelenting attack on their number. With their weapons practically useless against the might of the colossal creature, Sinbad led his team back to their landing craft with the mighty monster on their heels until the magician produced a stolen magic lamp and used it to summon a genie from within its golden interior.
With the magical genie unleashed, the magician commanded him to build a barrier between the men and the Cyclops, and no sooner had he wished it, the genie created an invisible barrier that imprisoned the monster for a time. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, Sinbad, the magician, and the terrified members of the crew retreated to the sea and set course for their vessel anchored offshore vowing never to return…all the while, the monstrous Cyclops remained confined to the beach where it lingered…roaring ferociously after the trespasser.
It was this moment that blew the minds of Hollywood greats like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Robert Zemeckis, and Peter Jackson. The incredible sequence was crafted by the godfather of visual effects, Ray Harryhausen, and transformed the visual effects genre forever sending many of Hollywood’s most celebrated visionaries on a journey that would see them revolutionize the entire industry. It was this love of Ray Harryhausen‘s masterwork that facilitated the insertion of a monstrous creature into the events of every one of George Lucas’ Star Wars movies, as well as giving birth to countless alien species making up the Star Wars universe.
For decades, fans of all ages have yearned for a resource that would catalog this incredible bounty of monsters and aliens and showcase them to the world in incredible detail whilst giving them an insight into how these remarkable characters came to fruition. And finally, authors Mark Salisbury and Abrams Books For Young Readers have delivered the holy grail of reference books.
The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creature + Aliens | By Mark Salisbury
Boasting what is described as the ultimate book of secrets that brought the Star Wars saga to life, one can be forgiven for being dubious of its claim. Surely no singular book could house the much incredible detail and claim the title as the ultimate resource for Star Wars fans everywhere.
Amazingly, Mark Salisbury achieves the impossible. Not only does The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creature + Aliens go behind-the-scenes to reveal the creation of many of the saga’s most iconic characters, but it also provides us with an incredible look at the concept to screen process of classic monsters like The Rancor, Jabba The Hutt, Yoda and the mighty Wookiee himself, Chewbacca. Furthermore, it builds upon this incredible inventory of characters by giving us backstage access to the many concept designers and sculptors at Lucasfilm who reveal the trials and tribulations of crafting the look of Star Wars.
Prepare for the ultimate rollercoaster ride through the creatures of the galaxy far, far away…
THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY
Beginning with Star Wars: A New Hope, the book explores how George Lucas set about bringing his creation to the screen. Not only does it reveal the childhood inspiration for many of these famous creatures, but we also hear from the designers themselves about the practicality of bringing Lucas’ vision to the screen. This is encapsulated with an incredible interview with sound designer Ben Burtt, who reveals his tireless efforts in bringing Star Wars to life through the medium of sound. The book reveals first-hand accounts of how the Bantha’s, Dewback’s, Jawas, Tusken Raiders, Greedo, Chewbacca, the Dianoga, and the Dejarik Table all made it to the screen with extensive coverage devoted to the iconic Cantina sequence. It is here we get up close and personal with the denizens that launched a franchise.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back builds upon the legacy with detailed accounts on the formation of the Tauntaun, Wampa, and the Space Slug before we peel back the layers of the concept to screen process of Jedi Master Yoda. These sections are littered with pleasing pop-up flaps and booklets which are filled to bursting points with insightful information and design sketches from the master of illustration himself, Ralph McQuarrie which adds an exciting trait to proceedings.
RETURN OF THE JEDI
The section devoted to Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is packed full of incredible content. Whereas the previous movies enjoyed one concept to screen installment each, Return of the Jedi boasts three, and these sections are devoted to the creation of Jabba The Hutt, The Rancor, and the Ewoks. Jabba The Hutt is awarded additional coverage in order to catalog the incredible array of minions and bounty hunters frequenting the halls of Jabba’s Palace and boast a glorious array of imagery from the set. Star Wars legends Phil Tippett and Stuart Freeborn are revealed in on-set photos which reveal them posing against the backdrop of Jabba’s throne and the hordes of creatures they designed to frequent it.
Turning the page and the creation of the Sarlacc Pit is revealed. We get to explore the early concept drawings from Ralph McQuarrie that show the monster in various stages of design, with a majority of them revealing the creature with the iconic beak which was added into the 1997 special editions. This section also includes a “Force Fact”. This intriguing segment reveals how every morning before filming began, the production team sent a crew into the pit to clear out rattlesnakes that had congregated inside it to escape the scorching desert heat.
THE PREQUEL TRILOGY
Moving through the prequel trilogy and we are afforded similar insights into the creatures manifesting The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith which are presented in similar glorious fashion. We explore how technology had evolved since the completion of the original trilogy and how the use of CGI (Computer Generated Image) dinosaurs in Jurassic Park gave Lucas hope that technology had reached a place where he could imagine returning to his beloved galaxy far, far away.
The Phantom Menace explores the creation of the Neimoidians, Watto, the sinister Sith Darth Maul, Sebulba, and Gungan leader Boss Nass before the concept to the screen treatment falls upon the infamous Jar Jar Binks. One of the most divisive characters in the entire Star Wars universe is stripped back to his original facial design by Terryl Whitlatch and the early concept art from Doug Chiang. These fantastic images go as far as revealing Jar Jar before the addition of his famous ears. It serves to bring us a little closer to the character and details the intricate work that went into bringing the first-ever all CGI character to the screen.
Attack of the Clones explores the creation of Dexter Jettster, notorious Bounty Hunter Zam Wesell, Geonsians, Kaminoans and includes a fascinating interview with Doug Chiang on the “Five Rules of Concept Design”; however, it is the creatures of the Geonosis Arena that are awarded the most elaborate of investigations. In this segment, Doug Chiang reveals how George Lucas had requested three distinct creatures, each with its own unique predatory ability and how each was sculpted and transformed into incredible computer-generated behemoths.
Revenge of the Sith completes the trilogy with intricate investigations into the creation of Tion Medon and the Varactyl species of Utapau. This portion also reveals how Dave Elsey replaced Nick Dudman as head of practical creature effects for the trilogy’s final installment which opened the door for the inclusion of more sophisticated mechanics beneath the masks. This abrupt change was instrumental in facilitating a greater diversity of character expression to characters like Kit Fisto and Plo Koon.
THE SEQUEL TRILOGY
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived on our screens in the latter part of 2015, it boasted a back to basics philosophy which demanded the return to more practical effects and minimization of CGI reliance. Special effects artist Neal Scanlan was employed to facilitate this process and his team began to craft the creatures of the sequel trilogy. This section explores the rise of Unkar Plutt, the notorious Constable Zuvio, Happabore and Luggabeast, Bobbajo, Crusher Roodown, and the iconic Rathtars before the concept to screen treatment is handed to Maz Kanata. Not only do we witness the creation of Maz herself, but we embark on an exciting journey into her Castle and explore the denizens frequenting her fine establishment.
Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi brings us up to date with the sequel trilogy so far. This portion focuses on the creation of the Caretakers, the Fathiers, the Crystal Foxes of Crait, and of course, the lovable Porgs before we sit down for an insightful interview with the director himself who takes us into the process of directing Chewbacca. In this charming interview, Johnson reveals how he helped Joonas Suotamo craft his incarnation of the mighty Wookiee through the use of gesturing and body language.
When it came to production on Rogue One, director Gareth Edwards decided to adopt the same practical effects ethos brought to The Force Awakens by J.J Abrams. Once again Neal Scanlan’s team was put through their paces to create the look of Rogue One and this section reveals the birth of Bistan, Admiral Raddus, Pao, Moroff, Bor Gullet and the Benthic, the instantly recognizable Two-Tubes aliens. We are treated to the original concept design artworks by Luke Fisher, Ivan Manzella, Jake Lunt Davies, Adam Brockbank, and Martin Rezard and receive the benefit of more of the “Force Fact” snippets which reveal how Paul Kasey based his performance as Admiral Raddus on Winston Churchill and how the “Two-Tubes” aliens’ facial attire is based on the gas masks of World War II.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
The latest installment in the Star Wars franchise was brought to the screen by visionary director Ron Howard and included the largest number of creatures EVER seen in a Star Wars film. When approaching the project, Neal Scanlan and his team reveal how many of the aliens in Solo: A Star Wars Story are based on various science fiction films and TV series of the 1950s and ’60s. In this section, we explore the creation of the vile Lady Proxima, the notorious ruler of the White Worm Gang, and are treated to the fantastic illustrations of Jake Lunt Davies and Luke Fisher and get up close and personal with a maquette of the vile creature herself. The “Force Fact” segment reveals how the creature was designed with waterproof electronics allowing the puppet to be fully immersed in water to capture the character’s true essence.
The Solo section is completed with an in-depth look at Rio Durant, the four-armed, two-legged, capuchin monkey-type alien and intricate member of Tobias Beckett‘s nefarious crew. Rio represents the evolution of the techniques employed to bring Maz Kanata to the screen and utilizes the best of both CGI and practical effects. We learn how Katy Kartwheel, a four-foot-six acrobat and gymnast was tasked with performing Rio, and how she was instrumental in bringing the character to life. Once in postproduction, ILM was brought in to add the CGI face and an extra pair of arms to complete the character, and the unmistakable vocal abilities of Jon Favreau completed the ensemble. It’s a fascinating read, and it explores in intricate detail the lengths the incredible production team at Lucasfilm will go to in order to bring these characters to our screens.
When sitting down with The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures + Aliens, I was expecting another traditional reference book packed with information but lacking the overall polish required to maintain my interest. I am delighted to be proven wrong in this case. This book is an invaluable resource. Even though this book is predominantly aimed at younger readers, Star Wars fans of all ages will be fascinated by the incredible array of content sourced and presented by Mark Salisbury. The book is presented in a way that is both fun and contemporary but also upholds both the tradition and escapism of the classic pop-up book genre. However, in this pop-up book adults can get in on the action…and this is where the fun begins!
The care and devotion given to the source material cannot be understated, and then after the first few pages, you grow far more attached to the franchise than ever before and gain a greater understanding of the intricacies of bringing many of the most beloved of characters to the screen. The “Force Fact” addition is a glorious masterstroke that offers incredible titbits of information that you instantly assimilate to memory, whereas a prolonged segment would see you struggling to navigate through the traditional volume of text.
Exploring the birth of George Lucas’ fascination with creatures gives us a greater window into the psyche of the man himself and reveals how one fateful encounter with a Ray Harryhausen monster set him off on a journey into the galaxy far, far away. Harryhausen’s work inspired moviemakers, conceptual artists,s and puppet masters all over the world and it was their love of his work that brought an incredible team together for the original Star Wars trilogy. Without Ray Harryhausen, the landscape of the Star Wars universe would have been very different, and this book is a celebration of everything that came to fruition after his Cyclops captivated the imaginations of so many people in the 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
In summary, this book is the perfect resource for Star Wars lovers everywhere. To deprive yourself of its brilliance is a sin against the force. Track yours down today or face the prospect of having a bounty hunter knocking at your door with orders from Jabba the Hutt to bring you in for Carbon freezing!
The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures + Aliens by Mark Salisbury is published by Abrams Books for Young Readers and is available to buy now.
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Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!