Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: 'Star Wars Posters'

Cinema has given us some unforgettable still images to introduce its moving ones. Posters for Psycho, Jaws, Chinatown, Eraserhead, Alien, E.T., Ghostbusters, and Pulp Fiction are as memorable as the films they advertise. My personal favorite movie poster is the one Roger Kastel created for The Empire Strikes Back. Inspired by one of George Lucas's favorite posters, Howard Terning's painting for the 1967-rerelease of Gone with the Wind, Kastel's work depicts Han and Leia in a Scarlett/Rhett clutch, Luke front and center on his tauntaun, and the masked eyes of Darth Vader looming in the background. That the kiddie faves Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are shrunk and bunched to the side implies the relative adult-nature of Irvin Kershner's movie. The blue-palette perfectly reflects it's snow/sky/swamp aesthetic. Romantic, moody, a touch scary, and instantly evocative of my childhood, Kastel's is a piece of art that gets under my skin like no Mona Lisa or Waterlilies ever could... and I know I'm not alone on that matter.

If you're with me, then you're going to want to grab Abrams Publishing's new book Star Wars Posters. For such a blah title, this is one thrilling book. Kastel's iconic poster is just one of many and varied pieces in the book. The variety of styles that represent these films dazzles: from Kastel's pulp romance to comic book to circus poster to impressionism. The size of the book allows these often intricate works their due space, and select details are blown up further over luxurious two-page spreads. 

There's also a healthy helping of preliminary sketches and concepts that didn't go beyond the board room. These are some of the most fascinating pieces in Star Wars Posters, particularly when they get the films' details wrong. A sketch John Solie did for the first movie portrays Chewbacca as a pipe-wielding gorilla. Several proposals for Empire posters show Princess Leia with her cinnamon-buns hairdo (and one even shows her in unseasonably scanty dress riding sidesaddle behind Luke on his tauntaun!). Ralph McQuarrie's early renderings are the most famous to not reflect the characters accurately, and a few of those are in here too, as are pieces presenting Empire's bounty hunters and Yoda in a fantastical Dagobah more vivid and alive than the film's swamp planet. These are two of the most stunning pieces in the book.

I'm sure you'll be happy to know that although Lucas "curated" this book, the focus remains with the three original movies. A restrained 15 pages of this 180-page book are wasted with the prequel trilogy. There are also pieces devoted to such intergalactic side roads as the 1978 "Star Wars in Concert" event, the Ewok TV movies, the "Clone Wars" and "Rebels" animated series, and various Star Wars video games. Much cooler are the oddball fan-made pieces that finish the book with Empire enlistment posters, ads for faux-pulp horror flicks called Revenge of the Sandpeople and Lair of the Rancor, a psychedelic Max Rebo concert poster, and Sandcrawler, Star Destoyer, and Millenium Falcon travel posters. These pieces are all done in the spirit of fun that is the key to the original trilogy and are as eclectic and expertly rendered as everything else collected in this superb art book.

Get Star Wars Posters on Amazon.com here:

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