The latest product from Abrams Books, The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, is the first comprehensive look inside the creation of the most divisive science fiction movie in a generation. Available now on Amazon and at retailers around the country, it features a forward by director Rian Johnson as well as intimate conversations with many members of the art and technical team.
In addition to concept art for the latest movie, it also includes never before seen images from The Last Jedi. Polygon has been given an exclusive look at what’s inside. What follows is just a sample of its hundreds of images, as well as some of the most interesting anecdotes culled from author Phil Szostak’s expertly researched text.
What follows will completely spoil Star Wars: The Last Jedi. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading now.
The book begins not with a discussion of The Last Jedi’s opening crawl, but with pictures held back from the first book in the series, The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
“To help preserve the filmgoing experience ... for Star Wars fans around the globe,” writes Szostak, “concept art depicting an older Luke Skywalker, the Jedi temple, the training of Rey (initially called ‘Kira’ in early development), and the death of Han Solo was not included. ... It is revealed here for the first time.”
How sensitive are those images? We asked Disney for permission to include the first draft of the death of Han Solo in this feature, and that request was denied. If you want to see it, you’ll need to get the book.
Early on, Szostak reveals that there was a series of proposed scenes in and around the Jedi temple on Ahch-To that never made it into the film. One had Rey searching the other islands and delving deep into other hidden temples and ruins. Another had her discovering Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing in a grotto, gutted by flame and rotting into the sea. There’s even an image of First Order walkers rising out of the sea to attack the island with Kylo Ren’s shuttle hovering overhead.
The Jedi library also took on many shapes, and in early drawing it was actually a bell-shaped structure reminiscent of Jabba’s palace from Return of the Jedi.
To inspire them, co-production designer Rick Carter brought the art team a collection of still images from Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s films, like Rashômon and the Hidden Fortress. From these, the art team created a series of images that would set the tone for Rey’s journey to the force and her training with Skywalker. The middle-aged Jedi master was actually modeled on Marlon Brando’s brooding Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now.
As much of the movie as possible was shot on location, per director Johnson’s orders. The most challenging part of meeting that goal was the Jedi village, the collection of domed rock structures in which Skywalker lives. According to an interview with Johnson, the entire structure was initially erected at Pinewood Studios in England, where the rainy scenes were shot against a massive green screen. Then the whole thing was packed up and shipped to Sybil Head, on the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland, for the remainder of the shoot.
That means the cranky, fish-headed caretakers’ (called puffins in pre-production) frustration at Rey shooting holes in the place may very well be a gentle nod to the poor human crews who had to do the heavy lifting behind the scenes.
For much of the movie, Skywalker is brooding and silent. So much of his internal struggle must be communicated by Hamill through his eyes. Director Johnson opened up for Szostak about what the motivations were, and how he coached Hamill in his role.
“Ultimately, Luke’s exile and his justifications for it are all covering his guilt over Kylo. The big gloss that he’s putting over the whole thing is: ‘The Force does not belong to the Jedi. This ongoing dynamic between the Jedi and the Sith just keeps renewing itself and just keeps feeding the fire. It’s time for this old religion to die so that the truth about God can rise from elsewhere — basically, so that a more worthy god can riise. It’s really hard, and it’s going to cause a lot of pain, but that’s what has to happen. So I’m going to do the hardest thing I’ve ever done, what I couldn’t do in Empire, and not answer the call of my friends so that the Jedi Order dies and something new has to rise and pull the light up.’”
At one point in the movie, the Millennium Falcon drops out of hyperspace to disembark Rey in a coffin-sized escape pod. It’s part of the Falcon that we’ve never seen before, and Johnson requested that it be monogrammed. So, VFX art director James Clyne wrote “Property of Han Solo” in a script that he made up, a bastardized version of languages from Thailand and the Middle East. Rian Johnson wrote him back comments using the same script.
“I had to translate it like an old fifties decoder ring,” Clyne said. “I had no idea what it said!”
Rose, the movie’s newest character, was actually named after the original pre-production name of Maz Kanata. The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams and co-production designer Rick Carter chose the name Rose as a tribute to Rose Gilbert, their English teacher at Palisades High School. She left her mark on both men, who were in her classroom a generation apart.
In an alternate version of the movie’s opening battle, Finn was a tailgunner inside the last surviving T-Wing bomber. Paige, Rose’s sister, was to have died in his arms as the bombs fell on the First Order Dreadnaught. Concept art shows her last moments, and even her lifeless body being pulled from the ship inside the Resistance hangar, but the scene was scraped in a later revision of the script.
“Ultimately,” Johnson said, “I found I couldn’t pay it off.”
The salt-planet Crait wasn’t the only setting that the creative team considered for the film’s climactic battle. A second option was a mineralized planet based off of Mono Lake, a bizarre geologic formation in Mono County, California.
In that scenario, the First Order and the Resistance would square off across a gigantic lake. A massive AT-AT carrier would have dropped from orbit, itself with massive AT-AT-style legs. The assault platform would disgorge multiple First Order walkers as well as entire wings of TIE fighters from inside it. In the end, the formation of Gorilla walkers won out, but if you look closely at the scene you can still see the smaller AT-ATs in the fray, taking the scouting role that the smaller AT-STs had in Empire Strikes Back.
There are many more secrets buried inside. You can either love the movie or hate it, but the latest book from Abrams is a must-own resource for Star Wars fans.