Review: The Art of The Rise of Skywalker

Creatures, vehicles, places, props, and costumes – they’re all on the tour of concept art featured in The Art of The Rise of Skywalker. My first read-through of this 256-page coffee table book was purely a visual ride. Flipping through 350 color illustrations I recognized a lot from the final film along with islands of ideas eventually cut out or left on the shelf. The idea of all these artists churning out this imagery in order to help build a story is a compelling one. They communicate a concept in drawings, digital renders, and maquettes. And they have to be willing to let them all go.

The Art of The Rise of Skywalker Cover depicting Rey and Kylo crossing lightsabers through parallel spaces.
cover image courtesy of Abrams. cover art by Christian Alzmann.

It’s always interesting to me how these books are arranged. There’s so much content to dive into. There are fourteen pages early on for art considered too spoilery for the release of The Art of The Last Jedi, which very much feels like its own separate thing. Then The Rise of Skywalker starts. Stretches of pre-production and production summary are sprinkled near the front of sections and for this particular book give a sense of the condensed, rush of idea amalgamation that became The Rise of Skywalker. As there haven’t been any “making of” books for the Star Wars sequel trilogy, the history author Phil Szostak presented here feels kind of necessary even if it’s more so there to provide context for the production of all this art.

My second read-through actually included all the text passages as well as the captions that sometimes are filled with insightful quotes that help you understand what the artist was referencing or where they were coming from with their thought-process and what ultimately happened with it. Sometimes the captions are a generic name for the type of asset, a number, and an artist credit that leaves you wondering and wanting more. I know; there’s only so much room.

Going between those longer history texts and the caption insights is a kind of mental whiplash. The longer bits don’t always seem to flow well with the art section that follows or proceeds it. Their info might even better fit with a section that came earlier, but the chronological hierarchy reigns. What does connect it all through is the language of film – not necessary of filmmaking but of film referencing. It’s clearly a shared language between all the teams working on this movie and it’s amazing how much content is a tribute to something someone liked somewhere else. In fact there’s also a definite through-line of writer/director J.J. Abrams asking for concepts to be like something from a previous Star Wars movie. So there’s references within references.

As far as the content itself goes the creature department’s work is my favorite. All the deviations and creations are wild. And then they have to figure out how to make it work – how to get a person inside or how to operate it, how they will move. Be sure to check out the pages dedicated to the Aki-Aki. From where the species design originated, to ages, expressions, and how they pulled off 500 people portraying them – it’s a delight to take in.

As a lover of costumes, I have to say there does not feel like there’s enough costume-specific content in here – especially for the clothes of our leads of Rey and Kylo. There are multiple pages dedicated to possible looks for Kylo Ren’s barely used helmet though. Strangest of all in the costume area was the context/tribute regarding the loss of Carrie Fisher, which although sweet was accompanied by a drawing of a costume for her with no explanation about the costume, no story about the challenge of designing for someone who is no longer there, or anything like that. Luckily we do get to see a range of exploration of both Jannah and Finn’s costumes though.

There’s still a lot more to discover on your own. From the filming location choices to the seemingly constant changes in key plot elements. Even if you didn’t like the story of the movie, there’s a lot of interesting visual concepts to appreciate. And The Art of The Rise of Skywalker is kind of book that you can parse out and go through here and there when you’ve got the time and inclination.

The publisher provided FANgirl with a copy of the book for review. As usual opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of other contributors to this site.

The Art of The Rise of Skywalker by Phil Szostak with Foreword by Doug Chiang is out now in hardcover format from Abrams.

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She grew up wanting to be an astronaut. After seeing Star Wars, she wanted to be Princess Leia, Han Solo, and an astronaut. Life’s taken her on a bit of a different path, but she’s okay with that. Kay is FANgirl's resident geek fashion expert and co-host of the Hyperspace Theories podcast. She reviews books and movies for the site with a heart for storytelling and a mind that likes to analyze. Kay's been a guest on various podcasts sharing her love and knowledge of storytelling, film-making, fashion, and of course, Star Wars. Most days are filled with her work as a creative services professional - designing websites & branding, photographing, voice acting, editing, and more. Kay spends the little bit of free time she has reading, costuming, and, of course, making pew pew noises. She would pick up more jobs and hobbies if she was a Time Lord.