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Part of the meta-legend behind Star Wars comes from the many ideas that never made it to screen. Through countless interviews, bits of draft screenplay, hand-written notes, and hearsay, it’s possible to piece together an alternate-universe version of Star Wars: a movie with a reptilian Han Solo, lightsabre-wielding stormtroopers, and a lady Luke. (Some might even prefer some of those options.) Much of that material is evident in early concept paintings by Ralph McQuarrie: work steeped in '70s sci-fi aesthetic that's instantly recognisable as almost - but not quite - Star Wars.
Characters and imagery changing during pre-production is all standard operating procedure for big, imaginative movies like this, of course, but Star Wars is unique in how heavily its fanbase has latched on to that early material. Nobody until now has gone to quite as much effort in resurrecting McQuarrie’s initial ideas, however, as the students of the Digital Animation and Visual Effects School in Orlando. This year’s graduating class put together the following video, including a faux trailer that recreates - via live-action and CGI - some of McQuarrie’s most iconic compositions:
We’ve seen fan recreations of McQuarrie’s work before in cosplay and model form, and Hasbro even released a line of action figures based on it, but this is done with some real skill and love - even if there's little drama in it (these are visual effects students, after all). Many hours clearly went into this - not just building visual effects and physical costumes, but conceptualising how McQuarrie’s early designs - some quite different to the final product - would move. The closing credits’ effects breakdowns not only reveal the layers of work put into the trailer, but also offer comparisons with the original paintings, to really drive home how faithful the video is.
With the latest Star Wars movie hitting cinemas today (read Dave Schilling's review here!), it’s worth taking five minutes to look back to before even the first one had been made.