Visions of Star Wars with J.W. Rinzler

There are a number of people fans like us immediately think of when talk turns to the Star Wars Saga. Certainly, the cast and the  characters take the forefront, but behind them, there exists a group of folks actually responsible for their existence who are almost as famous as the characters themselves.  George Lucas, John Williams, Ralph McQuarrie, Ben Burtt . . . the list is short but recently for me it’s had at least one notable addition. Lucasfilm Ltd. Executive Editor, J.W. Rinzler.  Mr. Rinzler is responsible for the absolutely amazing books chronicling the making of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Revenge of the Sith and all four Indiana Jones movies. He is like a cinematic Dr. Jones himself, disappearing into the Lucasfilm vaults and unearthing stories and photos of the production of these films that have never been shared with the public before.  I had missed the opportunity to meet Mr. Rinzler at NY Comic Con this past October about his epic Empire Strikes Back book, but I was lucky enough to be invited to speak to him about Lucasfilm’s  newest print project; an amazing collection of artistic interpretations of the Star Wars Universe called Visions.

When I heard the idea behind this was essentially a Fine Art  Star Wars book, I didn’t know what to expect, I think there exists the possibility that it could come off almost as a parody but looking through the different works it really doesn’t come across that way – it’s actually rather fantastic.

Yeah well it’s hard to know what it is until you actually see it, some of these projects we do sound rather bizarre at first but then once you SEE them you realize what’s involved and what’s behind it.

Absolutely ! There was one painting in particular for me that really marched right up to that line, the portrait of Darth Vader, by Steven Levin. At first glance that one really brings to mind the portrait of Napoleon,  but when you look at it closer you begin to realize the time and incredible effort that went into it, it’s not a painting of Darth Vader as Napoleon as much as it’s  a work of art that appears to be from that time period of a military leader who happens to BE Darth Vader.

I had contacted a group of artists many of whom know each other through various art galleries and a couple of websites; these guys have all be trained in the tradition of the old masters they spent several weeks if not months on these works and it’s a really an amazing talented bunch and Steven Levin was definitely one of them.

Has any thought been given to a gallery show? The John Williams tour was a great success in terms of showcasing the art in the music of Star Wars, this sort of feels like it could be a big success in that same sort of vein.

We are definitely looking into that. I would love it and if we can make that happen we will.

Are you surprised at the amount of fan art online that’s inspired by Star Wars?

Well Star Wars gets those visual juices flowing.

It certainly does I was 7 years old when Star Wars came out and I remember spending hours drawing Tie fighters. Sadly it didn’t turn into anything as I’m not in the book…

Well maybe the next one…

(Embarrassed laughter at the thought of my goofy stick people stormtroopers in the same Universe with the artists in this book) Well I definitely understand the inspiration though I lack the actual skills to act on it. How did this book come about?

This book was actually the idea of George Lucas; we were working on another book for a couple of years and early on in the process he turned to me and said I’d like you to do an interpretive art project and he wanted me to go
out and basically recruit these people who were professionals in different genres who already had quite intimidating reputations. He wanted me to go out and see who among these would be interested in doing Star Wars.  Generally it was people who had not done Star Wars before.

How many years did it take to produce the book?

Off and on it took 5 years

When an artist signed on to do the project, were you involved in the production ? Did you see it as it evolved, or was  more of a go away and do it and bring it back when it’s done?

Well what we wanted to do was have people send us a sketch and I’d show it to George and usually he would just say fine or sometimes he’s have a few comments but really we were pretty flexible. You know these artists obviously know what they’re doing so if people didn’t want to show us what they were up to that was fine too. In some cases people wanted a lot of collaboration. It was really the whole spectrum from no collaboration at all,  to very intense collaboration and everything in between.

I imagine it was a lot of fun for you – nice break from the kind of
“Behind the Scenes intensive research” projects you usually work on for Lucasfilm.

It really was. I used to paint, I used to dabble, I actually took it very seriously for about 10 years so I felt like I was getting back to my roots and I got to meet some fantastic painters, really nice men and women.  I was also really happy to see this sort of revival of figurative painting in the classical style was happening in America – and abroad. It was great because when I was in art school, everyone was saying you can’t do figure painting anymore – it’s dead, but I wanted to do figure painting! That whole aspect of it was really fun.

I have to be honest with you, I’m not really nervous per say, but I’m just shocked that I’m actually talking to you – I’ve become such a big fan of your work. I call your books “Time machines” because you pick them up and suddenly three hours have gone by. It’s so easy to just pop them open anywhere and just stare at the pictures or read the stories, sometimes the same stories you’ve already read, but they’re told in such a way that they really connect with that period of time, that period of my childhood I guess.

Well they’re not so much time machines as Time “sucks” (laughter)

They definitely do suck time, but it seemed more respectful to go with time machine.

Well as long as your having fun there’s no harm.

I know you lived in Paris for a time, is Star Wars as BIG there as it is here?

It’s very big there. I was there in what we kinda call the in between years 1990 to 1998 and when the special editions came out it was packed, you had to wait in line. I remember one conversation I had right around then, some body was saying “Dark Vader does this and Dark Vader does that” and I said “well you know in America his name is DARTH Vader” and they said “no, no, It’s DARK Vader in America – why would it be DARTH?” so I said “I don’t know but you’re gonna have to believe me I’m an American and there’s no DARK VADER there…” this went on for a while and in the end there was just no way I could convince him.

I saw online that you are working with Greg Knight on an Animated film inspired by Edgar Allen Poe.

It’s based on a couple of his short stories and it’s not a full length film, it’s a short. We hope to be finished this spring. We’ve been working on it for a couple of years and it’s just sort of nice sometimes to work on something thats you know, your OWN thing. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I think it actually started while I was in Paris.

The clip you have up on You Tube looks like it’s going to be fantastic,  I look forward to seeing the finished product.  When you’re ready to release it we’d be happy to “pimp it” for you!

That would be great!

I want to thank you so much for your time today.

You’re welcome it was a pleasure talking with you.

I was heartbroken that I missed getting to see you at NY Comic Con, unfortunately there was a moment there on Saturday when the floor just stopped moving and I was all the way on the other side of the convention when you were there.  I just couldn’t get there.

Well we’re hoping that Random House sends me out East for another event; so maybe we’ll see you out there next time!

Definitely, I’ll be watching out for it!

Star Wars Visions is a pretty amazing collection of art and I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the graphics on this post don’t begin to do it justice.  It’s available in book stores everywhere as well as online from the usual suspects.   Big thanks to Amy Franklin and Abrams books for coordinating my phone chat with Mr. Rinzler.  Check out the early teaser for his Edgar Allen Poe animated short below.



About calmixx

Calmixx is the Pseudonym of New York Artist/Writer Brian Mc- - HEY wait a minute. Why have a cool Pseudonym if you're just gonna tell people it's a Pseudonym? Yeah you can just call me Calmixx for now. Maybe if we have a third date I'll give up the last name but not without dinner. Check out my silly little blog and let me know what you think. Because I care. I really do. Really. Honest. Sorta.
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