Book Review: ‘The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005’

Photo Credit: Taschen Books. (C) 2020 Taschen Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Movies are an illusion. Cinema is the art of the moving image; the moving image isn’t more truthful than are cave paintings, or hieroglyphics, or the Sistine Chapel. What the artist finds is the truth behind the “truth.” Art portrays the aspirations of the society in which it is made.- George Lucas, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005

On December 13, 2020[1], Taschen Books released the U.S. edition of film historian Paul Duncan’s The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005, the second book in a duology about how the first six films of what is now called the Skywalker Saga were made. (The first volume, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983, covers the making of the Original Trilogy.) Massive in both scope (it spans a 22-year period) and size (it is a large “coffee table” format tome that weighs 15.21 lbs.), it was made with the full collaboration of George Lucas and many of the key personnel who created the Prequel Trilogy at Lucasfilm Ltd.

Photo Credit: Taschen Books. (C) 2020 Taschen Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Co-written by Duncan, Colin Odell, and Michelle Le Blanc, this book picks up the story of the fabled franchise set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” after the release of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi in 1983. It is divided into five major sections, including:

  • Foreword by George Lucas, which was derived from a 1999 essay about filmmaking, digital technology, and how (and why) he planned to marry the two to create Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and the other two films of the Prequel Trilogy.
  • The Special Editions, by Paul Duncan
  • Episode I: The Phantom Menace, by Paul Duncan, Colin Odell, and Michelle Le Blanc
  • Episode II: Attack of the Clones, by Paul Duncan, Colin Odell, and Michelle Le Blanc
  • Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, by Paul Duncan, Colin Odell, and Michelle Le Blanc

The Appendices of The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005 include an index, an extensive bibliography, image credits, and an acknowledgments section.

Publisher’s Blurb:

My copy (#6790) was probably printed and bound not long after the one seen in this Taschen promo photo. Photo Credit: Taschen Books. (C) 2020 Taschen Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Famous First Edition: First printing of 10,000 numbered copies

From the moment Star Wars burst onto the screen in 1977, audiences have been in equal parts fascinated and appalled by the half-man/half-machine hybrid Darth Vader. In 1999, creator George Lucas began the story of how Anakin Skywalker grew up to train as a Jedi under Obi-Wan Kenobi, found love with the Queen of Naboo, Padmé Amidala, before turning to the dark side of his nature and becoming more machine than man.

After driving the development of nascent digital technology, George Lucas perceived how he could create new creatures and new worlds on a grander scale than ever before. He created the first digital blockbuster and met fierce resistance when he pushed for widespread digital cameras, sets, characters, and projection – all of which are now used throughout the industry. He essentially popularized the modern way of making movies.

Made with the full cooperation of George Lucas and Lucasfilm, this second volume covers the making of the prequel trilogy ― Episode I The Phantom Menace, Episode II Attack of the Clones, and Episode III Revenge of the Sith ― and features exclusive interviews with Lucas and his collaborators. The book is profusely illustrated with script pages, production documents, concept art, storyboards, on-set photography, stills, and posters.

Photo Credit: Taschen Books. (C) 2020 Taschen Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The Book

Printed and manufactured in Italy for Taschen, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005 is a large-format (it measures 19.09 x 2.87 x 13.39 inches) “coffee table” book. It weighs 15.21 pounds and is made from top quality materials, including a red clothbound hardcover with the book title done in what looks to be gold leaf. It has 600 pages, but not all of them comprise the main narrative of The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005.

I’ve never been that interested in computers. I’m interested in making movies and creating images and in doing it the easiest way possible. – George Lucas, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005

Although The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005 is a “making-of” book about the Star Wars saga, it differs from Dale Pollock’s Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas or the various behind the scenes volumes by J.W. Rinzler in that it’s an oral history rather than a straight up narrative. There’s even a note that explains that the book consists of quotes from interviews with many individuals, including Lucas, Special Edition/Prequel Trilogy producer Rick McCallum, designers Doug Chiang, Ian McCaig, Warren Fu, Erik Tiemens, and Derek Thompson, composer John Williams, and production designer Gavin Boucquet, just to name a few,

 “Darth Vader is black, so I went with pure white — in Chinese culture, white means death.”  – Warren Fu, on the design of General Grievous for Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005

My Take

The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005 is, at $200, the most expensive book in my library. It’s also the biggest and heaviest single-volume work that I own, and because it is a limited First Edition (my copy is # 6970), reading it is more of a challenge than the 40th Anniversary edition of Duncan’s The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983  which is a downsized but unabridged version of the 2018 book about the Original Trilogy.

My two volumes of The Star Wars Archives, (Photo by the author)

When I say “that reading (The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005) is more of a challenge,” I don’t mean that the text is too difficult to grasp (Amazon says that the suggested age group for reading this is 9 and up, so you don’t need a master’s degree in film and arts to read it). Like I said, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005 is essentially an oral history, which means it’s made up of excerpts from interviews with the people who made the films.   

As such, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005 is like reading the transcript of a Star Wars film’s audio commentary track, one that delves deeply into how – and why – George Lucas decided to use digital technology to create the Special Edition of the original Star Wars Trilogy, the creative challenges involved in creating The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, and interesting revelations about the cast’s contributions to the saga, including Natalie Portman’s insistence that her character should be as assertive and action-oriented as Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia in the Original Trilogy.

Of course, if you are the sort of Star Wars grognard that watches the films while listening to the audio commentary tracks, some of the “reveals” in The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005 are old news for you.

For instance, when Duncan interviews Ahmed Best about his character, Jar Jar Binks, and his work on Attack of the Clones, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005 tells us that a June 2000 draft of the script was titled “Jar Jar’s Great Adventure.” This was done to misdirect the press, which was looking for any leaked information about the second film in the Prequel Trilogy. In the DVD and Blu-ray editions of Attack of the Clones, someone -Dough Chiang, I think – mentions inthe audio commentary track that “Jar Jar’s Great Adventure” was the working title for the film.

What the audio commentary glosses over, though, is that – in Best’s view – the gag  was essentially Lucas giving a, “middle finger to the whole ‘everyone hates Jar Jar’ thing.”

Photo Credit: Taschen Books. (C) 2020 Taschen Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Content-wise, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005 is a Star Wars geek’s dream come true, since it tells the story of how Lucas and the men and women at Lucasfilm – and there were hundreds of people in San Francisco and Skywalker Ranch who worked at the company – brought the story of Anakin Skywalker’s tragic fall from grace from concept to screen.

Fans, of course, are still divided over the question of whether Lucas succeeded in his quest to tell the story of how one of cinema’s iconic villains came to be. Many fans – mostly those who had grown up with the Original Trilogy in the 1970s and early 1980s  – weren’t thrilled by the prequels when they hit theaters at the turn of the century. Others – mainly those who were kids in 1999, 2002, and 2005, were more receptive.

Still, as The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005 points out, Lucas did change the movie industry by introducing the tools and methods of digital filmmaking, which many in Hollywood resisted at first but now are used by many studios in movies from every genre. And even though Lucas eventually retired from making “blockbuster films” – and sold Lucasfilm and its prized Star Wars and Indiana Jones intellectual properties to The Walt Disney Company – in part due to fan criticism of his Prequel Trilogy, the franchise he created has grown and expanded, with five feature films and several television series set in his galaxy far, far away produced, and countless more screen adventures in the works by Disney-owned Lucasfilm.

Overall, I recommend The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005. Right now it’s still available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from Taschen Books.  Just keep in mind that this edition is expensive and quite heavy!   


[1] A British edition was published on November 8.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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