One department head once remarked to me that there weren’t any storyboards done for the Star Wars prequel trilogy. What he/she meant was that, in the traditional sense, animatics had replaced storyboards by the mid to late 1990s, at least at Lucasfilm, so there weren’t any Joe Johnston-style storyboards created for ILM. Instead CG animatics served as the basis for ILM’s photo-real digital shot production. For the original trilogy, postproduction boards had acted as a guide for the camera crews working with actual models, miniatures, mattes, and so on, listing the elements needed for each shot, which would all be combined on the Optical printer, with a few exceptions. Those sorts of boards were effectively gone by the time Episode I rolled around. But what our newly announced book Star Wars Storyboards—The Prequels makes clear is that a whole lot of storyboards were created for the prequels (it’s scheduled for a spring 2013 publication from Abrams).
In fact when I mentioned the “no storyboard” comment to prequel concept artist Iain McCaig, he exclaimed, “What? We boarded out the whole film!” He was speaking of Episode I. (He’ll have more to say, as he’s writing the book’s foreword.) But all three prequels generated their fair share of what I would call concept boards. Benton Jew, McCaig, Terryl Whitlatch, Jay Shuster, Ed Natividad, Warren Drummond, Derek Thompson, and others drew dozens, sometimes hundreds, of boards: comic book-like sequences pitching story ideas and action gags during the preproduction art meetings with George Lucas, which took place, generally, every Friday. And the boards are magnificent. I recently spent a few weeks going through them all in the archives, choosing sequences for the book. Most of the boards had never been scanned before, particularly those from Episode I, which make up the lion’s share. When you see the boards, it’s easy to see why, at the time, Jar Jar was predicted to be a breakout character—he is funny and expressive, a sort of throwback to animated characters like Donald Duck (indeed he reminds me, a little, in the boards, of Carl Barks’ genial Disney characters). He is elastic. (And the new scans mean the book’s reproductions are going to be very, very good.)
Some of the boards predict closely final shots. Some depict fantastic scenes that were never shot, such as a two-man Jedi assault on Theed, which would’ve come before the hangar battle in Episode I. The Trade Federation, in other boards, can be seen oppressing the civilian population of Theed. Obi vs. Fett is planned out in Episode II as is the first battle of the Clone Wars—and Episode III’s climactic duel was explored in a great series of boards by Thompson (only a few of which have been seen before).
And good ol’ Joe Johnston, it should be noted, did a tremendous job of concept storyboards for the original trilogy (helped by Nilo Rodis-Jamero and George Jenson at times), in addition to his postproduction boards. In writing the Making of Jedi and recently finishing the book map, it was painful not including more of his great output. So I’ve included a couple here. And one from the upcoming prequel storyboard book.
Next time: Why Does Darth Vader Do My Laundry?
Lucasfilm executive editor J. W. Rinzler is the author of The Making of Star Wars and The Complete Making of Indiana Jones. He is now writing The Making of Return of the Jedi (and really looking forward to finishing it) for a fall 2013 release. You can visit jwrinzler.com for more info.