While it might take the Empire many years and massive amounts of resources to build one of their powerful Imperial walkers or the gargantuan Death Star, you can build your very own for a lot less, with the latest titles in the Star Wars IncrediBuilds series. Featuring the Death Star and the AT-ACT, two of the symbols of Imperial might from Rogue One, these book and 3D model sets combine creativity with detailed reference guides to make sure you know the capabilities of these wooden technological terrors that you’re able to construct and customize.
Earlier in the year, StarWars.com chatted with Michael Kogge, author of the first four Star Wars IncrediBuilds books, and now we’ve got the latest info on the new Rogue One sets, which came out on May 23, with the insights from Michael Kogge, author of the AT-ACT guidebook, and Ryder Windham, author of the Death Star guidebook. You might think that a guidebook that accompanies a wooden model to be just basic information, but you’d be mistaken — these resources are heavily researched, introduce new information, and cover both the in-universe aspects of the titular vehicles, with their capabilities and histories, as well as the behind-the-scenes information on how these components of the Imperial arsenal went from story concept to onscreen. Here are six tidbits from the authors on the making of these great guide books.
1. The authors investigated the beginning, the middle, and the present.
Michael Kogge, in writing the Star Wars: Rogue One: AT-ACT Deluxe Book and 3D Wood Model set from IncrediBuilds, took the opportunity to really explore walkers in every aspect. “It comes with a wooden model, like those wooden dinosaur models you would get out of a museum as a kid, but this one is in the form of an AT-ACT (All Terrain Armored Cargo Transport), the Imperial walker that was recently featured in Rogue One,” he says. “My job was to append the accompanying book, which is a technical guide to the AT-ACT, and also a history of walkers. I tried to make it the most detailed book on walkers you might ever find. It’s chock-full of information from the past, the present, and even some new stuff, that was developed with the new Rogue One film. I went back to the Clone Wars, as well as the original walkers from the original trilogy and there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes information, along with an interview I conducted with Doug Chiang, a creative director and VP at Lucasfilm.”
While new to writing for the IncrediBuilds line, Ryder Windham, author of dozens of Star Wars reference books, comics, and younger readers’ books, probably rivals Galen Erso or Grand Moff Tarkin when it comes to his knowledge of the Death Star. “Last fall, Insight Editions editor Chris Prince asked me if I’d be interested in working on the guidebook for Star Wars: Rogue One: Death Star Deluxe Book and 3D Wood Model. A few years ago, I wrote the Imperial Death Star Owner’s Workshop Manual for Haynes Manuals, so Chris knew I was familiar with the Death Star. Chris explained that the IncrediBuilds book would include a 3D wood model and incorporate images and information about the Death Star from the movie Rogue One. Those features definitely distinguished the project from the Haynes Manual, but I also just enjoyed the opportunity to revisit the Death Star.”
2. In exploring the development of the AT-ACT and Death Star, we glimpse the growth of Imperial might.
Both books trace the history of their subject, with Windham’s guide to the Death Star looking at its development as seen in the prequels, through its construction and initial tests in Rogue One, and even its continued legacy as seen in the First Order’s Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens. More than just the technical aspects, the guide also focuses on the key personnel and events associated with the incarnations of a giant battle station.
The AT-ACT guidebook is similar. “I go through the evolution of the walker,” Kogge relates. “The walker started with the Republic, which began using them around the Clone Wars, with the AT-TE, the All-Terrain Tactical Enforcer. With six legs, it’s a bit like a beetle and it is one of the first walkers seen in the prequel trilogy. I think Ryan Church designed it. And we can then see how the walker design slowly led to the AT-STs and AT-RTs, the one-man walkers, and then eventually the AT-ATs and AT-ACTs. The book shows the development and the design of the walkers as they progress through the prequel trilogy, the original trilogy, and even to the sequel trilogy, with a mention of the First Order walkers on Starkiller Base. There’s not as much in that because they don’t play a significant role in The Force Awakens, but they’re in there. I also focus on when Chewbacca and two Ewoks take over an AT-ST. I really like that scene. It’s funny and I like the Ewoks in there and with Chewie in there, it becomes the Wookiee walker, as I call it. The AT-ST was known as the ‘chicken walker,’ as Joe Johnston called it when he developed it for The Empire Strikes Back, and George Lucas liked the design so much that he wanted to place it in the Battle of Hoth, and that’s what happened.”
3. The books are full of surprises — and explanations.
Eagle-eyed fans noticed that the AT-ACTs depicted on Scarif are quite a bit different than the AT-ATs seen in the original trilogy. Kogge notes how those differences stem from a different function. “They’re a little bigger,” he says. “The AT-ACTs are on Scarif to transport cargo, and they have this gold- or hay-colored plating on the side, that protects precious cargo that is being used in the development and construction of the Death Star, when it is above the planet. They are not combat assault walkers, they’re cargo transports or beasts of burden. Essentially the huge tractor-trailers of Star Wars. It’s kind of funny that the Empire had to put all their cargo up on stilts — maybe in order to protect their cargo, the Empire wanted it as far from the ground as possible, and protected with extra armor. It’s ready for combat as you can see in the film, even though it’s a cargo transport, with its twin laser cannons on the front. It’s a great vehicle for the Empire for protecting the various little things and big things that they might need to make the Death Star.”
While the Death Star is often viewed as just a giant superweapon, that’s not Windham’s favorite element of the armored battle station. “Believe it or not, my favorite parts are the corridors, or more specifically the sets used for the corridors in A New Hope. I admire how they’re illuminated, how they look simultaneously cold and technologically advanced. And all those passageways reinforce the idea that the Death Star is a vessel as well as a superweapon, that crews move about throughout. Think of it this way: the superlaser may be more visually impressive, but without the corridors, the gunners couldn’t get to their battle stations. The corridors make the Death Star more believable.”
Kogge teases a little about his AT-ACT guidebook. “Some of the illustrations and images haven’t been seen before. If you’ve ever been interested in the walker, this is the book for you. I think hopefully it will shed new light on the walker and take all the existing information and put it in one place.”
4. There’s new information here that the rebels would have loved to have had.
Kogge describes the opportunity and challenge of putting together the first book solely focused on Imperial walkers. “I’m a story writer: stories, novels, comics, scripts, so this was a different kind of writing,” he explains. “It was far more technical, pinpointing various items on a blueprint or an image of the vehicle. So I go through all the Star Wars books I have and try to locate what I can find in those books about walkers — you can see a list in the bibliography in the back of the book. There’s a lot of research that is involved in writing my book. I have to go back to everything that was written in the past, just so I can get an idea of what these pieces are. I label the pieces as I read about the walker. But there are some parts that haven’t been explained before. I look for those areas and try to add a twist by adding some new content. I repeat old content where it exists, and I always try to say something new about each part or piece, so if you have the old books, you’re not getting the same material regurgitated, you’re getting something fresh and new. It’s my take, my perspective on the walker.”
Looking for an example, he continues. “There’s a lot of little things. On the AT-AT walker, I labelled the Piperii-Cerlurn R-90C medium blasters, and came up with the name of the company. It’s little tiny details like that. The Taim & Bak MS-1 heavy blaster cannons on the AT-AT weren’t mine, but I continued that kind of labelling, with the AT-ACT having Taim & Bak MS-2 Heavy Laser Cannons. Funny story: I spent about an hour or two trying to figure out the cargo capacity of each walker. In an older work, the cargo capacity of an AT-AT was given as one metric ton, which seems pretty light considering it is carrying three speeder bikes, a pilot, commander, gunner, deck officers, forty troops, and sometimes two AT-STs inside. It seemed not possible. So I went through an entire calculation for what the cargo capacity would be — what I did was, I figured out what an equivalent tractor-trailer would be, and I measured what’s usually carried in that amount of space, and then I took the measurements of the AT-AT and scaled it up to figure out how much the AT-AT could carry. Of course, it’s creative so I might have increased it a little bit to fit the futuristic technology of Star Wars, so that’s how I came up with 3,500 metric tons. I went through a whole formula figuring out that number and put it in the comments section of my manuscript so the Lucasfilm Story Group could see where I got the number. I said in the comment, ‘I can’t believe I’m figuring out walker capacities using tractor trailers.’ I think fans appreciate that minutiae of detail. There’s probably not going to be another walker book for a while, if ever, so I have got to get it right. It wasn’t right in the past, it’s time to get it right and figure out in real terms what these details are. Because the Star Wars universe is so real and grounded in a type of logic, this book demands that attention.”
5. They tell a story from first idea to the final film.
One thing that distinguishes the IncrediBuilds series of guides from other reference books is the inclusion of a behind-the-scenes section, showing the evolution of the title subject, not from an in-universe perspective, but as a part of a story told on film. For Ryder Windham, tracking the Death Star from concept to the screen was his favorite section to write. “I never get tired of looking at Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars paintings, or the practical models by the ILM team,” he says. “I’m not dismissing computer-generated effects, but I’ll always be amazed how artists used matte paintings, glued-together plastic, and full-scale sets to create the illusion of an enormous battle station. I think fans who construct and paint their own IncrediBuilds Death Star must connect with that, the appreciation for turning a fantastic idea into a tactile object.”
Kogge describes the challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes spreads: “This demanded going through every single book I can, whether it be The Making of The Empire Strikes Back by J. W. Rinzler, or going through old ‘making of’ magazines, and old Bantha Tracks, to books like The Sounds of Star Wars and Sculpting a Galaxy, also published by Insight Editions. Plus looking at just about everything I could find on the Internet like interviews with some of the designers. I’ve talked in the past with some of these designers, and gotten nuggets of information from them that I’ve used. Even though it’s only three spreads, I’ve tried to hit everything I can. With walkers on [Star Wars] Rebels, we know that the Rebels team loves the Ralph McQuarrie’s and Joe Johnston’s old stuff, so they try to bring it back into the universe. And those drawings are always so cool — McQuarrie and Johnston were such great concept artists. Even the ideas that didn’t happen are cool and iconic, in a way.”
Both books also contain interviews with Doug Chiang, who was a production designer on Rogue One. Kogge describes interviewing him: “Doug Chiang — he’s the Ralph McQuarrie of his time. He’s just a great artist. It’s a real pleasure to interview someone of his talent and craft. He was very generous and he gave a lot of really great detail about the walker. They put a lot of time into thinking, ‘What would work in Rogue One? How do we bring back the AT-AT but [add] something new to it?’ And that’s how the AT-ACT came out.”
6. The super-cool models bring Star Wars full circle for the authors.
While Kogge and Windham didn’t design the wood models that come in these sets (that honor falls on HeJian Zhu of TeamGreen for the AT-ACT model, and Liang Tujian of TeamGreen for the Death Star model), they are still fans of Star Wars model making and toys. “When I was a kid,” Windham says, “I built the MPC models of R2-D2, C-3PO, and Darth Vader’s TIE fighter. I also bought the MPC Millennium Falcon but never got around to building it. I still have it in the box! In the 1990s, when I was editing Star Wars titles at Dark Horse Comics, editor Randy Stradley introduced me to kit-bashing, cannibalizing assorted parts from different model kits and plastic scrap to create our own models and toys, mostly spaceships and robots. That was great fun.”
The IncrediBuilds model of the Death Star has 60 wooden pieces, including a stand. Asked to share his thoughts on the appeal of Death Star models, Windham opines, “I can only speak for myself, but I think there’s something deeply satisfying about using a planet-shattering superweapon as a paperweight.”
Kogge has a story about growing up with Imperial walkers. “When I was a kid, I always wanted an AT-AT from Kenner, but they were really expensive,” shares Kogge. “My friends had one, but I never got one of those big plastic behemoths. My dad, being the engineer, devised an AT-AT out of wood, and he made me a walker out of wood — a rectangular block with a smaller block nailed to one side, and four long legs to hold it up. So that was my walker! I find it a little crazy that maybe 35 years later, I’m writing a book for a wooden model of an Imperial walker. I asked my dad to scour through my old childhood knickknacks for the walker — I know it’s somewhere. I desperately wanted to put a picture of it in the book, but we couldn’t find it. But it seemed like destiny there.”
He also is extra enthusiastic about the 62-piece wooden model of Scarif’s Imperial walker, saying, “And then there’s the model AT-ACT that comes with it that is super-cool to build. I have the model right here. It’s the only one I have built, and I have it right here on my desk. They develop the models many months in advance, and I have one of the prototypes, I believe.”
For those who like making their models even more realistic, the guidebooks each have a “Make it Your Own” section on how to properly paint and add other details to the wooden model kits to turn them into top-notch creations. So put on your Imperial engineering hats and get ready to design your own superweapons and transports.
Both Star Wars: Rogue One: Death Star Deluxe Book and 3D Wood Model and Star Wars: Rogue One: AT-ACT Deluxe Book and 3D Wood Model are available for sale now from Insight Editions. The model pieces are on laser-cut wood pieces, from FSC certified well-managed forests. The models require no tools or glue and are designed for ages 12 and up and the suggested skill for assembly is rated at a difficulty level of 3 out of 4.
James Floyd is a writer, photographer, and organizer of puzzle adventures. He’s a bit tall for a Jawa. His current project is Wear Star Wars Every Day, a fundraising effort for a refugee aid organization. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamesjawa or check out his articles on Club Jade and Big Shiny Robot.