Designing the Cover for The Rage of Dragons, the Next Great Epic Fantasy of 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Evan Winter’s debut novel, The Rage of Dragons, is another success story of the likes of Josiah Bancroft and Jonathan French. A year and change after his self-published his debut novel, it is coming out in print from a major publisher.  Orbit will release the hardcover edition in July, while the reedited ebook is available now. This story of a reluctant young fighter growing up in a cultural built on endless war, it has been called Game of Thrones meets Gladiator, or, as acquiring editor Brit Hvide put it on Twitter, “it’s got dragons and warrior training and a matriarchal society and all the characters are black because why not?”

Needly to say, we’re pretty excited to read it—and our excited wasn’t exactly tempered by Orbit’s recent reveal of the cover (see the full version below!). Evan recently spoke with artist Karla Ortiz, the cover illustrator, about the process of creating the cover, representation in pop culture, and artistic inspiration, and we’re happy to share that conversation with you today. 

Evan Winters: I think book covers are immensely important. They’re a book’s calling card. They’re its most consistent and prevalent marketing tool and most importantly, they’re a promise to readers. I want to thank you for creating a wonderful piece and for giving my story its promise. I’m curious, what was the creative brief and how did we come to the cover that we have today?

Karla Ortiz: The creative brief is interesting because whenever I get one of these briefs it’s almost like I’m a detective and I’m getting the file cases. We got a short brief little story of who you are as the author and what the story feels like. Not any specific story points, although there were some specifics like here’s some of our characters, here’s some of the feelings, some of the things they visually want to bring into the whole story.

Orbit’s art director, Lauren [Panepinto], is the best. We’ve been wanting to work together for a really long time. She actually hit me up. She said specifically, “Karla. I have a book and I really want you to work on it. I’d think you’d be perfect for it and here’s why.” She gave me a little bit of that brief and what you as the author were trying to bring to the story. I was just like, “Yeah, I would love to be a part of it.” She challenged me actually, because most of my illustration work is very heavily character-centric. If left to my own devices, I would have painted all the characters and I would have spoiled the story for readers. We went through a series of sketches and she had pointed at a painting that I did a long time ago in which I had a relief of figures in the wall. That’s always a subject that I’m in love with. I love relief sculptures and just how dynamic and magnificent they can be.

Are there parts of the final cover that point to specific scenes or characters in the book?

Evan: I feel as if the way the cover is, it’s actually better than if it pointed to a specific scene in the book because what you did speaks to the tone of the book. It speaks to the direction that the story goes and the direction it will be going. I think that that’s probably more important than a specific scene. Even though, as a reader, it’s always fun when you get to a point in the book and you go, “Oh that’s the cover.” It totally is fun. But I think that a cover often ends up needing to do a bit more than that. Because too often, individual scenes can’t really speak to the story or the greater idea that you’re trying to tell. I really loved the cover because I think what it does is it captures the tone of the story and the kind of idea that I’m going for, which is that there’s something larger than individual moments that’s happening. Something that has weight and almost a sense of history to it. Because that is part of the goal, I want the story to have the feel of almost a history being told.

Karla: I worked on Black Panther. For the cover of The Rage of Dragons, I used a lot of the process that I used for creating stuff for Black Panther, where you look at a lot of things from an area, you research the history of it and why they used certain things. I had one version where it was a shield and bunch of swords and weaponry. There was another version where it was just the background relief and the statues. Then there was another version that had little statues but there were fire embers all over. When Lauren came back to me, she’s like, “Okay, we love all of them so let’s put them all together.”

Evan: One of the things I really like about the way it’s all come together and how you used the relief but still have the figures within the relief is… Very often people talk about Africa as if it doesn’t have its own history. What you’ve done is you’ve almost created a feeling of that. We hear all the time about Roman and Greek history, and we often see things in reliefs on the buildings that they made and what you’ve done here is you’ve said, “Look, let’s take that idea of history and look, Africa has it, too.”

Karla: Where I’m from, Puerto Rico, the stories most people grow up with are the Spaniard stories, but the ones that are really, really interesting are those of our Indian heritage, the Taino. The stories of the gods that they have. Because we get hurricanes all the time, they named a specific god that comes over and then you go and run and hide in the mountains. There are great stories and great legends and things that you’re just like, this is just as cool as any kind of Roman mythology or Viking mythology. Every place has that. It’s one of the things I’m so excited to start seeing, especially in fantasy. I’ve been seeing a trend of authors being like, “Hey, you know what? We’ve told these stories. The Vikings and Romans, typical fantasy so long, what about the gods we don’t talk about? What about the mythology we don’t talk about?” That’s what I’ve been so fascinated with lately.

Evan: I completely, completely, completely agree with you. Civilizations everywhere have these stories and we have to start telling them. It’s important that we hear them, I think, and see the places where we have the commonalities and we need to value the differences.

Karla: Seeing Black Panther nominated for all those [awards] is so cool. There’s definitely changes happening in Hollywood. You’re in the forefront of that, too, with your book, as well. What kind of stories are being told? It’s now expanded to reflect our reality more, of how varied and how diverse we are. I think that’s so exciting.

Evan:It’s an extremely exciting time to be trying to create, I think. Especially because not very long ago, there weren’t very many opportunities for people like you and me, I think, to be able to create as easily, and with as much support from the places that can help you make a living doing that creation. Black Panther obviously is a big Marvel Studio movie, but it’s like a lot of this is coming out of people making their own stuff in their own way, because they’re going, “You know what, I can’t wait for somebody to let me make something. I have to make it now.”

Karla: That also creates a ripple that’s unforeseen. Like, how many young people see that and say, “Oh, I can be a hero. I’m not the lackey.” Like, for example for me, “Oh, I’m not a housekeeper,” ’cause that’s what everything in Hollywood would always tell me. You’re Hispanic, you’re just going to clean a house. Like, “Oh, I can actually be a superhero. I can have defining roles that are exciting. I can be heroic, I can be strong, I can have flaws, I can be everything.” Especially within the fantasy realm you can allow yourself to dream to that extent. That’s life-changing for people.

Evan: It’s always wonderful to hear it. You’re completely right, and it makes a difference. I took my son to go see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It was so amazing to watch. I went with my son and my wife. My wife is not particularly into comic book stuff. She was like, “Oh, we’re going for the little guy, so I’ll go.” She loved it. That’s not what she’s into, and she’s like, “That’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.”

Karla: Me and my boyfriend saw it three times. That’s how good it was. My favorite was going to a matinee or seeing little kids coming out and just being like, “I could have the mask, too.”

Evan: That’s the most important thing for me. I got to sit next to my son in that movie theater and he got to watch Miles Morales be Spider-Man. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about being able to see yourself in art, being represented, because helps us make sense of the real world, I think.

A lot of the time in the writing community you hear the idea of, “Oh, you have to really be in the mood or feeling it.” And then the other side says, “Well, it’s just butt in chair.” Personally, I outline, and try to put ‘butt in chair’ because then I know what I need to write and can’t get blocked. After that, if you put your butt in the chair and you know what you’re supposed to write, you just write. The other thing about simply doing the work without too much focus on ‘waiting for the muse’ is that, even on the days you’re not feeling it, if you just do the work, you’ll never let stuff happen on the page or the screen that’s below your level of craft. You just won’t. Just keep going and then, at the end, you can revise, revise, revise until it gets to at least the height of your craft. Maybe the height of your craft doesn’t end up being where you want it to be, but that’s what practice is for, right?

Karla: I teach a lot and I do a lot of workshops and that’s one of the things I often tell students. There’s also a lot of artists in my industry that are like, “Oh, I don’t paint unless I feel inspired.” But inspiration is so fleeting. And inspiration is just not reliable. I work in film right now. With film you can’t wait for it to inspire you. You’ve got to go. What I’ve found is that sometimes I don’t feel it at all but I tell myself I’m going to do just a couple little marks. That helps me inch myself into that mood and suddenly, before you know it, you are inspired.

Rather than waiting for that very specific moment when the new moon comes in and the stars align and you’re just like, “Oh, now I feel it.” And you better hope that you don’t get a phone call, ’cause then you’re screwed.

Evan: And then you’re done. And those moments happen where all the stars align and it’s beautiful.

Karla: Yeah, it’s gorgeous.

Evan: The funny thing is when I read my work back afterwards, I can’t tell when the stars align and I can’t tell when I was having an awful shitty day, the words are just there. You don’t even know the days you didn’t feel it because you just read the words and you’re like, “Okay, that works. That’s great.”

Karla: That’s perfect. After a while you look back at a painting and … I do remember some of my paintings where I remember not really enjoying it, but now that I look at with new eyes, it doesn’t matter. It’s fine. It’s not as big of a deal as I remember it to be.

Evan: It was an absolute pleasure to get the chance to speak to you. Thank you so much for an amazingly beautiful, beautiful cover and a cover that I’m very, very proud of. I’m extremely excited for the rest of the world to see it.

Karla: Me too. I’m excited for the book to hit. I’m excited for people to be just like, “Damn.” Thank you. It was just an honor. It was an honor to meet you, and thank you so much for your time and your vision.

More about The Rage of Dragons:

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.

Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war.

Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance.

Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.

The Rage of Dragons launches a stunning and powerful debut epic fantasy series that readers are already calling “the best fantasy book in years.

The Rage of Dragons is available now as an ebook. The hardcover edition will be published on July 16, 2019. Preorder now.

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Sith Story: How Count Dooku Came to Star Wars Battlefront II

StarWars.com

“I’ve been looking forward to this.”

So said Count Dooku prior to his next clash with Anakin and Obi-Wan in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, but that statement also applies to our own feelings about the Sith Lord’s Star Wars Battlefront II debut. Count Dooku is the latest prequel/Star Wars: The Clone Wars character to arrive in the popular game, and is available beginning today. StarWars.com spoke with Lucasfilm’s Michael Dailey, assistant producer, about bringing the Separatist leader into Battlefront II. Here are his greatest insights.

Count Dooku in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

The iconic villain battles Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

On capturing Dooku’s essence as seen in other media:

“We partner with the DICE animation team and point them in the direction that we think would make sense for developing the character. From there they do a lot of research, looking at examples from the movies and The Clone Wars. In this case I think, The Clone Wars was the bigger influence. They went and looked at the way that he fights and brought in elements of that into the way he was was animated — the way he does his attacks and does special abilities. A lot of times designing a specific ability, we’ll go right to a clip from The Clone Wars and say, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if he did something like this?’ From there we may tweak things slightly to better fit our gameplay needs for the hero, in the end the most important thing is that he’s both fun to play and feels authentic to both the universe and the character themselves.”

On developing a gameplay identity for Dooku in Battlefront II:

“One of the most important things to nail down first is: What should the fantasy around this particular character be when you play as them in Star Wars Battlefront II? One of the more skilled lightsaber wielders in the galaxy, Count Dooku is a precise duelist with a more refined technique than most, so that’s the approach we took with him. All of his abilities and the core way he plays focus around his ability here. For us, that was the key thing we focused in on when we were designing all his abilities.”

On differentiating the villain from other Sith:

“While we focused in on his ability as a lightsaber duelist, we do see Dooku both in the films and The Clone Wars using Force lightning. Although we didn’t want to lean too heavily into the Force lightning, because he might start feeling too similar to the Emperor, he is the only character that has the ability to utilize both his lightsaber and this particular Force power, adding an extra facet to his in-game character.”

Count Dooku in Star Wars Battlefront II.

The Sith Lord as he appears in Star Wars Battlefront II.

On how players should strategize when playing as Dooku:

“Where Dooku excels is in one-on-one fights. In particular, I imagine he’s going to be very popular in Heroes vs. Villains [mode]. But I think it’s important to know where his weaknesses are, too. Since he is so focused on one-on-one, you definitely, when you’re playing as Dooku, you want to be sure you’re not getting surrounded by a lot of enemies. So be aware of your surroundings, make sure that if there are a lot of enemies around you, you’re using your dodges to move in and out. Most of our Heroes in the game have two dodges, and there’s a cool down before you can dodge again. But Dooku actually has three dodges, which makes him a little better suited to keep away from enemy attacks.”

On why Dooku may be the best of all lightsaber wielders in the game:

“Dooku’s skill with a lightsaber is well known. In the game this is reflected in a few different ways, but what really stands out his ability to take the defensive role in a fight. Dooku is able to perform more consecutive dodges than other heroes, and blocks incoming lightsaber attacks more effectively than any other lightsaber wielder in the game, as blocking drains less stamina.”

Corey Burton recording as Count Dooku for Star Wars Battlefront II.

Corey Burton (in a lighter moment) while recording lines for Count Dooku Star Wars Battlefront II.

On their secret weapon in bringing Dooku to life:

“One thing that really goes a long way and really brings an awesome touch to Dooku is that Corey Burton, who voiced Dooku in The Clone Wars, is back. He’s just fantastic as that character and has a lot of great banter in the game. It’s a fun way, before The Clone Wars comes back, to get a little bit more of those characters and those versions of those characters interacting with each other.”

On why Dooku was an essential addition to Battlefront II:

“When you look at the Clone Wars, you kind of highlight the key figures in the war on both sides. When it comes to the heroes, Obi-Wan and Anakin are key there. If you look at the villains, Dooku is such a key part of both Episode II and II and The Clone Wars series as a whole. As the leader of the Separatists master of General Grievous, and the apprentice of Darth Sidious himself, it was an easy choice to bring Count Dooku to Battlefront. From a gameplay perspective, he counters the recent light side addition of Obi-Wan as a defense-oriented saber-user and, from a fantasy perspective, gives players the opportunity to recreate his iconic showdown with Master Yoda.”

Count Dooku in Star Wars: Attack of the Clone.

Dooku, as played by legendary actor Christopher Lee, in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

On the reception of the recent prequel invasion of Battlefront II:

“The reaction has been tremendous. We’re really happy to have been able to deliver fun and engaging prequel content that the fans are pleased with. It was definitely something they asked for a lot and were vocal about, and it’s been really awesome to be able to deliver on that. Obi-Wan and Grievous went great, Dooku is here, and we’re very excited for Anakin.”

Look for Anakin Skywalker and more content to arrive soon in Star Wars Battlefront II!

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

Sith Story: How Count Dooku Came to Star Wars Battlefront II

Galaxy of Heroes: 5 Things You Should Know About the Flight of the Falcon Legendary Event

StarWars.com

If you’re a Galaxy of Heroes player, you might be the next owner of an iconic hunk of junk.

The classic version of the Millennium Falcon has finally arrived in the popular mobile game, unlockable thanks to a new Legendary event called Flight of the Falcon. Just call upon your Bounty Hunter faction (and a little help from the Empire), defeat the Falcon in battle, and it’s yours. (Sorry, Han.) StarWars.com caught up with several of the talents behind Galaxy of Heroes and discovered five things you should know about Flight of the Falcon, including why it took so long for the original trilogy version of the ship to get here, insights into bringing the bucket of bolts into the game, and some tips on winning the event.

1. The game designers have wanted the Falcon in Galaxy of Heroes just as badly as the fans have wanted to fly the fastest ship in the galaxy in-game. “This has been one of the most requested ships from our community since launch but we wanted to make sure we did her justice,” says Chris Stott, senior community manager. “The most legendary ship in the Star Wars universe deserves something special, so we took our time exploring what parts of the Falcon‘s history really resonated with us and then, how those moments could translate into our game. It needed to not only feel great to play but also sound and look just right. We hope you’ll find that the wait was worth it!”

Millennium Falcon and a list of attributes for Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes.

2. The ship that Rey once referred to as “garbage” is anything but in Galaxy of HeroesThe Falcon has several attributes and abilities that will take your fleet to the next level. “True to form, the Falcon boosts Rebel allies and brings the faction to center stage,” says Corey Willis, associate game designer. “It cuts through the toughest defenses and creates openings with its basic attack, pulverizes the Empire with a devastating special attack, and evasively outmaneuvers the enemy team.”

3. In developing the Falcon, the Galaxy of Heroes team went back to the original source for inspiration. “We knew from the start that we absolutely had to fulfill the fantasy of the original Millennium Falcon to the best of our ability,” says Chris Mandell, game designer. “So we started out re-watching all the movies and gathering every bit of information about it to make sure everything was spot on. You’ll notice that every ability takes inspiration directly from the films. I also spent some time talking to everyone in the studio about what they remembered most about the Falcon and tried to incorporate the most memorable moments. Aside from thematics, we also knew that while playing with it, it really needed to really feel like it was an essential part of a Rebel fleet. This was the most fun we’ve had making a Ship to date! We really feel like we captured the essence of the Falcon and we’re excited and hopeful that our players will feel the same.”

Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes.

4. You’ll need to do some recon to be successful in Flight of the FalconIn talking with StarWars.com, the creators of Galaxy of Heroes stress that research and planning is integral if you’re going to win the event. “In addition to the Devastator, you’ll notice that the event features some (hopefully) familiar ships to provide Han’s Millennium Falcon with some backup,” says Mike Profeta, game designer. “The Falcon will almost always have the Outmaneuver buff, which means it has increased Evasion and can’t be targeted if it has allies present, so you can pretty much count on not being able to defeat it right away. It’s going to be extremely beneficial to learn what each of the Falcon’s new allies can do and which ones to prioritize defeating first in order to gain the upper hand.” And like the Tarkins and Ackbars of the galaxy, you’ll want to strategize which craft to send into battle and when.

“You’ll need to pick your front line ships carefully and maximize the potential of their abilities,” adds Willis. “For example, bringing IG-2000 in at the start to utilize its Stun can allow you to lock down the enemy’s most deadly Attackers, allowing you to focus on eliminating them first.”

5. If you’ve never played Galaxy of Heroes before but want to jump in, this is a good time to fire up your mobile device and shout “Punch it!” But before you can capture the Falcon, you’ll need to beef up your squad. “If you are gunning for Han’s Millennium Falcon as soon as possible, then I’d recommend focusing on Bounty Hunters and their ships, with an emphasis on the specific characters needed for the Flight of the Falcon event,” Stott says. “Bounty Hunters are a great place to start if you are new to Galaxy of Heroes as they can be used in a variety of events and are just plain cool.”

Even if you obtain the Falcon, however, you should heed Han’s words: But who’s gonna fly it, kid?

“The Bounty Hunter ships unlock Han’s Millennium Falcon but you’ll also need characters, like Boba Fett and Bossk, to unlock one of the pilots, Chewbacca,” adds Stott. “Level up those scoundrels and keep your eye out for the Legendary “One Famous Wookiee” event. The other pilot of this iconic ship is, of course, Han Solo. You’ll need to join a Guild to start earning shards of Han Solo from the Guild Raid, The Pit. It can be quite a journey to unlocking Han’s Millennium Falcon, but one well worth the effort!”

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

Galaxy of Heroes: 5 Things You Should Know About the Flight of the Falcon Legendary Event

Introducing the Magic of Star Wars Toys to a New Generation

StarWars.com

Toys have always been a big part of experiencing a galaxy far, far away. They allow children to tell their own stories, to expand the Star Wars universe as they see fit, to connect with their favorite characters in an imaginative way. So it makes sense that for Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures, Lucasfilm’s new series of vibrant animated shorts celebrating iconic moments from the saga, Hasbro has created a collection of toys purely for those just discovering Star Wars.

“Our Galaxy of Adventures line is a great entry point for kids to get into Star Wars,” Sarah Carroll, sr. brand marketing manager of Star Wars at Hasbro, tells StarWars.com. “The product focuses on the key, iconic moments in the Star Wars storyline in a fun, kid-friendly way.”

Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures Luke Skywalker figure.

Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures Darth Vader figure.

Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures Chewbacca figure.

Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures R2-D2 figure.

Wave one, available now at Walmart, includes Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and R2-D2; Princess Leia, Yoda, Imperial Stormtrooper, and Han Solo will follow in wave two, landing in spring 2019. It’s an altogether perfect lineup for someone who might first see a movie or the Galaxy of Adventures animated shorts, and then want to continue the story during playtime. “As we head into 2019, what better time to introduce kids to this incredible franchise and these classic characters than now?” Carroll says. “And let’s be honest, what kid isn’t going to fall in love with these droids, creatures, and rebels? Star Wars is truly a brand with something for everyone, and we’re excited for the new Galaxy of Adventures animated shorts and toys, which provide that entry point for new, young fans.”

Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures Princess Leia figure.

Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures Yoda figure. Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures Imperial Stormtrooper figure.

Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures Han Solo figure.

The line even has some surprises. The figures are not all based on the characters’ first-appearance looks, as one might think. Luke, for example, is depicted in his black Jedi garb from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi; Yoda comes carrying his lightsaber, as seen in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones; and Leia appears in her Hoth fatigues from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. “We wanted to make sure we featured characters as they appear in those pivotal scenes in the films,” Carroll says. “Seeing characters in these costumes reminds us of those key moments within the story, and we wanted to make sure that was reflected in our figures. We love the classic characters and we’re excited to be bringing them back in this way.”

The 3.75-inch figures come in bright, cylindrical packaging featuring comic-book-style art, calling out the character role for each — from “The Villain” for Darth Vader to “The Astromech” for R2-D2 — drilling story elements down in a kid-friendly fashion. In addition, all figures are packaged with a mini-comic retelling a famous sequence, and include a QR code that can be scanned for even more content. “We felt that it was important to share the stories of Star Wars as part of the action figure experience,” Carroll says. “Comics are a great way to bring those key scenes from Star Wars to kids in an easy, digestible way.”

Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures figures.

As an opportunity to introduce a new generation of fans to Star Wars — and the magic of Star Wars toys — the Galaxy of Adventures line is an important one to Hasbro. “Galaxy of Adventures is a great way for parents to share their favorite Star Wars moments with their kids in a way that’s going to really resonate with them,” Carroll says. “The entertainment so far has been incredible. We’re excited to see the Galaxy of Adventures story unfold and have the opportunity to continue the storytelling through product. More to come!”

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

Introducing the Magic of Star Wars Toys to a New Generation

7 Behind-The-Scenes Insights of the Star Wars Film Concert Series

StarWars.com

Star Wars: A New Hope — played with live orchestral music — recently came to the UK, debuting at the iconic Royal Albert Hall on November 16 with five matinee and evening performances, before hitting the road and heading to Liverpool, Bournemouth, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, and finishing off in Glasgow on December 9.

The Royal Albert Hall shows were performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Ludwig Wicki; packed houses were welcomed by the bombastic blast of the orchestra, who provided the gorgeous John Williams soundtrack for 125 engrossing minutes. StarWars.com sat down with Royal Albert Hall Program Director George Prince, as well as Birmingham’s Novello Orchestra violinist and leader of the orchestra Jamie Hutchinson, 5th horn Tom Taffinder, and Creative Director and Producer David Mahoney, to talk about bringing this revered music to life for the Star Wars Film Concert series. Here are five behind-the-scenes insights we learned.

1. Preparation is key. “Typically, the orchestra will have the printed scores about a month in advance in order to take their own rehearsal time to work on the music as they see fit,” Prince says. “In terms of working with the conductor, they don’t have a great deal of time. They do rehearsals the day before the show, a dress rehearsal the day of the performance, and then they’re straight in.” Despite the challenges, the process is very smooth. “We’re very collaborative with Disney, we’ve been working with [John] Williams. The orchestra have been amazing, it’s been an honor to work with the LSO on a project like this. We’ve gone into this as partners, and that’s the key on any project. “

2. It helps having seen the film. Hutchinson had just finished watching Star Wars: A New Hope a few days before the Birmingham performance. “I actually watched the film on the train up to Manchester on the rehearsal day, watched it with my earphones in thinking, ‘I can hear the violin bit!’” For Taffinder, being a brass musician means his big numbers stand out. “It’s quite easy for us brass because we get all the big tunes, so you kind of know all the tunes before you start.”

R2-D2 plays Princess Leia's hologram in Star Wars: A New Hope.

3. Everybody has a favorite tune. While every track takes 100% concentration and execution, Hutchinson and Taffinder both have compositions they especially love to play. For Hutchinson it’s a familiar finale. “The ‘Throne Room’ and ‘End Titles’ obviously, but the first time Princess Leia appears in R2-D2’s projection there’s a beautiful horn and Cor anglais theme, the strings just shimmering underneath, and it’s the first time that you hear that amazing Leia theme.”

4. It’s hard music to play. You can’t coast through a Star Wars score, despite being familiar with the music. “It’s the sort of music that makes you grateful that you had to practice your scales when you were growing up and going through your grades,” Hutchinson says. “There’s a lot of scale work when it’s fast and exciting, but there’s also lots of beautiful moments as well, where we just get to make a really beautiful sound.”

Taffinder agrees. “From the brass players’ point of view, the hardest thing about it is that it’s very tiring on your lips, especially if you have a rehearsal before. Not all of the brass players are playing all of the time, as we’re trying to rest, because when you get to the gig it’s just relentless — especially the big themes.”

5. Familiarity isn’t always your friend. Star Wars fans know the music of the saga inside and out, so the pressure’s on for the orchestra to replicate it as perfectly as possible. Hutchinson was well aware of that responsibility. “There are moments in this when you know that you’re center stage, and some of the principal players have quite big solos. The difference with this is every single person in the audience knows exactly how it’s supposed to sound.”

Star Wars Film Concert series rehearsal in Birmingham.

6. Things were a little tougher the first time around. David Mahoney explained how tough it is to marry up the music with the imagery. “Weirdly, two of my players, their fathers were in the original orchestra that recorded the soundtrack, so I’ve had a few chats with them and they were telling me how it worked back in the day in the studio. Without going too technical, these days when you record a soundtrack you record along to a click track, which basically means you can prepare everything before the sessions and then ensure you play at the exact right moment. Back when this was recorded, that didn’t exist. They were just trying to hit certain moments at certain times. I have a click in my ear and that relates to a little screen that I have in front of me that gives me direct moments.”

7. You’ve got to feel the Force. John Williams didn’t sit down with the editors of the original film to ensure everything fit neatly. Sometimes there are rough edges, and Mahoney explained that while the click track is generally accurate, quite often the orchestra just has to feel it. “There are certain moments where it doesn’t do what you think it’s going to do, and that’s an added element for us,” he says. “Some bits are so odd there are no clues in the music, you just have to know what that feels like. It just has to be in your bones, which is why it takes a lot of time to prepare it. For me it’s much more of a thrill than conducting a classical concert, and what’s interesting is, all of these players know this music inside out because they’ve done the big famous moments all over the country with different orchestras — but the speeds of those melodies are very different when doing it here. As a general rule, a lot of it’s a lot faster than it would be if you had the ability to do it without a click track, so there’s no moment where the orchestra can have a rest and think ‘this will just play itself.’ The focus has to be there from the very first second right to the very last chord, but I think that’s good because it means even though we’re doing this show eight times around the UK, with other shows it can get a bit repetitive, but you can never relax. You’ve got to be on it and focused.”

The Star Wars Film Concert series is produced under license by Disney Concerts in association with 20th Century Fox and Warner/Chappell Music.

Many thanks to Paul Bernstein, Bridget Nolan and Rick Burin at The Royal Albert Hall, Andy Farquharson from The Music Agency, Stuart Bennett from Deacon Communications, Kitty Stafford-Clark at SENBLA, the Novello Orchestra, and Clair Henry, Richard Mitchell, and Carl Bayliss of Fantha Tracks.

Mark writes for Star Wars Insider, the Official Star Trek MagazineStarburst magazine, and is the editor-in-chief of Fantha Tracks. He’s an honorary member of the 501st and Rebel Legion and when he’s not talking, tweeting, or writing about Star Wars, he can usually be found sleeping, where he’ll most likely be dreaming about Star Wars.

7 Behind-The-Scenes Insights of the Star Wars Film Concert Series

The Holiday Droids You’re Looking For

StarWars.com

Every year since 2015, Disney Parks have released exclusive holiday-themed droid action figures, each with festive color schemes and accessories. For those who love both the spirit of the season and a galaxy far, far away (like me), they’re delightful. A white-and-gold astromech — with an arm stretching from its dome, dangling mistletoe? Only Wuher, the Mos Eisley cantina bartender, wouldn’t be charmed.

Lucasfilm holiday card featuring R2-D2 and C-3PO.

“The idea stems back to the Droid Factory Experience within Disney Parks, where guests can build their own droid,” Cody Hampton, senior merchandiser, strategy and product development of Disney Parks, tells StarWars.com. “The second inspiration is the fantastic Star Wars holiday artwork created by Ralph McQuarrie during the time of the original trilogy. The image of C-3PO and R2-D2 featuring reindeer antlers is so iconic and memorable. So with these two ideas, we wanted to create limited release droids that are unique in their own way with a holiday twist.”

The first themed droid made for Disney Parks was R2-D60, celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Disneyland Resort in 2015; it was such a success that the Parks released a holiday-themed astromech — complete with a white, red, and green color deco, and a removable Santa hat — dubbed R2-H15. With that, a new line and tradition (and naming convention, as H is short for “holiday,” followed by the figure’s year of release) was born. “We received such positive feedback from our first holiday droid R2-H15, we even extended the theme to Halloween droids and other themed celebrations,” Hampton adds.

Disney Parks R2-H15 droid.

R2-H15

Disney Parks R2-H16 droid.

R2-H16

Disney Parks R3-H17 droid.

R3-H17

Disney Parks R2-H18 droid.

R4-H18

Thus far, four holiday-themed droids have been released following R2-H15: R2-H16 hit shelves in 2016, notable for a primarily red body and winter cap accessory; the white-and-gold R3-H17 arrived in 2017, toting some mistletoe; and 2018’s R4-H18, available now, is something of a departure. R4 sports a clear body and comes with a drink tray, carrying glasses colored to look like a string of lights. “Every year, the merchandise team looks at different holiday elements and really starts to brainstorm what themes will resonate with our guests,” Hampton says.

To show just how much thought goes into these figures, there’s even an art and story element — turning what could be just clever toys into something more. Each droid comes in unique packaging featuring a digital illustration of the figure against a Star Wars locale, while a short bio on the cardback tells where the droid is primarily located and what it does, which is often tied to its appearance. R4-H18 doesn’t look like shimmering crystal and serve beverages for no reason; it’s because the droid comes from Canto Bight, the casino city in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “Although they are fun and a nod to the holiday, we really wanted to create unique personalities and backstories for each droid,” Hampton says. “We take the same approach for all of our limited release single packaged droids.” Despite this grounding in story and design, one truly fun aspect of these figures is customization. Parts are removable and can be easily mixed and matched across droids — an intentional feature, as the line stems from the Droid Factory Experience at Disneyland Resort, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort, where you can build your own droid figure.

Disney Parks R2-H15 droid in box.

Disney Parks R2-H16 droid in box.

Disney Parks R3-H17 droid in box.

Disney Parks R2-H18 droid in box.

Like the best gifts, Disney Parks’ holiday droid line was a true surprise we didn’t know we wanted. Now it’s a tradition, thankfully with no end in sight.

“The holiday season is filled with so many different aspects to be inspired by,” Hampton says. “So we are hoping to keep this limited release series going for several years.”

Holiday-themed droids are available at Star Traders at Disneyland Park, Tatooine Traders at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Star Wars Galactic Outpost at Disney Springs, and other locations across Disney Parks.

Photos by Amanda Jean Camarillo and Kyle Kao.

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

The Holiday Droids You’re Looking For

The Star Wars Archives Author Paul Duncan on George Lucas and the Making of a Universe

StarWars.com

Imagine a 600-page book that could not only show you the history of the classic Star Wars trilogy like never before, but could also transport you to Tunisia, or Pinewood Studios, as a young filmmaker named George Lucas forged his legacy. Picture yourself at Skywalker Ranch, or in the halls of Lucasfilm in San Francisco, with unrestricted access to more than four decades’ worth of Star Wars archives. What might it be like to know and see all that’s gone into the making of these beloved movies, with Lucas himself as your personal guide? This, it seems, was not too much to ask for film historian Paul Duncan, author of the new XXL-sized chronicle from Taschen Books: The Star Wars Archives. This weighty tome is a film enthusiast’s dream. After getting our hands on a copy, StarWars.com rang up the author to find out just how much work goes into a project like this — and what it’s like to spend three days in conversation with George Lucas.

Star Wars Archives cover.

StarWars.com: You’ve done a ton of books for Taschen, which of course are these great volumes for people who love film. So what excited you about getting to do one on Star Wars?

Paul Duncan: I was the first in the queue when Star Wars came out in Nuneaton, in the UK, on January the 29th, in the very first screening. I turned up four hours early. It was cold; it was wet; it was windy. Because I had seen the pictures in America, and I thought, This is gonna be enormous. It’s gonna be bigger than Ben-Hur. It’s gonna be bigger than Gone with the Wind. I’ve got to be there. And of course I was the only one there. So this was the first film I’d actually seen on my own. I waited in the wind and the rain, and I went in, sat down, and bang — I was in. I was hooked. And then I wondered, Well, how on earth did they do that? This is just amazing.

Then when I was 15, in 1980, a friend of mine was really into Doctor Who, and he showed me some Doctor Who fanzines, and we both said, almost at the time: “Why don’t we do our own magazine?” And that’s when I started writing, and starting to do fanzines. And the very first thing I actually wrote was a preview: a collation of all the information I’d got together on The Empire Strikes Back. So it’s sort of like — how many years later is it now? Too long.

StarWars.com: Thirty-eight?

Paul Duncan: Yeah. So, 38 years later, I’m actually doing the sequel to that, in this really big, ginormous book. I’ve been waiting for this moment, even though I didn’t know it. But that really started me off. That interest and enthusiasm and desire for knowledge is what’s brought me to the now. That’s all shaped my life.

Star Wars Archives photo of original R2-D2 concept sketch.

Star Wars (1977): R2-D2 presented a challenge to his designers, as well as to actor Kenny Baker, performing inside him. The little robot did not walk but stood on two feet and rolled forward on three legs. Credit: Courtesy TASCHEN/TM & © 2018 LFL. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars Archives photo of George Lucas on the set of Yoda's hut for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980): Frank Oz (right) rehearsing as Yoda, with George Lucas standing in for Luke Skywalker. Credit: Courtesy TASCHEN/TM & © 2018 LFL. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars Archives photo of the rebel hangar set from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980): Construction of the main hangar of the rebel base on Hoth. In addition to X-wing fighters and snowspeeders there is a complete Millennium Falcon. Credit: Courtesy TASCHEN/TM & © 2018 LFL. All Rights Reserved.

StarWars.com: The whole sort of backbone of this book is an interview with George Lucas. What was that like?

Paul Duncan: It’s an oral history. What I’ve done for the past few years, on the Archives books that I’ve been doing — I’ve done Ingmar Bergman, James Bond, Pedro Almodóvar, Charlie Chaplin, and obviously Star Wars — what I’m interested in is the oral history. I’m interested in the people who were actually there, who actually did the work, who know what they’re talking about. And what I’m trying to do is to represent it in the present tense, because most books are written in the past tense. I wanted to present the book in a way that you felt that it was unfolding.

For the people who were making the movies, they had no idea what was gonna happen; there was no guarantee that anything would work, or be successful, or how they envisioned it. So that’s what I want to do — to bring us back to that. We’re looking over the shoulder of George Lucas, and there are no outside opinions; it’s purely historical fact that goes into it. There’s no second-guessing or anything like that.

When I was putting together the book, I had no idea what book I was going to make. And after about a year of research — of going through all the different documents, going through all the different artwork, going through all the different photography, I realized that the one thing I wanted to know was the why. The who, what, where, when you can often find from all these documents, and the artwork, and the photography, et cetera. But I wanted to know the why, and really the only person who could provide me with that was George Lucas.

And that’s really when the focus of the book narrowed down to George. I wanted to know what George’s experience was in making the movies. I wanted to be like a little little bird on his shoulder, a little porg on his shoulder, watching him and listening to him as he’s making the movies. So that was my ideal, and once I’d realized that, it then became a matter of focusing the text and the images and how I present the book in order to show that story.

StarWars.com: Sort of like a 600-page director’s commentary.

Paul Duncan: Sure, sure. I mean, I was very lucky in that he agreed to do this, because I am using both published and unpublished interviews that have come before. And I didn’t want to be in a position where I was talking to him and he was just repeating the same stuff that he’s repeated to everybody else a million times. So what I wanted to do was to focus on certain moments, or certain ideas, or his reasoning behind things, and to really examine that a bit more. And also his philosophy behind the series. Because I was reading interviews when he was doing promotion for American Graffiti — this is years before Star Wars came out. And he said, “Yeah, I’m working on a new project called The Star Wars, and it’s a mix between Lawrence of Arabia, 2001, and James Bond.”

But there was another thread that was going through it, which was that he had been very pleasantly surprised by the connection that he’d made with young people on American Graffiti. Part of the reason why I cover THX 1138 and American Graffiti in the book is that I wanted to show George’s development as a filmmaker, but also as a thinker, and to show how his experiences on those movies influenced his philosophy on Star Wars. For example, on American Graffiti, he was really, really touched by the way that people had responded. They understood that whole cruising scene, and the whole idea of rites of passage and changes in teenagers’ lives. It felt real to people. And THX 1138, even though it’d been very well critically received, didn’t make hardly any money whatsoever. He was trying to work out, Why was this? And THX is critical and sarcastic; it’s black humor; it’s from his mind. It’s an intellectual idea.

Whereas American Graffiti was something from his heart and his life. And he realized that there was this idea of him connecting to people that he wanted to continue for his next project, on Star Wars.

There was a certain point in the development of Star Wars where he had the opportunity of choosing between Apocalypse Now, which he’d developed with John Milius, and Star Wars. And Apocalypse Now was, as he envisaged it, more of a dark comedy. More of an indie sort of found-footage-type movie — closer to, say, the original MASH by [Robert] Altman or Catch-22. Something in that vein. Whereas Star Wars was much more positive; it was aimed at 12 year olds, and it also connected far more closely to his outside interests.

When he went to college, he discovered that you could actually study anthropology. George had collected — as well as having shelves full of comics in his shed when he was a kid — tons and tons of National Geographics, which he enjoyed and absorbed and devoured. And in college, he discovered anthropology, and the idea that all these different aspects of religion and mythology all coalesce into one universal myth, as per Joseph Campbell, as with [James George] Frazer’s Golden Bough, which he also read. And the Star Wars project really came out of that interest in anthropology, and the idea of this connection to young people, and him trying to make something that showed the rules of life — which young people could absorb through this new mythology he was making into Star Wars.

Star Wars Archives photo of Darth Vader from the set of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Return of the Jedi (1983): Darth Vader’s (David Prowse) choke hold. David Prowse: “I don’t have to get into the part at all. As soon as they start enclosing me in the mask, I begin to feel more evil with every plate they put on.” Credit: Courtesy TASCHEN/TM & © 2018 LFL. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars Archives photo of Carrie Fisher clowning as she models her Endor costume.

Return of the Jedi (1983): Carrie Fisher, clowning as she models her Endor costume, which was designed by Rodis-Jamero in collaboration with Aggie Guerard Rodgers. Credit: Courtesy TASCHEN/TM & © 2018 LFL. All Rights Reserved.

StarWars.com: The book explores Lucas’s obsession with documentary-style filmmaking. At one point, he says he has a preference for editing. He says he doesn’t really enjoy writing or directing, but he loves to edit. Do those things go hand in hand a little bit?

Paul Duncan: I think that he really undersells himself, because he is very understated. And because he repeats it, people tend to believe it’s true. But it’s not. You know, he is actually a fantastic writer. He’s a fantastic plotter. And one of the things I was most surprised about, when I was going through the original treatments and the screenplays, et cetera, is that virtually everything is George. I don’t want to underplay or dismiss other people who have written on the movies, but I was really, really surprised at how much of it was George. Great lines in there.

StarWars.com: The thing that struck me in the beginning is how much you go into detail about his film-school years, his interests, and the earlier, more workmanlike projects he did with other people. You sort of take your time getting to Star Wars, and so it does put you in that thematic headspace. It works.

Paul Duncan: It’s a continuity. I’m trying to show that his work is one thing — it’s him. I’m trying to show what his influences are, and that this is one aspect of his life. But we’re also more than just that one thing. We are all multitudes; we’re all legion. And the fact that we express ourselves in one particular way doesn’t mean that’s all there is. There’s more to George, and he’s a really nice, cool guy.

StarWars.com: Did you interview him in person in California, then?

Paul Duncan: Yeah, yeah. I was at the Ranch. So I was basically researching at the Presidio for all the photography, looking through all the originals, and then I’d be at the Ranch researching all the original artwork and going through those. And then I’d go through all the production documents, as well, that are at the Ranch. And the clippings at the Lucas Research Library. After about a year, I realized what the shape of the book was going to be — that, really, it needed to be about George — and that’s when I asked to interview him. So on three separate days, not consecutively, I went and I interviewed him in his office at the Ranch. Which was pretty amazing.

But the thing that came across was that George is so into Star Wars. You know, he started talking to me about parsecs, right? And I said, “George, where do you come up with all this stuff?” And he says, “Well, I’ve got nothing better to do.” I was amazed, and I felt that I’d hardly scratched the surface after talking to him. He’s gone into so much detail about every aspect of the background, and the history, and different characters and vehicles and devices. And we’re just seeing the surface of them in the movies.

And I think this is also part of what gives his worldbuilding a sense of authenticity — that he spent so much time with these characters and worlds. It’s allowed him to live in them for very, very long periods of time, and to expand out. When you’re writing something, you do a lot more than what’s visible in the final work. He’s built up, in his mind, this tremendous, very diverse, and very detailed Star Wars universe. And George loves this. He loves Star Wars; he loves his creation. And so he should.

StarWars.com: You unearthed some stuff that, in past books, we would not have expected to see. You have appendices on the Holiday Special, the made-for-TV films, the Droids and Ewoks cartoons. We’re sort of allowed to talk about those again. Was that surprising to you?

Paul Duncan: When I do a project, I always ask for what I want and hope I get it. And with the Holiday Special, I understood the history of it. But the thing that interested me about the Holiday Special — and I asked George about it — was that I couldn’t understand how it had come about, and I couldn’t understand why George didn’t have more control over it. And the way George responded was basically that he’d learned his lesson on that. The fact that he didn’t take control of it, the fact that he didn’t look after it and steer it in the way that it should have been, was a lesson he learned. So purely for that statement, to show how it developed and how it slipped out of his hands, I thought that it was important for the book.

Because it showed George learning. You’ve got to remember that it’s one thing being a writer or a cinematographer or an editor. But to then become a director, and then become a producer, the responsibilities and skill sets are very different for each of these jobs. There was a lot of pressure on George to do Empire, and I think perhaps he had one ball too many to juggle. And I think that was the lesson that he learned on the Holiday Special. With the others — on the Ewoks movies, and the animation on Ewoks and Droids — there was a lot of material. I was surprised at how much material there was, both in terms of production material and visual material. And there’s some tremendous stuff.

In the end, I was a bit disappointed that I had so few pages.

The Star Wars Archives is available now.

Alex Kane is a journalist based in west-central Illinois. He has written for Polygon, the website of Rolling Stone, Syfy Wire, Variety, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.

The Star Wars Archives Author Paul Duncan on George Lucas and the Making of a Universe

Bradley P. Beaulieu Answers 5 Questions About the Cover of Beneath the Twisted Trees

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Next summer, Bradley P. Beaulieu and DAW Books deliver Beneath the Twisted Trees, the fourth volume of the Song of Shattered Sands, the immensely epic, immensely rewarding fantasy series that began with 2015’s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. We’ve loved following this sand-swept Middle East-inspired saga—and the fate of its tenacious protagonist, pit-fighter turned rebel leader Çeda—and been in love with its world ever since we first glimpsed the shining city on the cover of the first book.

And speaking of covers, since then, we’ve also brought you your first of Çeda herself on the cover of book two, With Blood Upon the Sand, and today, we’re sharing the artwork that will adorn Beneath the Twisted Trees, created by Micah Epstein. Check it out below the official summary, and then keep reading for a quick q&A session with the author, who shares his thoughts on the challenges of crafting a mid-series cover, and shares a few of his favorite covers of all time.

The fourth book in The Song of Shattered Sands series—an epic fantasy with a desert setting, filled with rich worldbuilding and pulse-pounding action.

When a battle to eradicate the Thirteenth Tribe goes awry, the kingdoms bordering the desert metropolis of Sharakhai see the city as weak and ripe for conquest. Çeda, now leader of the Shieldwives, a band of skilled desert swordswomen, hopes to use the growing chaos to gain freedom for Sehid-Alaz, the ancient, undying king of her people. Freeing him is only the beginning, however. Like all the people of her tribe on that fateful night four centuries earlier, Sehid-Alaz was cursed, turned into an asir, a twisted, miserable creature beholden to the kings of Sharakhai—to truly free her king, Çeda must break the chains that bind him.

As Sharakhai’s enemies close in and the assault on the city begins, Çeda works feverishly to unlock the mysteries of the asirim’s curse. But danger lies everywhere. Enemy forces roam the city; the Blade Maidens close in on her; her own father, one of the kings of Sharakhai, wants Çeda to hang. Worst of all, the gods themselves have begun to take notice of Çeda’s pursuits.

When the combined might of Sharakhai and the desert gods corner the survivors of the Thirteenth Tribe in a mountain fastness, the very place that nearly saw their annihilation centuries ago, Çeda knows the time has come. She was once an elite warrior in service to the kings of Sharakhai. She has been an assassin in dark places. A weapon poised to strike from the shadows. A voice from the darkness, striving to free her people.

No longer.

Now she’s going to lead.

The age of the Kings is coming to an end . . .


Our interview with Bradley P. Beaulieu follows…

You’ve officially crossed the halfway point of this six-book saga, and the cover seems to signal that, with a more intimate portrait of Çeda than we’ve seen before. What can you tell us about this image, and how it relates to where we are in the overall story arc?
It’s a great observation. I felt like it was time for a cover that showed more of Çeda’s personality. She began this journey with a lot of fire in her heart. She was only a girl when she vowed to avenge her mother’s death at the hands of the kings of Sharakhai. Later, when her path crossed that of a king time had forgotten, it reawakened that quest in her, but she’d vastly underestimated how difficult it was going to be. As driven as she was, as capable as she was in some ways, she was too inexperienced, and armed with too little information, to follow through on her vow.

Things have changed a lot since then. Over the course of the first three books, we see Çeda grow into someone more up to the task of taking on the Kings. She’s gained in her abilities. She’s gained in her knowledge of the thirteenth tribe and made powerful allies. As the fourth book opens, Çeda knows that time is fleeting and that Sharakhai’s fate will soon be decided. And now she’s ready to act.

That sense of readiness is what I hoped to capture in the cover, and I think Micah did a wonderful job of it. The Çeda we see here is confident and capable, a woman not just willing to do what it takes to protect those who’ve suffered so greatly under the rule of the kings, but able. At last, she’s ready to step out from the shadows and lead.

With prior books, you’ve been very involved in the process of cover creation. Was that the case this time? Were there any other directions considered before this one was chosen?
This cover was a little different in that we didn’t really consider too many other options. From the start, my editor and publisher, Betsy Wollheim, her art director, Adam Auerbach, and I were pretty laser focused on zooming in on Çeda. And, given the title of the book, we wanted the adichara trees to be involved as well. The trees play such a central role in the story. They tie closely to the asirim, the miserable creatures who live among the roots beneath them. They are a link to Sharakhai’s past. So we all felt confident in a cover that accentuated these two things (Çeda and the trees) in a dynamic, impactful way.

I provided various references for the trees and Çeda’s garb. Some were from the text itself. Others were from the Pinterest board I keep for the Shattered Sands series. We went through a color sketch stage and then a final rendering, and I provided a few thoughts on each. I’ll be honest, though. It was clear from the start that this was going to be a powerful cover, so my input in these last few stages was minimal.

As someone who has designed and commissioned art for your own self-published books, I’m curious: is it more important for you to have a cover that seems true to the book, or one that is more marketable (i.e. in line with current trends)?
Years ago, when I was just breaking into the field, I would have said I want a cover that seems true to the book. I wanted a scene rendered that could encapsulate the grandeur of it all, the same way that the covers of my youth did. My thoughts on the subject have evolved, though. I’m published all over the world. I do this writing thing for a living. My livelihood depends on sales. And so I’ve come to see book covers for what they really are: marketing devices.

This isn’t to say I don’t want a cover that’s true the story. I do. And I have my own personal views on what might make for a good cover. But in the end I recognize my voice is just one among many. It would be shortsighted of me, even foolish, to want my tastes placed above all others. There are, after all, a hundred ways to approach cover design. A thousand. And the thing of it is, I trust my publishers, art directors, and the artists themselves to be more up on trends than I am.

It’s easy for authors to think of covers as permanent, which is partly why we get so particular about them. And I suppose in a way they are permanent, but they’re also a snapshot in time. The artistic tastes of the readership is a constantly changing thing. There’s a sense of one-upmanship and finding the next big trend in art and cover design. And so we have to look at covers as being designed not so much for the book itself, but as a way to attract the maximum amount of attention in this Darwinian evolution of artistic tastes and messaging.

That’s a pretty long-winded way of saying that these days I’m more concerned about the marketing. The cover’s primary job begins and ends with enticing the reader to pick up the book (virtually or otherwise). It’s then the story’s job to keep them there.

Can you think of a recent book with a cover that really stood out to you, or one you picked up just for the cover?
I love maps, and so Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, with the stylistic map of London incorporated into the design, was instantly attractive to me. I like all of the the Peter Grant series covers rendered in that style.

I also love series that set a specific tone and style up front and stick with it throughout. A great example is John Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen series. Each book has a different weapon on the cover but the series as a whole has a consistent, epic feel to it.

The covers of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series are wonderful. The abstract characters and subtle use of maps in various basic shapes make for really eye-catching designs.

Lastly, I’ll call out Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. There’s something really subtle and effective going on with all of them. Relatively simple backgrounds are used throughout, but the typography, layout, and subtle use of light combine to really make them pop.

What are some of your personal favorite fantasy covers of all time?
I have to call out Michael Whelan in general, who created so many iconic covers, from C. S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy, to Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, to Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series. And on and on. He had a huge influence on the books I bought during high school and beyond.

I’ll also call out Walter Velez’s art for Thieves’ World, a thing that had me flipping to the cover constantly to imagine various scenes set in and around the Vulgar Unicorn.

And Tolkien’s own cover art that graced the 1970s Ballantine editions of The Lord of the Rings, the covers I first found in my grade school library, hold a special place in my heart. I didn’t know at the time that Tolkien himself had made them, but I find that they have just the right amount of whimsy, mysticism, and adventure packed into them.

Preorder Beneath the Twisted Trees, available July 16, 2019. The first three books of the Song of Shattered Sands are available now.

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How Loungefly Brings the Runway Aesthetic to Star Wars Accessories

StarWars.com

Imagine a glitzy runway shining with bright lights, filled with a parade of models sporting haute couture ensembles that will define fashion for the upcoming season. Those looks trickle throughout the apparel and accessory industry, affecting even the Star Wars purses you see on fans’ shoulders. The idea for Loungefly‘s new Star Wars Landscapes holiday collection showcasing cinematic moments from the saga, for example, came straight from the catwalk. “It was an idea I had coming off the runways,” Loungefly Merchandising Manager Todd Keller tells StarWars.com. “There were lot of really large scale landscapes on a maxi dress or an actual two-piece suit or even denim, and it came together and told a story. So we were taking that trend, that fashion trend off the runway, and trying to decide how are we going to translate this into our products, and Star Wars was such a natural fit.”

Loungefly, a contemporary accessory company, is known for their inventive approach to design, for taking familiar characters or scenes from intellectual property such as Star Wars and turning them into unique patterns that elevate fan style. StarWars.com spoke with Todd Keller about the company’s approach to the Star Wars universe, working with fan feedback, and their holiday releases.

StarWars.com: You’ve been working at Loungefly for a year and half. Have you worked with the Star Wars brand the entire time you’ve been there?

Todd Keller: Yes, the whole time, but since before I even got here, I was a buyer on the other side of the business for seven or so years. That means I was very familiar with the brand and the aesthetic when I came on board. But I was really tasked to turn it up to 11. Being a huge Star Wars fan and identifying other huge fans in the office to help work on the product really helped.

StarWars.com: And what is your personal history with Star Wars? Do you remember the first time you encountered the saga?

Todd Keller: It has a direct correlation to my dad; it was my dad’s favorite movie growing up and he had so many stories of going to see it so many times in the theaters. My personal memory is watching them with him on VHS.

When the prequels happened, I remember him taking me to see it in the movie theater in 1999 and being blown away — the podracing and Obi-Wan Kenobi! Oh my gosh, I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. 

Loungefly Star Wars: The Phantom Menace backpack.

StarWars.com: With Star Wars, you have so much material to pull inspiration from, and then you have the challenge of putting a fresh spin on it. What is Loungefly’s approach to making products to catch fans’ eyes?

Todd Keller: I think an important part of Loungefly is finding really niche things our consumers really like and enjoy about the brand and executing to it. For example, our chibis that we’ve become known for — especially in Star Wars — we expanded on that whole art style. I realized it was going to be the 20th anniversary [of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace], and we should do something, so our illustrator took the time and did all Episode I characters and it did really, really well.

And then, it’s about taking a really fashionable approach to it. Loungefly’s always been fashionable, but I pride myself on that and being up on the trends. It’s taking those things that are trending and those silhouettes that are very important in the marketplace, and then translating them into product that can be sold to everybody at more of an accessible price and especially people who are Star Wars fans.

StarWars.com: What’s the process like to determine what sort of designs you’ll be working on next?

Todd Keller: We work with a really, really great team at Lucasfilm We’ve had monthly creative calls where we update them on our ideas and what we’re thinking, and also any ideas they’ve seen out there. The number one thing is collaborating with them because they know anything and everything about Star Wars and then anything and everything that would get approved.

On our end, them giving us the kind of creative freedom to come up with those ideas is nice on its own. When you have such huge fans of that whole universe, and you can hone in on those little special things — that’s really what makes the best product.

Loungefly Star Wars cap.

Loungefly Star Wars purse.

StarWars.com: Star Wars does have a huge number of fans with wildly different tastes and opinions. Do you consider feedback from fans when you’re considering what to work on next?

Todd Keller: We do. We love for people to write in and to call in and give us feedback; we’ve had projects come out of customer feedback emails. Things like people saying… Like we had a purse on the line a couple years ago that was minimal in design on the front, but it had a really cool lining. We actually got, I kid you not, three or four emails of people writing in saying, “Can we get a bag just of this lining because this lining is cool?” We really do listen and pay attention, and we made a bag out of that lining print.

Then inside the conventions, we get great feedback on all the cosplay stuff. That is something new and fun people have been really gravitating towards; they love Darth Vader, but they don’t necessarily want a Darth Vader helmet on their back. They want a Darth Vader [item] looking like it could look like his outfit or maybe even something he might carry on his back, versus something so literal. We’re trying to expand on that. We actually have some really, really special stuff coming for Star Wars Celebration in April.

Loungefly Ewok purse.

StarWars.com: Before Celebration in April, Loungefly has some new items for the holidays, including an Ewok design on a canvas fabric. Do you consider the type of fabric and texture for each bag? Like in this case, giving it a more natural feel.

Todd Keller: Totally. The Ewok one is a perfect example of something that we needed with some texture, because our previous styles were in a faux suede and had some fur, and they were more literal with the little cute Ewok face. We were like, how can we keep this texture and still make it look like it makes sense for that kind of forest-y print? So we landed on this really nice, heavy gauge canvas, and then we trimmed it with the same faux suede we used on the other Ewok backpack that did so well.

Loungefly Millennium Falcon backpack.

Loungefly men's Imperial backpack.

StarWars.com: And similarly, you have the new Star Wars Landscapes series on a satin fabric that really seems to make the designs pop. How did this collection come about?

Todd Keller: Star Wars has the most beautiful landscapes in cinema. We hopped on the phone with Lucasfilm, and I tried to explain my idea as best I could with some imagery and they loved it. We were able to pull some really great imagery out of the archives and place it on product. Going back to the materials, we did two pieces for women in the collection and we decided to do a satin. It’s great for a holiday time period, and it’s also great for the digital printing. So all the stars aligned, no pun intended, on that one.

Then for the men’s line, my favorite is the backpack with the Imperial design. You have a bird’s eye view into the Imperial ship with all the stormtroopers lined up and it’s such an iconic scene. Then using that, we used a red bungee cord, which is really popular right now in men’s backpacks, to round out that story of the Empire and the Sith.

Loungefly’s Star Wars Landscapes collection will be exclusively available from ThinkGeek and GameStop. Shop their other designs at a retailer near you or at Loungefly.com.

Amy Ratcliffe is obsessed with Star Wars, Disneyland food, and coffee. She’s the author of Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy and a co-host of the podcast Lattes with Leia. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek.

How Loungefly Brings the Runway Aesthetic to Star Wars Accessories

“The Timelessness of Leia”: Producer Josh Rimes on the Newest Installments of Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures

StarWars.com

Lucasfilm’s new series of animated shorts, Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures, reimagines classic moments from the saga in a vibrant, energetic style. With a focus on themes and characters, they’re a great way to introduce younglings to the galaxy far, far away. (We longtime fans are allowed to love them, too.)

Last week, StarWars.com spoke with Josh Rimes, producer of the series, about the genesis of Galaxy of Adventures and his thoughts on the first six installments; five new shorts, which you can watch below, arrive today on StarWarsKids.com and the Star Wars Kids YouTube channel, and Rimes once again provided his own commentary for each.

Princess Leia vs. Darth Vader – “A Fearless Leader”

“For Leia’s first Galaxy of Adventures short, the team always had in mind one of the earliest moments in A New Hope. It’s really when the world first met Princess Leia in 1977 — in the corridor of her ship, breached and boarded by the formidable Darth Vader and his stormtroopers. Taken prisoner, she’s marched right up to the hulking Vader, but is unafraid to call him out. That spunky fearlessness is something we wanted to capture and honor. It’s a testament to the timelessness of Leia, but also Carrie Fisher and everything she brought to the role. Stylistically, the animation team really leaned into the theme of light vs. dark as Vader’s side of the frame is awash in shadow, with Leia’s bathed in light. We also utilized montage action to portray Leia the fighter. The action, edited against her explanation to Vader, brings her rebellious spirit into even sharper focus — and that little, knowing smile at the end is just the cherry on top.”

Luke vs. the Death Star – “X-wing Assault”

“Capturing the rhythm and big beats of this battle were imperative. Making the stakes clear and keeping it in Luke’s point of view helped boil down one of the most iconic action sequences in all of Star Wars to a tight one minute and fifteen seconds. We are with Luke the whole way as he dives into the Death Star trench to make his run and take his shot. The trench itself and the X-wings are all 3D CGI models, which makes the frame pop and gives the action a weighty, tangible look and feel.”

Han Solo – “Galaxy’s Best Smuggler”

“For our first spotlight solely on Han, we also looked back to the way the world first discovered him in 1977. We knew we wanted to meet him in the cantina, but it took us a few tries to get to that light-bulb moment of starting with Han leaning in, as if he’s selling his smuggling ability to the viewer. Only at the end do we see this is in fact his meeting with Obi-Wan and Luke. Gotta love the expression on Luke’s face in that final moment! In the montage, we were thrilled to be able to incorporate glimpses of the Kessel Run set piece from Solo. It’s a testament to the character design work from Titmouse that their Han feels timeless and could work as both Harrison Ford’s original trilogy Han and Alden Ehrenreich’s young Han Solo.”

Chewie vs. Holochess – “Let the Wookiee Win”

“Humor was the primary goal of this short. Han’s ‘Let the Wookiee win’ line has become such a part of the pop culture Star Wars lexicon that we had to take this moment on. The question became: How do we make dejarik (holochess) exciting? The team found an answer and went to town in creating a montage that visualizes exactly why one shouldn’t upset a Wookiee. Even Han himself isn’t immune to a Chewie throttling or roar every once in a while!”

Luke vs. Emperor Palpatine – “Rise to Evil”

“Much like the Vader and Luke duel at the end of Empire, we knew we wanted to dramatize the climax of Return of the Jedi. Partly so we could see Luke dressed in black, with his new green lightsaber! Attacking this one proved difficult — another Luke and Vader clash felt redundant and thematically we couldn’t really go too deep, since we wanted to avoid major story points. Instead, focus switched to the man who orchestrated this whole thing — Emperor Palpatine. Through his chilling speech to Luke, we flash back to prequel days as the then Chancellor manipulated, deceived, and rose to power. In the end, as sabers clash, he has Luke and Vader right where he wants them.”

Stay tuned to StarWarsKids.com and the Star Wars Kids YouTube channel for additional Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures shorts, fun facts videos, and more.

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

“The Timelessness of Leia”: Producer Josh Rimes on the Newest Installments of Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures