When The Force Awakens debuted a year ago, it was accompanied by two fantastic publications, The Art of The Force Awakens and The Force Awakens: The Visual Dictionary. One offered insight into the production of the film, while the other expanded the knowledge base of characters, objects, and ships, in the movie. Rogue One thankfully continues what hopefully will be a regular trend for future installments to the cinematic Star Wars universe. While we will provide a review of that film’s art book, the focus for this review is Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide.
Lucasfilm Story Group member Pablo Hidalgo, who has established himself as the most prolific author of the austere group of individuals trusted with guiding the direction of the franchise, returns in good form as the explainer of things in The Ultimate Visual Guide. He is aided in this endeavor by beautiful illustrations from the gifted hand of Kemp Remillard. The winner in this combination of talents, is of course, the fan, and especially, the fan who has questions and curiosity after seeing Gareth Edwards’ work.
The Ultimate Visual Guide is divided into six chapters that span nearly 200 pages of content, generally organized chronologically with how events unfolded in Rogue One. First is the background to Rogue One, minus two of its biggest players, Galen Erso and Orson Kreenic (they’re paired together in the chapter dedicated to the Empire and Eadu). Next is the Rebel Alliance followed by all things on and under the sun on the holy planet of Jedha, and the Empire, including the aforementioned Death Star twins. The second to last chapter, also the largest, focuses entirely on Scarif, the battle, and the participants in said battle. A short chapter wraps up The Ultimate Visual Guide with a few pages of production information, from a glimpse of concept art to behind the scenes factoids.
What the Ultimate Visual Guide does well is introduce all the new faces of Rogue One, from the heroes who band together under the titular callsign to the artic colored Mon Calamari lead by blue-skinned Admiral Raddus aboard his flagship the Profundity. The well written introductions also highlight an unfortunate aspect of Rogue One, racial and gender diversity. A problem that is more casually noted while viewing the movie is made painfully clear when one flips through pages of rebels, Imperials, and everyone else in between, and see one white male face after another. Rogue One is an improvement, but hopefully the problem advertised in its visual guide is one that is better addressed in future films.
Another aspect the Ultimate Visual Guide does well is subtly revealing the degree to which efforts have been made to tie the greater franchise into the film. In Rogue One, there are a handful of easter eggs connected to the animated Rebels show, be it the droid Chopper, an intercom request for General Syndulla, or multiple shots of the Ghost, the iconic ship of Rebels. This is reflected in the guide from the appearance of Sabine Wren’s ‘Phoenix Crest’ on pilot helmets to references about Saw Gerrera that tie his predicament in Rogue One back to an upcoming episode of Rebels. The film almost tied into the comic universe being produced by Marvel Comics with a reference to Evaan Verlaine, a character from a mini-series about Leia Organa.
Verlaine, who had appeared in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, was a friend and conspirator of sorts with Leia, and also a pilot for the rebellion at the time of the Battle of Yavin. In the Ultimate Visual Guide, on one of the best pages in the book dedicated to profiles of rebel pilot helmets to display their individualistic art, Evaan Verlaine’s helmet is featured. An easter egg to Verlaine fans or comic book readers, if the dashing pilot from Alderaan is visible at some point in the film, it’s a discovery yet to be made. Nonetheless, kudos to Hidalgo for including something which means a lot to a few that could have easily been left out.
Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms against Rogue One prior to its release was that it featured a new type of TIE fighter and Stormtrooper. Complaints, a many, flooded the internet along the lines of, “Well, why didn’t see any of these in the original trilogy?!” The Ultimate Visual Guide deftly answers this question by denoting that the new fighter, the TIE Striker, was an experimental craft and not one that the Imperial command was very fond of, and for the other, the shoretroopers, explaining they are a specialized form of Stormtrooper deployed in only a very few situations – none of which, it can be deduced, appeared in the original trilogy. But perhaps the best aspect of the Ultimate Visual Guide is what it does best, drawing in those things which seem familiar, such as X-wings, and providing a little more detail about them, as well picking out more obscure elements of the film, such as the religious devotees seen in the background of Jedha, and weaving an even richer tapestry of the Star Wars universe.
Pablo Hidalgo’s Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide is successful because each page beckons with the promise of something new, regardless of how much the typical fan or atypical fan might know about the topic. In the case of Rogue One, it enriches the delights of the visual medium, leading the reader to immediately want to return to the film to experience it again with this new found knowledge about all the characters, great and small. The Ultimate Visual Guide is not required to appreciate Rogue One, but anyone wish anything close to a passing interest and learning more about the people and the worlds that inhabit the movie will definitely enjoy picking it up.