I was very sad to learn of the passing of costume designer and artist John Mollo. I was also a little surprised, as he is usually not referenced or mentioned that often when it comes to the pre-production art of Star Wars. That distinction goes, of course, to the amazing Ralph McQuarrie. John Mollo, however, had a massive impact on both Star Wars and the nerve endings of my young brain. So much of his talent and artistry infuses my creativity to this day.
To almost any kid who grew up when the first Star Wars films were released, all of the BTS materials were our literal bibles. “The Star Wars Album,” “The Art of Star Wars” and the “Star Wars Portfolio” revealed the secrets of movie-making to an audience all too eager to learn every detail. Reading these books and listening to the “Story of Star Wars” LP was like a daily ritual.
I must have paged through “The Art of Star Wars” at least 1000 times, to the point where I could even distinguish between the handwriting of each artist. My original copy was in such bad shape that I had to buy a new edition for a Ralph McQuarrie book signing. And yet the contents never once failed to thrill and mesmerize me. Of course McQuarrie’s stuff is incredible, but it was Mollo’s designs that intrigued me most.
His style was otherworldly and “vintage real-world” all at the same time, perfectly aligning with Lucas’s “found universe” aesthetic. His drawings possess an almost child-like quality – as if he were seven years old himself – which is perhaps what made them so captivating to young readers.
“Hey, I could draw like that! I’m not such a bad artist myself!”
Yeah, but could you design it, kid?
And he had the coolest sounding name. “Mollo.” Sounds like a character straight from the movie. I used to envision him drawing away in a vest and flight suit.
The impact these crazy books had on me cannot be understated. They weren’t that cheap either, so many a parent had to be talked into buying them, I’m sure. Which just made them even cooler. Once we flipped them open, it was all over. The information they contained blew our collective minds and enthralled our imaginations.
There were proto-designs of characters you recognized, as well as, sketches of people and creatures that never made it into the film – giving readers both a tantalizing glimpse into what might have been and a fascinating insight into the mind of Mr. George Lucas.
I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to John Mollo and the rest of the Star Wars designers. For the amazing wonders they helped bring to life on screen, and for the endless and unexpected joy they provided to me on the page.
Mollo also worked on The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), Cry Freedom (1987), White Hunter Black Heart (1990), Air America (1990), Chaplin (1992) and Event Horizon (1997).
You will be missed Mr. Mollo.
Here is a brief interview.
I AM FERGUS THE JUSTIFIER