When you’re designing something fictional you’re bound to struggle to create a cohesive and consistent world. It’s even harder to keep it consistent if the factious body of work takes place during a long span of time. It is very easy to lose track on what sort of things have been put on paper at what era of the work, and how it all builds into the logical evolution of said designs. Things get even harder when there should be present hundreds of designs per era or chapter of the work, as the designer might lose all cohesion between the designed sets. In some cases a designed object or being might resemble something from a completely different franchise altogether rather than naturally fitting to the given frame the pre-existing designs are set into.
Without consistency and the cohesion the designs bring with them in the visuals, the suspension of disbelief is easily shattered. It doesn’t matter how bullshit logic or science is behind the function and appearance of the design as long as the designs follow the organic pattern found elsewhere in the fictional world. By breaking the cohesion at a core level can be successful if it is done correctly and there’s a very good in-universe reason, like differences between cultures or differences between man-made objects and natural ones. Even then there has to exist consistency between all man-made objects and natural objects. That said, not everything needs to look the same, do not mix this cohesion with homogenous visuals.
Aiming for cohesion is not a limitation either, but a guideline for something better. Cohesion stems from understanding why something looks like it does and grows from there in an organic fashion, where everything before and after have the same core, but are their own being. It’s easy to mistakenly to abandon cohesion for something else, and it’s even easier to abandon it willingly. Willing abandonment of cohesion most often stem from the designer not understanding what has already designed, or simply abandons the pre-existing set examples and does his own thing, disregarding everything else and thus putting the balance and logic in the visuals under questioning.
Let’s take Star Wars as an example.
Since the late 70’s, we’ve seen new character, vehicle, weapon, world and species designs next to everything that is ever needed to have in a given Star Wars story, be it a new weapon of mass destruction or as simple thing as an oxygen tank. Star Wars has expanded immensely since its birth and it’ll most likely keep expanding even more as the time goes by. I’m sure we’re going to see some sort of hundred years of Star Wars thing in 2077, and I hope I’m there to see it and possibly laugh at it.
Expansion has been a mixed blessing really. For every Rogue Squadron and Heir to the Empire we have a The Crystal Star and Clone Wars movie, all of which carry new pieces of designs that more or less fit into the incredibly wide field of Star Wars’ universe. For whoever works with the upcoming Sequel trilogy, do make sure that the evolution of the designs fit what already is in the Original Trilogy, as whatever LucasFilm was smoking in during pre-productions of Prequel Saga caused them to horribly go wrong.
We’ll use few example from the movies themselves, andsome from the Expanded Universe.
When the AT-AT was first designed, the staff of LucasFilm and ILM used elephant to model the walk cycle. Next to this, the design called for a massive behemoth controlling the battlefield just by its presence. The AT-AT units are rugged machines of war, slowly but surely assaulting their target and decimating it. The lines of them are clean, simple and to the point; there’s very little unnecessary bits dangling anywhere.
In harsh contrast, the Prequel series got its own set of Walkers that are less inspiring. I haven’t seen Episode II in years, but there is two scenes that still strike very disappointing in my memories; the appearances of AT-TE and DSD1 dwarf spider droid. These two show that the designers didn’t even give a shit about how progression in the universe would go.
From a design point, the Spider Droid looks like a damn baby’s toy. It looks silly with its huge red eyes and with its cannon nose. If it was supposed to be a machine of war, why the hell most of its insides are exposed and eyes are easier to hit than a CRT screen with your fist. This is something I could see designed for Star Wars version of GoBots. The same can be said of the OG-9 Homing Spider Droid just behind the Dwarf one in the shot, but it’s slightly less stupid.
There is an idea behind the designscape of a spiderwalker, but it’s realized here in a horrible fashion. You can have a spherical body with four legs without most of the innards showcasing itself. However, if you are designing a war machine rather than toy, you do not put bid red targets as eyes. What kind of progression in here anyway? The Trade Federation is all absent from the Original Trilogy, so we can assume the wardroid tech was more or less useless in the upcoming years, or that the designers and writer/s didn’t give a shit how things would look and come out in the future. The problem is, the future already existed in this case. We know how the future of these designs looks like, and it makes little sense.
But the Spider droids are a singlular thing that just doesn’t fit Star Wars as a whole. We have something that will always baffle me to no end.
The AT-TE is a mess. It looks something that would spin off from AT-AT rather than be its predecessor based on its design. In reality it was a crude attempt to bring in the feeling of AT-AT from the Empire Strikes Back to the Prequels and they failed in it pretty damn well.
The first problem with the AT-TE is its outer appearance. Pretty much all of it seems to be evolved from AT-AT rather the other way around with its sleeker armouring. AT-TE for some reason was designed to have better shielding against forward and rear shots with its angled armours. Of course, in the movies it gets one-shotted by a random big laser blast. Appearance be damned, they wanted this thing to be weaker and they’ll force it through even if it killed the series. But hell, these things can scale mountains! That’s some serious bullshit right there. Why would the Imperials NOT want their future walkers use that kind of tech? Oh, that’s right. That idea didn’t exist prior to AT-TE in real life.
There’s also the issue with the legs. AT-TE’s six legs is much, much more stable than AT-AT’s four, meaning that either they downgraded the thing or that the designers didn’t think this through. Yes, we could say that they evolved the tech, but tech goes hand in hand with the outer appearance in most cases. Just take a look at the evolution of tanks and fighter jets. As a viewer, it makes no sense to have better shaped walkers in the past.
Of course, the shield technology can be said to be more advanced in the Original Trilogy, but seeing how every single shield works exactly the same across the movies, I call bullshit on this. LucasFilm dropped the ball with these harshly.
The expanded universe is a new whole set of troubles that I’m not going to go into, but there is one thing that needs to be addressed; Tales of the Jedi and Dawn of the Jedi.
At the time, Tales of the Jedi was historically the oldest thing in Star Wars timeline, telling old stories of the Great Hyperspace War and other significant events. Tales of the Jedi had a nice depiction how the universe was prior to the “modern” era and its state of unrefined science. Even Lightsabers were depicted of having a cord to a power source. Here’s a noteworthy thing; Tales of the Jedi shows everything pretty much made by hand, like it was an era of craftsmen. George Lucas explained the designs in Prequels that all the tech was made by artisans, which is bullshit. Tales of the other hand actually feels like that, that most of tech and object these people handle are made by craftsmen rather than giant mills and factories. Things were older and that’s the key point with Tales stories.
It’s hard to design old things in very limited fashion. It takes effort and research, two things people seem to hate to do unless someone’s there to explain things step-by-step basis.
When I first saw the covers for Dawn of the Jedi, I thought it was some story set sometime after Tales of the Jedi, because they clearly had Lightsabers. And I was wrong. What they have are basically Lightsaber predecessors called Forcesabers, which basically is a Lightsaber. It is extremely disappointing to see writers and designers using this sort of bullshit explanation to get things they want in a different setting. This also goes to the outfits and suits in the early Expanded Universe, and I can’t fathom why these people don’t see it themselves.
The question is; if in this era they do not have lighsabers, why do they have something that is exactly the same thing?
I could also dip into the clothing, how Expanded Universe has more advanced clothing in certain early era stories than later on in the movies, but that’s something would take far too long. But here’s an example; Luke wears an armour in the Shadows of the Empire that looks pretty much the same Trill wears in the first issue of Dawn of the Jedi, with certain changes, of course.
From design point of view, the Star Wars universe is a harsh discord and unbalanced by decision that have no other basis other than the artists own desires rather than what the series would need. There’s little to no cohesion in the progress of designs in-universe, but when you look at them from real world point of view, you’re able to pinpoint the era where a Star Wars product has been designed and made. Why? They carry the elements of that one era far too much. Tales of the Jedi and few others are somewhat standalone entities here, where they were made with care. Tales looks and feels as it was an old story of time long gone. Most others feel like yet another Star Wars story set in whatever time the reader really wants it to be in.
Star Wars, as it is now, is far too inconsistent with its ideas and designs. They clash with each other far too much. You might think that this is something only core fans would care for, but it’s really an underlying issue. General consumer pays attention to things that really does seem insignificant more than a core fan would. Something like warp core misnaming is what core fans notice, but everything else noticed by general public. Core fans are the ones that inspect the forest tree by tree; the general consumer cares for the whole forest, and sees where the bad trees are.