Books, Cartoons, Reviews

Rogue One: An Unrebellious Colouring Book

Art of Colouring: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Disney Book Group
December 2016

Who made this colouring book? I can’t tell you because that information isn’t given anywhere in the back matter or the nonexistent front matter. Neither is it available on Disney or Amazon. This emphasizes the intellectual property and brand over the work of the illustrators and designers involved in the project, to the general sense that Art of Colouring: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is less meant to “inspire creativity,” as the cover suggests, than it is to inspire brand devotion.

The contents of Rogue One are a combination of character portraits, scenes from the film, technical schematics, and themed, full page patterns. That gives colourists a range of pages to choose from and makes the book suitable for a variety of ages. Kids might be more interested in portraits and film scenes, adult hobby colourists who are used to mandalas and Johanna Basford books might start with the patterns, and Star Wars superfans might pore over and carefully colour the schematics. The book proceeds in an orderly fashion: portrait, schematic, pattern, repeat. Unlike the Die Hard Colouring and Activity Book, Rogue One doesn’t really use this pattern to break up the colouring experience, one kind of page giving you mental (and hand) relief from another — it’s the organizing principle of the book, but it feels less like it’s designed to create a specific colouring experience than it is to keep things in place, and check all the boxes expected of an adult colouring book. Hobby colourists like patterns, so here are some patterns for them. Star Wars fans like the details, so here are some schematics for them. Casual fans, perhaps new to Star Wars via The Force Awakens and Rogue One, will have connected primarily with the characters, so here they are, labelled, in case you forgot any of their names.

One important character, though, is entirely missing from the pages of this book: Imperial defector, pilot Bodhi Rook, who creates the rebel callsign Rogue One which gives the film its name. While Bodhi Rook isn’t one of the films two leads, he plays a crucial role in setting the plot in motion and in the Rebel scheme’s success. He’s played by British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed, nominated for a Golden Globe this year for his performance in The Night Of. Of course, this isn’t the first time Bodhi Rook has been left out of Disney’s marketing and merchandising efforts for the film. Back in November, Hayden Cross pointed out that Bodhi was the only Rogue One protagonist who wasn’t available as a Funko and had been strangely absent from a number of press junkets. In Art of Colouring: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Bodhi appears on one page only, in a spread where the Rebel Rogue One team is heading to their climactic battle. Every other Rogue One protagonist, from Jyn to Chirrut and even villains Krennic and Vader, is spotlighted in a full page, labelled character portrait. New robot sidekick, K-2S0, appears in a portrait, several group scenes, and in two schematic pages. There are even labelled portraits of Saw Guerera’s entire Rebel faction and several pilgrims from the holy city of Jedha, who die unnamed in the first act climax. It’s a bizarre oversight for a colouring book that includes fairly detailed schematics for Rebel U-Wings, Imperial AT-ACTs, and Death Trooper Masks.

WTF is this???

Unlike the infamous Kylo Ren colouring sheet that became a sad meme, this book manages to hold back on the ink enough that colourists get to, well, colour — and more than that, the restrained approach to inking allows colourists to design the pages to their liking. However, there are exceptions to this. The smoky, watercolour approach to the blacks on portrait pages does impose some will on the page — colour as you like, but you can’t overcome that affect unless you break out inks of your own. It’s a pretty effect but what if you don’t want a given page to be pretty? The book’s worst page is its most interesting, in terms of design. It’s a full page of the interior of a command centre — forgive me, I can’t recall if it’s the rebel headquarters or one of the Imperial ships and unfortunately it’s not one of the labelled pages. It’s a lovely page, with the radar screens rendered as swooping white lines over cloudy grey screens; smoky shadows lend a sense of menace to ordinary objects like chairs and consoles. It’s a nice page, but– I’m not sure what to do with it. Filling it with colour seems a shame — its design calls for a more restrained palette — and even getting started on it will take some thought. What do I want it to look like? I can’t just get started and see where it takes me because the page itself is more stand alone illustration than call to action — it’s a nice illo but a poor activity page.

Similarly, the schematic pages present a bit of a conundrum. Some, particular drawings of the interior of the Death Star, are made up of hundreds of tiny, delicate lines and compartments. Should I approach these pages with eye to what’s prettiest or to what’s appropriate for a schematic (but also, hopefully, beautiful)? That is, should I colour for charm or clarity?

Am I overthinking this colouring book? I mean, yes.

But the difficulty is that Art of Colouring: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story invites it. The level of detail in the schematic pages calls for a matching level of attention. Likewise, complicated full page panels aren’t meant for a quick colouring job, but are designed for hobby colourists to really sink into — that’s how colouring as meditative practice or de-stressing technique works. Although the book claims to invite creativity, this is one of those so carefully framed colouring books that does the opposite. Every page is designed with a particular kind of colouring in mind and, save drawing whatever you like into the empty backgrounds of the character portraits, there are no opportunities to really do your own thing. Unless, of course, you break the implicit rules of the book and just colour those pages however the fuck you want. That can be fun, obviously, but I think a colouring book should cover more choices than strictly within or strictly without the lines.

Art of Colouring: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a serviceable colouring book. It’s prettier than many tie-in books bother to be and more interesting, thanks to all the schematics. But the complacent approach and too rigid design mean that it’s less than inspired. Bodhi’s almost total absence is strange and insulting and poisonous — colour those Death Star patterns, superfans, while considering how racism plays out in corporate merchandising.