Before there was a droid, Death Star or Darth Maul, there was a drawing by a concept artist.
Concept artists work behind the scenes of films putting imagination to paper and hoping their takes on people, places and things will one day be lit large on the silver screen.
With "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" just about a month away from debuting in theaters around the world, we thought now would be a good time to round up a collection of Star Wars concept art from some of the best designers out there.
Some of the images here are professional works that have touched some part of the franchise's universe, while others are simply visual love letters from fans. Really talented fans.
This image from Montreal-based designer Guillaume Menuel falls into the latter category.
"This fan art is a part of a larger set of characters I'm planning to do," Menuel said "It's just ink on paper. I may also do a cool set of posters. I use to work in Photoshop almost exclusively, but I wanted to go back to something a bit more raw to fit with the feeling I have from the first trilogy."
Conceptual artist Gustavo Mendonca created this image for the now-abandoned Star Wars 1313 video game. He says that because the world of the game was "extremely vertical," George Lucas asked him to explore how the bounty hunter Boba Fett would be able to fight in such an environment. That's what led to this painting.
"In this piece of concept Art, Boba Fett is combating a series of creatures through an abandoned district of 1313," says Mendonca. "The Gothic influence in the architecture was meant to reflect a by gone era in 1313. The giant window frames in the background were designed to resemble coffins in order to heighten the sense dread of the environment. The broken down ceiling gave me the opportunity to play with light, creating a foreboding atmosphere where the enemies could hide in the shadows. Boba is using his jet pack to fly thru a hole in the ground in order to surprise and flank these two guys without even having to land."
Mendonca also says he got to work on the early stages of "The Force Awakens," but can't give any details because SECRECY! You can see more conceptual creations for Star Wars on his website here
Artist Mark Molnar says he's created art for at least 20 different Star Wars books and card games. He created this dramatic cover art for the Brazilian edition of the "Shadows of the Empire" novel published by Editora Aleph. The book imagined the goings-ons between the two films "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi."
Freelance illustrator David Palumbo has worked for some of the biggest names in the geek culture pantheon, including Blizzard Entertainment (of World of Warcraft and Hearthstone fame), Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm.
One casualty of Disney's 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm was the shuttering of LucasArts, the video game arm of the entertainment empire created by George Lucas. At the time, the studio had been working on a game called Star Wars 1313 that never saw the light of day.
This image comes from another Star Wars video game that never came to be -- "Maul," which naturally focused on Sith lord Darth Maul. The imaginative illustration of city-like settlements being carried on the backs of giant beasts came from artist Billy George, who's also created concepts for Sony, Disney Interactive and Universal Studios.
Paris-based artist Gary Jamroz says he's always been drawn to the dark side of the Force, so when creating Star Wars fan art, it felt only natural to go with a TIE fighter pilot.
"We always hear great stories about Rebel Alliance pilots, X-Wing pilots and all their bravery, but the TIE pilots are amongst the most feared and skilled pilot of the galaxy," he says.
Jamroz, who has worked for Dark Horse Comics, Ubisoft and others, also draws attention to the upper-left side of the illustration. "As you can see, his ship is awarded with all the rebels he killed in battle," he says -- no doubt with a sly smile on his face.
This piece was created by designer Lorin Wood for his personal sketchbook project entitled "Woosh!," which was published by Design Studio Press. Wood sent a copy of the book to "Force Awakens" director J.J. Abrams, and jokingly says that's the closest to the film franchise he's ever come.
Wood says the image is a amalgamation of his favorite Star Wars ships and was a "knee-jerk reaction to the initial 'Force Awakens' teaser." He adds that Star Wars -- specifically the work of original designers Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie -- were huge inspirations for him early on.
"I'd imagine this ship was adrift in the Outer Rim Territories," Wood says about the drawing. "Whoever repurposed it slapped together whatever drive engines pieces that were available. It was needed for a quick escape. The main hull was still relatively intact so it would hold over until proper upgrades could be afforded."
While artist Bobby Pontillas is currently designing characters for Disney's animation studios, this rendering of Luke and Yoda was purely a fan project.
"I know it's hard to believe but I just saw the 'Star Wars' movies last Christmas," Pontillas said. "I sketched this right after watching it because I was so charmed by the originals and specifically the 'Empire Strikes Back.' Crazy old man Yoda has to be my favorite character. Which just goes to show the timeless quality of these films!"
Artist Michael Pasqual, who primarily creates vinyl and other styles of collectible figures, created this fan art. He says he has a soft spot in his heart for "Return of the Jedi," which features this bounty hunter known as Boussh.
Pasquale remembers his mom taking him to see "Jedi" for the first time and being completely blown away -- to the point of standing up on his seat in the theater. He was especially impressed with Princess Leia.
"I loved the fact that I was totally fooled by Leia as this bounty hunter as she spoke in a language and voice tone I'd never heard," Pasquale says. "I was completely thrown; I just remember the feeling of astonishment as I smiled up at my mom whenever a moment like that would happen throughout the movie. I think when creating this piece, I had all those emotions and excitement and in my mind."
Freelance concept artist Daryl Mandryk made this image for the Star Wars novel "Choices of One." It depicts a character from the book known as Mara Jade Skywalker (Luke's wife in the expanded Star Wars universe), who at one time served as Emperor Palpatine's "Hand" and assassin.
Mandryk says he primarily works on video games and has lent his brush to companies including EA, Disney, Hasbro, LucasArts, Blur, Warner Bros and Dark Horse Comics. He says he's currently working with Insomniac Games on an upcoming release.
Paris-based artist Simon Goinard has worked for giants including Disney, Warner Brothers and Aston Martin, but this image of Darth Vader's mask is pure fan art. He says he created it based on Ralph McQuarrie's original Vader design, which is a bit different from the one seen in the films.
McQuarrie is not only credited with designing Vader for the films, but Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO as well. He's also the one who first suggested Vader wear a breathing contraption.
"I thought, 'Gee, Darth Vader has to function in a vacuum,'" Goinard said in interview for the book "100 Things Star Wars Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," so I suggested to George that [Vader] might have some sort of spacesuit to enable him to survive this trip through the vacuum, and George said, 'Well, OK, give him some kind of a breathing apparatus.' So along with the big helmet, I put a mask on him."
"I created this image to evoke a gearhead street racer kind of culture that Luke could possibly be a part of," says the creator of this fan art, Alex Chen. "I imagine it as the personal ride that Luke would upgrade to or [have] had a poster of in his room."
The design, the artist says, was inspired by a love of American muscle cars and import tuner cars "because Luke is that kind of guy. I asked myself what I would love to drive all over Tattooine and that's what came out. A big muscle car with JDM-looking parts attached to the gigantic exposed beast of a rocket engine."
Chen says he's currently an artist at Super Evil Megacorp, where he's working on the game Vainglory.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" arrives December 17 in the UK and Australia, and December 18 in the US.