Celebrating The Republic Gunship: Nose Artistry

Popularized by the Memphis Belle and Enola Gay, the practice of decorating the front panels of the Republic gunship grew out of a developing need for clones to express some non-conformity and their growing sense of individuality.

In the real world nose art is largely a military tradition, and while – for most people – the history of nose art on military aircraft starts in World War II, however the first recorded example was a sea monster painted on an Italian flying boat in 1913 and later, during the Great War, some German and Italian pilots took to painting stylized squadron insignia on their aircraft.

Consider by many to be the true age of nose art, World War II saw the art form flourish. Initially seen as a way to inspire fear in the enemies, provide talismanic protection to the aircrew, or simply evoke memories of their home life, pilots and ground crew would collaborate in their downtime to decorate the nose of their fighters and bombers with cartoon, pin-up models and patriotic characters. Competition between the crews became so fierce that squadrons would sometimes commission graphic artists – including ones from Disney – to adorn their aircraft.

Perhaps the most famous nose art of all time was the shark’s mouth made famous by the Flying Tigers, a clandestine air unit created in 1941. There’s no way to know for certain if it was this design that inspired Genndy Tartakovsky to decorate the LAAT used by Muunilinst 10, an elite group of ARC troopers, in the Chapter 21 of the original Clone Wars cartoon series.

It was the appearance of this heavily modified LAAT/i, with a snarling rancor’s mouth painted on the nose, below the cockpit and covering the frontal turrets, that gave the Star Wars galaxy its very first depiction of nose art.

Even though LEGO had produced 7163 Republic Gunship in time for the theatrical arrival of Attack of the Clones in 2002, It wasn’t until the release of 7676 Republic Attack Gunship in 2008 that LEGO adorned one of their sets with nose art. Forming part of the Clone Wars collection, created to support The Clone Wars animated series, the second System-scale Republic gunship had two large Slope 10 6 x 8 plates on either side of the fuselage, below the flight deck, that allowed specially created nose art stickers included with the set to be placed on them.

Giving fans a chance to customize their set further, LEGO included two different nose art decals – a Kowakian monkey lizard holding a missile, with the text “laugh this off” in Aurabesh and blue-skinned Twi’lek female in clone trooper armor. Both of these were drawn directly from the pre-production art for The Clone Wars movie, which Lucasfilm supplied to LEGO while they were developing the set: the former comes from a stock-LAAT/i dubbed Crumb Bomber while the latter drew inspiration from a gunship known as Lucky Lekku.

Following upon their highly acclaimed Clone Wars sets – in particular the growing cult surrounding all things GAR – LEGO released 10195 Republic Dropship with AT-OT Walker, a direct-to-customer exclusive that was only available at LEGO brand stores and through their Shop@Home website. The artwork chosen for this set came from a selection of concept art, and neither was used in the television series.

Much like in World War II, the popularity of nose art blossomed amongst LEGO fans and many tried their hand at producing their own. A number of graphic artists quickly stood out and, by making high-quality replacement sticker art to , they carved a place in the niche LEGO customized sticker community that Eurobricks.com had developed in its forums.

First on the scene was Rayman, a fan and designer for Australia, whose first offering firmly grabbed the attention of the LEGO customizing community.

Based on the nose art depicted on the Republic gunship known as Spaceward Ho!, which was seen in The Clone Wars movie, and again in Storm Over Ryloth (season 1, episode 19), it depicted the customized nose art of a Twi’lek female in a seductive pose with the text Spaceward Ho! written in Aurebesh.

Demonstrating keen eyesight, Rayman was able to pick out the scant details of the Twi’lek painted on the nose of the gunship in the background, and convincingly convert the curvaceous cupcake into a LEGO form.

His second nose art graphic came from an even harder-to-spot image in the background – another seductive Twi’lek – of Hondo Ohnaka’s pirate outpost in The Gungan General (season 1, episode 12).

Continuing the pin-up poster girl trend, Rayman’s third graphic was taken from a pin-up of a Royal Handmaiden from Naboo. This barely visible image decorated the wall of a clone trooper barrack in Hidden Enemy (season 1, episode 16). His fourth was back on track and came from a LAAT/i known as Separatist Nightmare, which was decorated with a clone trooper’s helmet painted to look like a human skull, that debuted and crashed in Landing At Point Rain (season 2, episode 5). The fifth and final graphic produced by StudioRayman came from the gunship dubbed Dooku Boot, seen in Weapon’s Factory (season 2, episode 6), which was customized with a painting of Count Dooku getting booted in the backside by a clone trooper’s armored leg.

Posting between October 2008 and December 2009, Rayman inspired multiple artists to try their hand at adding to the mythology of the clone pilots who flew their gunships into withering laser fire in order to support the ground troops.

Since then he has been silent – presumed MIA – and his Brickshelf gallery remains open but untouched.

Could the arrival of 75309 Republic Gunship see a revival in nose art? There is plenty of material to be tapped into – so let’s hope so!

Entertainment Earth

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