Forty years, hundreds of artists, dozens of countries. Infinite cool.
Welcome along to the Poster Art portion of our Star Wars Extravaganza. I’m excited to be talking Star Wars and posters. These are two of my most favorite things. But! You’re in for a treat, too. I know most folks have probably heard the story of the Revenge of the Jedi poster. They decided to change the name after the poster has been produced. Based entirely on the notion that Jedis don’t do revenge. A frustrated Lucas heads down to the printing presses and demands they all be destroyed. Sliced and diced. Later, Lucasfilm sent out some of the non-destroyed versions to members of the fan club. If you’ve got an original of these on your wall, color me jealous.
Hang out with me here for a bit as we flip through a digital flat file of some these terrific Star Wars posters.
Not one Star Wars pun. Crushed it.
Star Wars was in theaters forever and also happened to be a cultural juggernaut. There’s more than one source attributing Marvel’s financial success for 1977 and 1978 to the sales of that run. There’s a really neat book by Garry Jenkins called Empire Building: The Remarkable Real-Life Story of Star Wars that gets into this story.
Howard Chaykin was the illustrator brought on for the first 10 issues of the comic run. He also got first shot at a poster for the film. The comic start is interesting. That display of characters over an impossible environment runs all the way through to today’s Star Wars posters. Getting an audience to appreciate a new setting, cast of characters, themes, and tone of a story is something comic book artists are quite familiar with when it comes to cover art.
On top of that, he had a role in almost every visual aspect of Star Wars. He did story boards, matte paintings, posters, concept art, and well. Everything. The above are four concept posters that McQuarrie put together. I think they’re fantastic. You can see the really wonderful designs of the Death Star. He takes a slightly different approach than Chaykin. Rather than overlay the characters in space, they appear to be tethered to the ground. That allows the Death Star to loom over them, almost like a small moon. I apologize. That won’t happen again.
I find the bottom two with different takes for Leia’s character to be particularly interesting. One has her in a typical sort of, erm, subservient pose. The one on the right has her as she is in the movie: gun in hand and all out of bubble gum.
I think that explains the way they went for Leia’s pose in the piece. Her pose doesn’t really mash up at all with her look and character in the movie. At least she’s standing here. And she’s got a gun. But, still. You know what, though? That Luke doesn’t look like he’s ready to whine about going to get power converters at Tosche Station. He just goes. So much muscle!
That said, the Jung poster is in my top three.
Tom Chantrell was asked to make the below. He had the added bonus of having actually seen the film prior to developing his approach. He also had extensive access to character stills and plenty of time to work. And it is phenomenal. Look at Leia’s expression! And her whole pose. He nails it. We have our actual heroes. We have our villains. We have our space battles. We have our Death Star. We have our laser guns and a light saber. And we have the Star Wars title treatment. And we have our droids! ::Chewbacca victory cry::
I love this poster.
The marketing plans and accompanying posters vary quite a bit in part due to the length of time Star Wars was in theaters. It’s first run went from 25 May 1977 to 20 July 1978. However! Due to overwhelming demand (and/or classic marketing moves to drive up fears of scarcity) the film is immediately re-released the next day and the run is extended to 07 November 1978. Whew! That’s nuts.
Guess who’s back. Back again. Guess who’s back. Guess who’s back. Guess who’s back. Sorry, this is a lot of posters and I needed a moment. Okay. I’m back.
He also designed the infamous Revenge of the Jedi poster. And, it’s where we start to see his shift towards a two color approach to his posters for Star Wars.
I love in the sketch how Obi Wan and Anakin have their backs turned to each other. The betrayal is inevitable.
More than that, if you start at the top and scroll down to this poster, you can see all of the traditions kept alive by Morton as he put this piece together. There are opposing colors. Photo realistic depictions of our heroes. It’s got space battles. Light sabers. Droids! And a great big looming (Not A) Death Star. And it definitely isn’t dark.
Some trends continue. Some don’t. The color palette here isn’t as diametrically opposed. It’s more a shift in tone. But, we’ve still got looming (Yeah It Actually Is The) Death Star and Vader’s face is perfectly superimposed onto it. No space battles, though. Not exactly.
So. That’s the look at the posters from Star Wars right on through Rogue One.
Here’s some international poster goodies for you.
Here’s some art from Noriyoshi Ohrai:
Some art from Russia:
My favorite from Russia:
More from Poland:
I couldn’t have done this without an Internet. There are literally books written on this topic. And, there are tons of sites around the internets aggregating this information. I learned the most from one source in particular. If you dig posters at all, I strongly recommend this podcast. Go check out the Poster Boys or @PosterBoysShow. They are Brandon Schaefer (@seekandspeak) and Sam Smith (@samsmyth). Their episode on Star Wars posters taught me that there was this amazing story out there. More than that, they do deep dives into artists and collections of posters. Give them a look.
There’s also the Star Wars Art: Posters (Star Wars Art Series) book. Roger Kastel does an introduction and Drew Struzan writes the foreword.
So, what are your favorite Star Wars posters? Fan art, too. Call them out in the comments below. Make sure you shout out the artists. Let’s start building a collection here.