“This was not really a research book,” says Jonathan Rinzler about Star Wars Posters. “George really wanted to show the posters without credits. He wanted to highlight the art. So my job was to try and find the actual artwork or layered artwork so we could take off the credits so you could see the artwork for what it is.”
The fifth and final book in the Lucas curated Star Wars art series, Posters pulls together not only the most striking posters across the theatrical series but also includes TV series, gallery exhibitions, fan-club exclusives, video games and limited edition artwork. Like the previous entries in the Art series, Special Editions of the book include autographed prints from such poster artist legends as Drew Struzan, Roger Kastel, Tom Jung as well as artists like Howard Chaykin and Boris Vallejo but both versions show the posters off as works of art in their own right, and make for a sad reminder that the days of great movie posters are a long way behind us.
“George has remained faithful to that Saturday Matinee poster look,” continues Rinzler. “Even back in the day they were all painted posters; they were exciting, they were dramatic. It’s really a great tradition.”
While this is the last in the series to have the Lucas stamp of approval, there will be two further books in the series to come next year. But with more Star Wars content, both film and TV, coming down the pike, does it spell the end for Rinzler’s run of fantastic archival-based books?
“I think inevitably there is going to be fewer archive books just because there is going to be a movie a year,” he says. “We’ve never done that before. It’s going to be hard to squeeze in non-current books. However, the two books we do have planned and possibly a third book, will happen because there is still compelling kind of material in the archives that deserves to get out there.”
Until then, here is our pick of the best imagery from Star Wars Art Posters.
Artist*:* Howard Chaykin
The Artwork: “Poster 1” c. 1976
“This is the first Star Wars poster,” says Rinzler. “It was done to build public awareness.” Yet the number one does not refer to its premier position. Painted by Howard Chaykin, a Marvel comic book artist hired for Star Wars because of his independent sci-fi comic Cody Starbuck, the poster was envisaged as the first in a series of promotional images used to build awareness and excitement. The posters were sold for $1.75 at Comic-Con and WorldCon in Kansas City (where Gary Kurtz and Mark Hamill were on hand to bang the drum) but did so poorly that the idea of a series was abandoned. These days the poster sells for over $400.
Artist: John Solie
The Artwork: Black-and-white concept treatment for Star Wars Poster. c. 1976
“This was done before the film came out, possibly before they even started filming,” says Rinzler. This early iteration of the poster may even pre-date Ralph McQuarrie, although the representation of Chewbacca in the image is very close to the concept designer’s imagery of the character. “To me, just looking at it, it has a Frank Frazetta style,” continues Rinzler alluding to the legendary sci-fi/fantasy artist. “I know George is a fan of Frazetta. They actually met after the film was done to see if Frank could do any Star Wars art but they couldn’t work out a deal.”
Artist*:* John Berkey
The Artwork: Full-colour concept treatment for Star Wars novelisation rerelease cover. c.1977
This striking painterly image was an insert for the Star Wars double album and didn’t become a poster until 1988. Berkey’s initial paintings clearly indicated he hadn’t seen the film as they featured multiple Millennium Falcons in battle against the Death Star. Also, the image had to be flopped as Luke was originally holding the lightsaber in his left hand. “George was a big admirer of John Berkey,” says Rinzler. “If you look at some of his art, some of it probably inspired some of the things in Star Wars, just the style, textures.” Sad but true, Berkey never saw Star Wars before his passing in 2008.
Artist: Tom Jung
The Artwork: Final painted artwork for The Empire Strikes Back theatrical rerelease one-sheet, c. 1982
This Tom Jung poster reconfigured elements from the 1981 poster, with an increased significance given to Han Solo. “There were a couple of classic posters for Empire,” says Rinzler. "The Darth Vader with the hand out. Back when George was writing the script, the second draft had Leia as Luke’s cousin but she had a very small part. But when he finished he realised there was no women in the script so for a while he just changed Luke into a girl. Ultimately Empire is about the relationship between Han and Leia, hence the idea of him to invoke Gone With The Wind with the famous poster.”
The Artist: Noriyoshi Ohrai
The Artwork: The Empire Strikes Back Theatrical One-Sheet c.1980
Japanese artist Noriyoshi Ohrai created a raft of Star Wars imagery for his homeland. This one was picked up by Australia and became one of the most in-demand posters from the international campaigns. “They localised posters more back then than they do now,” says Rinzler. “You had more variety.”
The Artist: Ralph McQuarrie
The Artwork: Bounty Hunters In Cloud City, 1995
“If Ralph had done more, we would have shown more,” says Rinzler about Ralph McQuarrie, perhaps the most famous Star Wars artist of them all.” This image of Empire’s Bounty Hunters — Zuckuss, IG-88, Boba Fett, Bossk and 4-Lom — was created as an exclusive image for members of the Official Star Wars Fan Club. “It’s incredible,” marvels Rinzler. “I love the art deco style for the buildings he created. He was inspired a little bit by the land of Oz.”
The Artist: John Alvin
The Artwork: Black and white concept treatment for Revenge Of The Jedi. c. 1982.
“I think there were twenty different concepts with Revenge Of The Jedi on them,” says Rinzler, “a lot of them were great, particularly John Alvin’s.” Alvin is one of cinema’s greatest poster artists, creating the iconic fingers touching image for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the mogwai in a box from Gremlins and memorable one-sheets for Blade Runner, Aladdin, Beauty And The Beast and The Little Mermaid. This is a rare instance of the book featuring concept poster art. “George was pushing more towards final poster art work,” recalls Rinzler. “I sent him a bunch of the concepts and he relented and put a few of them into the book. I said, “George, fans want to see this stuff!!”
The Artist: Noriyoshi Ohrai
The Artwork: Final printed artwork for Return Of The Jedi “Starfall” poster, Japan, 1983
Another entry from Noriyoshi Ohrai. This beautiful image was produced in such small quantities that it became highly sought after, even in its year of release. For Rinzler, there is only one downside to the stunning poster: “I would have liked to have taken off the logo but there was no way to get it off.”
The Artist: Witold Dybowski
The Artwork: Final painted artwork for Return Of The Jedi theatrical one-sheet, Poland 1984
Polish artist Witold Dybowski incorporated photographs of camera parts into the composition of the Sith Lord’s head blowing up. Due to unrest in his homeland, the artist didn’t see Jedi until three years after he had finished the painting. “We have a whole bunch of Polish posters scattered around Lucasfilm, says Rinzler. “George likes them a lot. They are not just for Star Wars. They are for Chinatown, or a Kubrick film or a Coppola film. They are very, very wacky but they are great, works of art unto themselves. This one is no exception. It’s probably the funniest, most interesting Star Wars poster out there.”
The Artist: Ellen Lee
The Artwork: Final mixed-media artwork for The Phantom Menace theatrical advance poster, 1998
Developed by Ellen Lee of the Episode I art department in cahoots with Jim Ward, Lucasfilm’s Vice-President of Marketing, this image started life as a landscaped shaped theatrical advanced banner but was reformatted into a regular shaped movie poster, meaning a Tatooine hut had to be added to accommodate Vader’s shadow. The brilliance of the poster is to sum an entire character journey in one moment. “I was just out there as a fan at that time” says Rinzler, “and I thought it was a great poster.”
The Artist: Drew Struzan
The Artwork: Black and white concept treatment for Revenge Of The Sith poster, 2005
“He gets that epic quality across,” says Rinzler about poster artist legend Drew Struzan. “He’s really great with the characterisations of each protagonist. His compositions have influenced a couple of generations. I was lucky enough to watch almost the final version of Episode III in George’s screening room at Skywalker. I remember afterwards he jumped up and said, 'It’s great! It’s great!'"
The Artist: ILM
The Artwork: Final digital artwork for ILM Halloween Party internal promotional image 2008
“I love all the artwork that ILM artists do,” enthuses Rinzler. “It’s often really clever. Every year, there used to be, up until everything went digital, a Halloween invite for everyone in the company. And every year they were fantastic. It’s almost like a sub-genre.” Over the years, there has been a tradition of ILM loosening the tension of the post production period by creating comedy storyboards, crew t-shirts and group photos composited into the world of the film in production. It was a tradition that Rinzler fought hard to commemorate. “That poster actually kept slipping out of the book. I kept putting it back in. I think it was literally the last poster in the book. I said, ‘You’ve got to put that poster in.'"
The Artist: Todd Slater
The Artwork: Great Warrior — Yoda, 2010 Limited edition Mondo Screen print, 2010
Over the years there has been an explosion in Star Wars themed art created by a generation of artists raised on the franchise. Perhaps the best-known purveyors of funky Force eye candy, Mondo have fostered cutting edge modern images that still pay respect to the classic feel and mythos of the series. “Some of them have a distinctly nostalgic and retro look to them,” says Rinzler about the new brand of Star Wars poster. “It’s kind of an odd blending between today, yesterday and their own style. They are very fun, very successful. Fans really seem to love them. As soon as they sell out, they tend to triple in price.”
Star Wars Art: Posters is published by Abrams Books and is out now.