Star Wars: A history of art
If you are a Star Wars lover or an original poster collector you are going to want to read this over and over.
originally written in 1999, one month before Phantom Menace came out, Movieposter.com's very own Manager wrote an article on the history of Star Wars Posters. He includes indepth commentary on the artwork as well as the estimated prices for each title. I hope you all enjoy the hard work he put into the piece.
The Star Wars Phenomenon
Coming to you this year. The countdown has begun. With a little more than a month to go the most anticipated event in movies this year...this decade!...in motion picture history!!...will explode across the screens of the world. Get out of the way, give this juggernaut a wide berth because the wake from this behemoth will wash away everything in it’s path. Titanic will be sunk again, James Cameron will be water logged and all will be right in the universe again. Just kidding. The hype and mass hysteria surrounding this movie is almost that bad. Unless you’ve been stranded on a deserted island (to borrow a cliché), we all know that it’s the latest installment in the world’s most popular series of films. Episode One - The Phantom Menace is set to be unveiled on May 19th (I think).
When the film was first released back in 1977, it changed the look of science fiction forever and also changed the way films would be marketed and promoted as well. It started an avalanche of merchandising that has generated in excess of 1 billion dollars and counting. An unprecedented demand for everything from toys and lunch boxes to clothing and jewelry to disco records, trading cards and a myriad of promotional posters followed. Anything with the Star Wars title attached became instant collectibles that still garner high prices more than 20 years later. For our purposes, let’s concentrate on the one sheet posters used to entice and pique the public’s curiosity. A good number of these posters have become the most sought after, the most expensive and memorable pieces of movie art in the past quarter of a century. Strip away the hyperbole and platitude and one is still left with a great collection of movie posters. Quite a number are drawn by Drew Struzan, the leading movie poster artist today. It’s more like the only poster artist but more on that later. His posters have that certain quality that make them damn good in my opinion.
The first poster released in the Star Wars series was drawn by Howard Chaykin in a comic book style. It highlights our trio of heroes (Luke, Leia and Han) and their evil counterpart Darth Vader. I guess the artist chose this style to hint that Star Wars would be an epic space movie in content and a comic book in style and execution. The poster was printed by 20th Century-Fox in 1976 to promote the movie at that year’s World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City. As few as 1000 posters may have been printed. It’s a good looking poster measuring 20 x 29 inches, much smaller than a standard one sheet. The scarcity would be commonplace in the search for Star Wars posters.
The first and second advance posters are almost identical except for a minor variance in the letter “W” contained in the title. The silver mylar posters announce the release of the movie in big block letters and are relatively simple and straight forward by any standards. The first advance is also much more reflective and has a metallic chrome finish as opposed to the second advance poster which has a duller finish. However the first advance is valued three to four times more than the second advance. That poster is also one of the most valued in the Star Wars series. Why? For one thing, very very few of the first advance were printed. Second, it’s that minor variance in the font. I can’t hazard a guess as to why such a slight difference would make for such a high value. One possible rationale - this poster is extremely attractive due to it’s rarity and the difference in the title’s font. Sometimes minor variations such as changes in poster art, ratings, tag lines, etc. make certain posters highly desirable. Another hypothesis - some Star Wars collectors are downright fanatical and will pay whatever price to acquire this particular poster. Thus driving the price way beyond what is considered reasonable.
The Star Wars advance poster style “B” is more familiar to the general public. It’s an ordinary poster except for the fact that it contains one of the most unforgettable tag lines in motion picture history. No exaggeration either. Mention “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away...” to any moviegoer and 99% of responses will be Star Wars. It just goes to show how deeply ingrained this movie has become in the public’s psyche.
Next up we have the original Star Wars triumvirate of regular one sheets. The regular style “A” poster is the version most people associate with the film. With artwork drawn by Tom Jung (a poster artist who went on to create posters for The Right Stuff, March Or Die and others) the style “A” poster, without overstatement, is probably one of the most recognizable movie posters in the world. Almost everyone knows the image of Luke Skywalker, light sabre held above his head, with Princess Leia looking defiant and the loyal droids R2-D2 and C-3PO by his sides. Of course they are shadowed by the every present Darth Vader. To give the poster an epic scope of good verses evil a formation of X-Wing fighters and the Death Star can be seen in the background.
Style “C” is the least familiar of the three posters. Curiously there is no style “B”. This version was intended for the British release and not for the US market. It is rumored that as few as 500 were printed and most of the original print run was destroyed. Anyway it features large images of Luke, Leia, Han and Darth Vader against a backdrop of Tie-Fighters and X-Wing Fighters engaged in a space dogfight. The artwork is by Tom Cantrell. Of note, besides the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, the poster features Obi Wan Kenobi, Grand Moff Tarkin and Chewbacca for the first time. An overall dramatic poster of very good artwork.
Style “D” in my opinion is the best of the three. Charles White III was initially commissioned to do the artwork. He subsequently invited Drew Struzan, an acquaintance and former student, to collaborate with him on the composition. This marked Struzan’s first association with the Star Wars legend. What they composed was a dazzling and incredible retro-looking poster that harked back to the days of the matinee serials and cliffhangers of the 1930’s and 40’s. It’s a remarkable poster within a poster concept. Everything from the fonts to the style of illustration reminded you of the posters one may have seen 30-40 years ago. A modern masterpiece that pays tribute to the golden age of movies. Due to the noteworthy artwork this version is a favourite among collectors.
Also of note is the half sheet format. A half sheet poster measures 22 x 28 inches and is printed on thicker bristol board type coated paper stock. More on the different formats later. Usually the other formats feature the same artwork as the one sheet but this is the one exception. The half sheet has some of the same visuals as the one sheet but also features new imagery. Again artwork is by Tom Jung. It’s a majestic poster consisting of the well-known Luke and Leia poses, a large Darth Vader head shot, X-Wing fighters and the final medal presentation ceremony that closes the film. A very desirable addition to any collection.
And that brings us to what is perhaps the most rare Star Wars poster of all. It’s a scarce poster that was released to commemorate the first anniversary of the Star Wars release. The poster is charming in that it pictures a large birthday cake, inserted with a singular candle, surrounded by the original toy figures. It’s an attention-grabber and so few were printed that the value is in the neighbourhood of some of the classic campy science-fiction posters of the 1950s’ heydays.
Star Wars was re-released in 1979, 1981 and 1982. The posters are very similar in nature - Luke and Leia in front of the title. The posters use a small portion of the original Tom Jung artwork. Only the 1982 re-release poster is somewhat noteworthy in that it contains a banner promoting the “Revenge Of The Jedi.” The posters are unspectacular and ordinary - meant only for the collectors looking to have every poster.
Star Wars Titles Estimated Value
Luke Skywalker $1000 - $3000
First Advance - First Version $1500 - $2000
First Advance - Second Version $400 - $700
Advance Style “B” $150 - $300
Regular Style “A” $300 - $500
Regular Style “C” $200 - $400
Regular Style “D” $300 - $500
Half Sheet $200 - $400
Happy Birthday Poster $1500 - $2000
1979 Re-release $50 - $100
1981 Re-release $50 - $100
1982 Re-release $75 - $125
The Empire Strikes Back
This time around there is only one advance poster and what an advance poster it is. A simple yet striking poster featuring Darth Vader against a star field backdrop. It’s not seen very often and is somewhat rare in nature.
The style “A” regular version, with artwork by Rodger Kastel, is the most sought after of all the Empire posters. It’s a very noteworthy poster because it’s also known as the “Gone With The Wind” style. The poster pays loving tribute to that movie by emulating that famous embrace on that well known poster from 1967. The emerging love story between Han Solo and Princess Leia parallels that of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’ Hara in terms of their love/hate relationship and the red hot passion. However, the poster is not without controversy. Billy Dee Williams who portrayed Lando Calrissian is not pictured on the poster. As the myth goes Billy Dee Williams made it known that his character had enough screen time to warrant being pictured on the poster. Apparently, at the time, the powers that be felt the character did not. The poster was soon pulled from distribution making it one of the most sought after in the series and of the past 25 years. On a personal note, this is the poster that started me down the obsessive road of poster collecting. I just can’t stop no matter what!!! Sorry.
The problem was rectified when the poster was soon replaced with a different version that pictured Williams. Style “B” features a grand image of Darth Vader as the centerpiece. The Darth Vader image is flanked by Luke Skywalker on one side and Han and Leia and Lando on the other. The poster also features the first appearance of Stormtroopers. The artwork is very good but it doesn’t even approach the desirability or value of style “A.”
The second installment was re-released in both 1980 and 1981. Both posters featured similar artwork by Tom Jung and were very similar in overall design as well. Again the artwork conveyed the epic scope of the space adventure. And the focus of the posters was again on Darth Vader. These two posters also showcase the Snow-walkers (from that incredible ice planet battle sequence) and Master Jedi Yoda. Two worthy additions to a distinguished collection of posters.
The Empire Strikes Back Titles Estimated Value
Advance $200 - $400
Regular Style “A” $400 - $600
Regular Style “B” $100 - $200
1981 Re-release $75 - $125
1982 Re-release $50 - $100
The Return Of The Jedi
As most Star Wars collectors know, the advance posters (the first without the release date the second with) for the third installment was very quickly withdrawn when it was pointed out that Jedi Knights do not take revenge. Very few were ever used by theatres. As the legend goes there were approximately 8,000 to 9,000 of these posters printed and George Lucas decided to sell them to the fans through his fan club. Within 3 days all were gone! All of these posters were tri-folded. That is just three fold lines instead of the usual four lines giving you 8 folded boxes. The impressive poster was drawn by Drew Struzan. It featured a red and black speckled background with a large profile of Darth Vader’s helmet. In the foreground are the silhouettes of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader engaged in their final confrontation pitting father against son. Thanks to the poster being pulled from distribution, it may very well be the most sought after poster in the whole Star Wars trilogy. Others may have higher market values but this is the one most requested.
The replacement poster, style “A”, was actually suppose to be the advance poster but it was rumored to have been incomplete when the deadline approached. Therefore they went with the Drew Struzan version. It was just unfortunate they chose the wrong word to include in the title.
Artwork is by Tim Reamer and it features a pair of hands holding a light sabre pointed upwards. In the distance, an image of the new Death Star can be seen. This poster is rather ordinary and flat by Star Wars’ standards but it’s still alright. No Star Wars Saga poster can ever be bad in my books.
Style “B” is a much more pleasing and eye-catching poster. The poster features a collage of the good and evil characters including our favourite slug - Jabba The Hut. As usual Darth Vader and the Death Star looms over everyone ominously. With artwork by Kazuhiko Sano, the Style “B” regular version is the poster most people associate with the Jedi movie. Yet another fine example from a consistently pleasing series of movie posters. This is one of my favourites.
The 1985 re-release poster features face shots of Luke, Leia, Han, Yoda, the droids, Lando and an ewok plus an exploding Death Star. It’s a return of Tom Jung artwork. Full circle for the artist who created one of the most recognizable movie posters in the world let alone the series. It’s a decent poster, a bit uninspired, virtually forgotten but still somewhat desirable.
Return Of The Jedi Titles Estimated Value
Advance (without date) $500 - $1000
Advance (with date) $500 - $1000
Regular Style “A” $50 - $100
Regular Style “B” $75 - $150
1985 Re-release $40 - $75
And now a word about the other poster formats. What I described above are the US one sheets. I’ve bypassed the foreign versions because we would be getting into a whole new area with completely different artwork and dimensions. Through the years, various types of posters were made to accommodate different methods, circumstances or situations of displaying the printed material. Movie theatres were constructed to varying designs, shapes, capacities, etc. Depending on the individual theatre, some had ample space to display posters while others were limited in what they could do. I think the movie studios designed posters of varying measurements to furnish the theatres properly. If you aren’t familiar with these formats, here’s a small chart (excluding 24 Sheets that were meant for outdoor billboards).
Insert 14 x 36 inches
Half Sheet 22 x 28 inches
30 x 40 30 x 40 inches
40 x 60 40 x 60 inches
3 Sheet 41 x 81 inches (may come in 1-2 pieces)
6 Sheet 81 x 81 inches (may come in 3-4 pieces)
The above formats, excluding the 3 and 6 sheets, are printed on thicker card stock bristol board type coated paper. This higher grade of paper enhances the vibrancy of the colours, allows the ink dots to be smaller to increase the sharpness and clarity of the image and are far superior to the standard one sheets. These formats are rarely requested due to the fact that they were discontinued around 1985. Nevertheless, printed in less quantity and higher in quality, these posters are much more rarer than the one sheets and subsequently should be that much more sought after. They are not because many people are unfamiliar with these formats. As for the 3 and 6 sheets they are even more rare then their smaller counterparts. The unfortunate thing about these formats are their large sizes - difficult and very expensive to display. Does anyone have a free wall by chance? Anyway, the images on these alternate posters are the same as the one sheets.
Over the past few years the trend in the hobby has been towards large paper (larger formats). Collectors know that these large formats are extremely rare and not many have survived. The 3 and 6 sheets are worth anywhere from $750 to $2000 US while in most cases inserts and half sheets are valued a bit less then the one sheets and 30 x 40’s and 40 x 60’s are valued more then their one sheet counterparts.
Special One Sheets
Besides official one sheets, a multitude of special posters were produced either for media events, for purchase through the Lucasfilm Fanclub or for the mass market. Posters were made to highlight everything from individual heroes and villains, star systems, planets and spacecraft schematics to the unsavory cantina and very minor characters to satisfy the demand and curiosity of fans worldwide. To discuss them all would entail a 20 part series. Therefore to narrow our focus, I’ve basically selected those that were made in the one sheet format to commemorate the releases of the films.
To start off, two posters were produced to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Star Wars. The first of the two was a simple mylar poster of silver and black with a logo that read “Star Wars: The First Ten Years 1977 - 1987.” It was alright. However the second one was much more splashy. A limited edition of 3000 were originally produced with Drew Struzan commissioned to do the artwork. To make the poster more commemorative he chose to have the poster printed on rag archival paper. A very thick textured paper stock gave the images a slightly faded, muted and aged look and feel. The artwork featured a large image of Luke Skywalker in the foreground and a large image of Darth Vader’s head in the back. Also featured were Obi Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Princess Leia, the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star. Yet another beautiful piece from Mr. Struzan. Oh, by the way, he signed and numbered all of them. So it’s just that much more harder to obtain and that more much coveted.
In 1990, the 10th Anniversary of the original release of The Empire Strikes Back, three posters were produced (if memory serves me correctly). The first was a poster drawn by Larry Noble. Of the three this one has virtually been forgotten. It’s not that the artwork isn’t memorable, it’s the scarcity. It doesn’t surface very often and reference sources to access these images are non-existent. It’s a very nice poster featuring the Millennium Falcon trying to elude the grasp of a very large Darth Vader looming over everything. The second version is another silver mylar poster with a silhouette of Luke Skywalker atop a Taun-Taun (please excuse my spelling) superimposed over the outline of a large number 10. Another very nice poster but like the first has been forgotten a bit for the same reasons. This particular poster was limited to a print run of 1000. But the last of the trio is also the best. A gold mylar poster limited to 500 in number. An extremely rare poster with nothing more than a simple but striking head shot of Darth Vader lit from an overhead light source. The metallic gold sets off the poster while the light and shadow concept gives an air of mystery thus generating one great image. Stunning and captivating are two adjectives to sum up this one.
Moving on to 1992 and 1993, the 15th and 10th Anniversaries of Star Wars and Return Of The Jedi respectively, we find 3 more special posters. For the Star Wars 15th, George Lucas chose to finally utilize the Tim and Gregg Hildebrandt artwork in a proper one sheet format. You see, back in 1977, nine days prior to the movie release George Lucas commissioned the brothers to render artwork for his film. Although Mr. Lucas never adopted the art for the regular US one sheet (that honour went to Tom Jung as mentioned before) he did employ it as a mass market poster. It’s funny because this is the poster I remember from my earlier days and not the Tom Jung version even though both posters are very similar in style, content and composition. What sets this poster apart is the deep and rich blue colour and the spotlight on Luke and Leia. Very nice.
As for the 10th of Return Of The Jedi, the advance poster is actually the Drew Struzan artwork for the infamous “Revenge” poster. Due to being pulled from the theatres so quickly not many people were able to enjoy the artwork. To correct this problem, Lucasfilm decided to use the original one sheet design again to commemorate the film. I guess he wanted to make the poster available at a reasonable price - for we know the “Revenge” version is among the most expensive posters of the past 20 years. The regular version of the Jedi 10th Anniversary was rendered by Kazuhiko Sano. It carries forward some of the visual elements from the 1985 re-release of Jedi and style B from the original release. The poster features the destruction of the Death Star and a montage of the heroes and villains. It’s a good addition to the family of posters.
And that brings us to 1995 and the last of the Anniversary posters . The 15th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back maintains the same concept as the 10th Anniversary poster. Printed on gold mylar again but with four additional colours, the poster features a large head shot of our favourite bounty hunter Boba Fett. The poster doesn’t have as great an impact as it’s predecessor but it’s no less striking. This group of special Anniversary posters on their own constitute quite a valuable collection.
Other special posters of note include the following: Star Wars Concert poster (R2-D2 and C-3PO as a two man band), the Star Wars Radio Drama poster (C-3PO with head set standing by a microphone stand), The Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama poster (great portrait of Jedi Master Yoda looking skyward) and the three made-for-television posters for The Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (2 drawn by Kazuhiko Sano and the other drawn by Drew Struzan).
Of note, a special one sheet poster came out in 1985 for a Star Wars Trilogy showing on March 28th of that year. On that day a select 9 theatres in North America were showing the three films together only once. It has been reported that each theatre received only 2 posters. That means there are only 18 in existence! These one sheets are photographic prints of the original newspaper ads with each set personalized with the name of that particular theatre. But beware, these posters are easily reproduced because they were originally black and white.
Special One Sheet Titles Estimated Value
Star Wars 10th Anniversary (silver mylar) $100 - $200
Star Wars 10th Anniversary (archival rag paper) $300 - $500
Star Wars 15th Anniversary (Hildebrandt) $40 - $75
The Empire Strikes Back 10th Anniversary (Noble) $40 - $75
The Empire Strikes Back 10th Anniversary (silver mylar) $150 - $300
The Empire Strikes Back 10th Anniversary (gold mylar) $300 - $500
The Empire Strikes Back 15th Anniversary (gold mylar) $200 - $400
Return Of The Jedi 10th Anniversary (advance) $50 - $100
Return Of The Jedi 10th Anniversary (regular) $40 - $75
Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition
At the start of 1997, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Star Wars, George Lucas decided to release all three movies again. The re-release of Star Wars took North America by storm astonishing the experts and everyone else for that matter. By the end of their respective runs the three movies combined to gross more than $250 million. It was completely unheard of as the films shattering box office records for re-releases. Shades of 1977 again. The Star Wars Trilogy craze and hysteria, a bit dormant to this point, was exploding again as people were clamoring for the Special Edition movie posters.
First up is the advance poster featuring a simple design of a gold ingot embossed with Luke, Leia, Han, the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO and the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition title. Below the image the movie titles and their respective release dates appear. It’s a decent poster to fuel the fires of collectors everywhere and wet the appetites of fans worldwide.
However the regular posters for the three films are done in an innovative eye-catching concept that stretches over the 3 one sheets. The one sheets are self-contained on their own but placed together you can fully appreciate the scope of the images. The epic scale of the posters is seen in the arc of the main characters over the three one sheets plus the battle between the X-Wing Fighters (Star Wars poster) and the Star Destroyer/Tie-Fighters (Empire poster) flaring out and the final battle between father and son (Jedi poster). Of the three, The Empire Strikes Back poster is the most striking in my humble opinion. Once again the artwork is drawn by Drew Struzan. It’s the centerpiece of his illustrious association with Star Wars. With these posters, he has come full circle. This concept is sort of like his poster within a poster design from his first piece of work (Star Wars style D).
He is by far the premier poster artist today having drawn 25 years worth of great movie posters including my other favorite trilogy involving the adventures of a fedora wearing archeologist named Indiana Jones. His posters are dramatic and pack quite an emotional impact - very dynamic in terms of their concepts, composition, execution and overall appeal. There’s always a certain spirit and spark that permeates his consistently high quality artwork. Visit his web site at www.drewstruzan.com to view a sampling of this master illustrator’s body of incredible work. It’s a shame that more studios and film makers do not value artwork as a viable form of effective advertising. It appears only a select few artists get some work these days. Artists like Drew Struzan go underused and unappreciated.
Of note, there are variations to two of the posters. Due to the unexpected success of the Star Wars re-release, the re-release of Return Of The Jedi was pushed back one week to March 14th, 1997 instead of March 7th as originally planned. Thus, the advance poster and the Jedi poster were changed to reflect the new release date. The result - the original advance and Jedi posters command slightly higher prices then the revised versions.
Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition Titles Estimated Value
Advance (original release dates) $50 - $100
Advance (revised release dates) $40 - $75
Star Wars Special Edition $50 - $100
The Empire Strikes Back Special Edition $50 - $100
Return Of The Jedi Special Edition (original release date) $50 - $100
Return Of The Jedi Special Edition (revised release date) $40 - $75
Star Wars: Episode One - The Phantom Menace
That brings us to the present where Star Wars Saga/The Phantom Menace mania is once again gripping North America. The demand for the first two posters is extremely high right now. It is my understanding that George Lucas ordered an initial 10,000 print run of the first advance poster which features the young Anakin Skywalker casting an ominous shadow of Darth Vader. A simple yet foreboding image. That did the trick! The poster sold out in less than 2 weeks. It’s rumored that 60,000+ additional posters were printed just to fill all the back orders. The follow-up poster is commanding as much attention as it’s predecessor. With artwork by the ever-present Drew Struzan, it features a montage of the new characters and an evil face shot of Darth Maul looming in the background. Yet another jewel in the artist’s crown of top notch posters.
Star Wars: Episode One Titles Estimated Value
Advance $150 - $500
Regular $150 - $500
There you have it - an excellent collection of posters and a movie for the ages. This is one of the few times where the movie posters capture and convey the sweep and scope of a fun series of films. As a result, collecting Star Wars memorabilia is on the rise again. The posters are gaining momentum and increasing in value as the demand far exceeds the supply. Prices are headed for the stratosphere. All in all, over the past 20 years, not many posters are valued or sought after as much as those in the Star Wars family. I envision a scenario whereby great posters will precede great Star Wars Saga movies. All nine chapters.
And lastly, how do you gauge the impact of Star Wars? Well...I think it can be summed up like this.
Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn....
This could be the start of a beautiful friendship...
Bond. James Bond...
Make him an offer he can’t refuse...
May the force be with you...
Enjoy the movie.