Star Wars Posters: Inspiration, Art Direction, and The Force Awakens


Okay, it’s been a day or so since the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens poster has been revealed.  And what I’ve been seeing on Facebook recently is causing me a bit of concern.  Not because of the poster itself, but because of the reactions it’s received. I might upset a few people, including some fellow artists with my point of view… but so be it.  I will just say this to preface everything… we’re all adults (hopefully) and should be able to express our opinions and critique something from an artistic standpoint without being a jerk.  However, I feel that there are certain persons who, though they say it’s from the artistic view, are just using that as an excuse to bash, yet again (dun, dun, dun!!) something new in the galaxy of Star Wars.  And so it begins…

So…  I’m not personally offended at the opinions that others are so readily sharing with the rest of the world on Facebook and other social media.  What I have an issue with is that Star Wars fans in particular always, always, ALWAYS seem to have to gripe about something.  You’re getting new Star Wars sh*t,  what the frack is your problem with that, exactly? Sorry… I’m trying to keep my calm, but sometimes I just don’t get what makes people hate on what they claim to love.  Seriously, it just ruins part of the experience for everyone… so knock it off already!

3778562-hate-robert-downey-jr-talking-face-1072486Anyhow… Art, in and of itself, is subjective.  What one person finds beautiful or to have meaning can be atrocious and devoid of any “soul” to another person.  I get that part totally; being an artist myself, there are some kinds of art that just don’t ‘speak’ to me on that ‘level’.  Or to put it another way, sometimes, it’s just not my cup of tea. 😉  Now, we combine the subjectiveness of art with Star Wars and it’s fans… and some fans who happen to also be artists…





First, let’s take a look at some of the official poster art of Star Wars from over the years.  There have been a multitude of artists who have worked on official Star Wars posters.  Some were labeled  style “A”, “B”, “C” and so on.  And there were some, I’m sure, that weren’t used at all;  while others were plastered everywhere we looked, including our own bedrooms and living rooms (guilty).


Tom JungHildebrandt Brothers

One of the first, and most iconic images that introduced us to this crazy thing called Star Wars (A New Hope) was this poster by artist Tom Jung.  And in a similar vein, a British poster by the Hildebrandt Brothers. Their use of color differs greatly, while the overall concept is the same.

ChantrellCharlie White & Drew StruzanDrew Struzan

Then there was the poster by Chantrell that some might say is a little “busy.” And then there is of course the ‘circus poster’ by Charlie White & Drew Struzan. It’s final design was somewhat of a mistake they had to correct since they didn’t leave enough room for the production credits in the bottom. So they had to expand the image and make it appear as if it was an old poster like the circus used to put up before a show. With the first two posters, there’s no doubt that the styles vary in not only their layout, but the execution of the details, and the overall feeling of the pieces.  While depicting the same movie and characters, the two posters add to the drama and excitement of the film. Then, finally, there is the Special Edition A New Hope poster by Struzan that was created as part of a tryptic collection for when the films were re-released in 1997.  


Roger KastelDrew Struzan

Now Empire!  For The Empire Strikes Back, you have a variety of posters as well, but of the ones that are most recognizable, I’d have to go with this first one by Roger Kastel. The colors, and textures, and overall feel of the piece eludes to some key points in the film, yet it doesn’t give away a whole lot.  Some declare this to be the best of the OT, and while I can agree on that partly, I think that they discredit the other films in saying that. Anyhow, there’s the second installment of the tryptic by Drew Struzan that showcases the Empire pretty heavily.  I mean… it is called The Empire Strikes Back, after all. 😛  Even still though, you don’t get any hero characters on this poster design.  The only similarities between the two posters shown here is a few similar hues of blue, purple, and a hint of pink, and Vader’s helmet featured prominently in the background.  


Kazuhiko SanoDrew Struzan        Revenge of the Jedi Drew Struzan

Then we get to the Return of the Jedi posters.  The first poster, created by Kazuhiko Sano, is the one that when I see it, I think back to my childhood.  Looking at the layout now, I’m not sure that Jabba belongs on the left side like that cropped off.  It feels unbalanced to me in a way.  But then you turn to the final tryptic installment of Drew Struzan’s Jedi poster for the Special Editions, and while the concept is slightly better, on it’s own, it still looks a little unbalanced as well.  It just seems  a bit too visually ‘heavy’ on the right side.  However, when paired with the other two tryptic posters, it balances out because they work together as one large piece of art.  And just for good measure, I wanted to throw in the Revenge of the Jedi poster.  As we all know, the title was changed because Lucas felt that Jedi would not seek revenge.  The poster’s design is simple, gritty, but gets the point across that Luke and Vader will duel.  You can clearly see that the pose is similar in the Return & Revenge posters of Luke fighting Vader.  And as was pointed out in the Revenge poster, the sabers are the wrong colors for the characters.  Struzan admits that he just chose what looked pretty to him, not knowing what the sabers would actually be colored.  That’s a minor detail though.  


Drew StruzanDrew StruzanDrew Struzan

And of course, we have the Prequel posters, all created by Drew Struzan.  They all have a similar feel in style to the Special Edition posters, but are distinctive in their overall layout, color, and design. And also, they aren’t a true tryptic like the OT Special Edition posters. But for the first time, these were the official posters that were used throughout the world on every scrap of advertising and merchandise, at least where poster art is concerned.


You’re probably wondering why I’m showing all of these posters. It’s not just for nostalgia, even though I’m sure the images conjure up some nostalgic thoughts for just about everyone in some form or another.  I’m showing these images to showcase the variety of art that has been created for this beloved franchise over the last thirty-eight years, and all of the elements of inspiration they provide. True, Struzan has created quite a bit of the posters that we know and love of Star Wars.  And while no one will argue that he is one of the best in the industry and his medium of choice, he is not the only artist out there worthy of creating Star Wars posters.  No disrespect to Mr. Struzan, he is highly revered and admired among the artist community, as he should be.


Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens-Official-Poster (Bryan Morton)So now we look at the new poster for The Force Awakens, with art direction by Bryan Morton. I can see clearly that it draws on so much of what’s already been done in the past by the artists previously mentioned.  I see this new poster as a homage to what has come before it, and trying to keep that same tone while expanding on the concepts for the future.  And yes… while it may be Photoshop – which people think is something that only takes a few clicks of a mouse (they’re WRONG!); so many people are failing to see what the poster is showing.  No, it may not be hand-painted.  And I know, I know, I know… For several traditional artists out there, the fact that it was created on a computer is sacrilege.   But if you can’t see the technical skill that it requires to actually use Photoshop, and use it well, then I’m not sure you’re really going to understand or see what I’m talking about.  But maybe, if you try really hard, you’ll get it. 😛  


Princess-Leia-behind-the-scenes-starwars17I can’t tell you how many times, being a digital artist, I’ve heard that my art isn’t “real” art, because it’s not tangible.  (Grrr)  Yes, those comments did sting a little bit at first, but over time you become numb to it and learn to ignore it… mostly.  Working with these programs and software I have learned one very important thing… regardless of the tool, the amount of work is the same.  Some people don’t believe that, while other people who are trying digital art for the first time are slowly realizing that there is a steep learning curve for Photoshop and other digital art software.
It’s not for wusses, haha. I kid, I kid!  Seriously though, it’s tough, and you shouldn’t knock it til you try it yourself.


han-solo-confused-5-star-wars-fan-theories-that-make-a-surprising-amount-of-sense-jpeg-240095Anyhow, I’ve seen many artists complaining about the layout and design of the poster, saying that there’s “no awe”, “it’s uninspired”, and “too busy”. And also that the studios have gotten their way with a “soul-less, committee-driven, photoshopped poster” instead of allowing a true artist to paint it by hand.  And let me stop you right there… 

Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens-Official-Poster (Bryan Morton)Look at this poster, and I mean really LOOK at it.  Look at the details that are there.  Yes, it may be photographs of the actors/characters in a collage of sorts, but the details that we look for in a Star Wars poster are there, including the ‘mountain of heads’ as Lucas so lovingly refers to Struzan’s Special Edition and Prequel poster layouts. 
Overall, I like this poster design.  It has some symmetry that perhaps previous posters were lacking.  You see the Millennium Falcon, TIE Fighters, and Star Destroyers to the right, and Xwings with explosions on the left. The angle of the Falcon and Xwings are almost mirrored to create that balance.  star-wars-posters-TFA (Bryan Morton)Then we move down to Captain Phasma in the bottom center with the troopers flanking her on either side along the bottom, continuing the balance.  The center is Han and Leia, Chewie, Poe (pilot), BB-8, R2D2, C3PO, and a little alien guy I’m not sure about yet.   But the three largest characters are the new ones.  Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren.  They are letting us know right away that these are the main characters that the focus of the film is on.  And we already know that Kylo Ren is the new bad guy, so it makes sense to have him dominate the top and left side of the poster; just as Vader has been depicted in other posters from the past.  What appears to be a new Death Star, although at this time it’s unclear if that’s what it really is, helps to balance and round out the overall concept.  I also like the contrast between the yellows, oranges, and reds and the purples and blues, with a hint of green from the TIE blasters.  My assessment of this concept and layout is that they’ve pulled it off quite well… even if it is “photoshopped.”  😉

FORCE-AWAKENS-2700-x-4000 (Bryan Morton)Also I noticed something in this poster that most ‘Photoshopped’ posters don’t have, it has 
texture!  This adds a bit more to the image, in my view.  It doesn’t look as polished as the typical photo-manipulations and compilations (*cough*marvel*cough*).  I see that extra texture, layout, and lens flare as a little nod to Struzan, in addition to some of the other poster artists over the years.  They aren’t trying to redesign the entire look and feel of what a Star Wars poster is, they’re merely using different methods to achieve a similar result for the new generation of fans to continue the saga.


So in closing… No one is saying that you have to love everything Star Wars.  But if you actually look at the poster, and go back and look at and compare it to the ones that have come before it, you can see the how it fits with this new portion of Star Wars.  But only if you want to see it. And if you wish  to keep on bashing someone’s hard work, then keep on bashing.  Just don’t get upset when someone critiques your work that harshly in the future.


Jenn DePaola - Geek girl, Artist & Wife. :)

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