In this age of horrific Photoshopped movie posters (I'm looking at you, Marvel, and this Spider-Man: Homecoming hack job), the 40th anniversary of Star Wars is a perfect time to admire the legendary posters the franchise spawned.
No movie franchise has ever had the kind of poster game Star Wars has displayed the past four decades. Much of that credit rightly goes to George Lucas, who grew up a fan not just of 1940s adventure serials but of the posters that advertised those films (you see that influence in at least one well-known Star Wars poster in our list below). Pardon the humblebrag, but this writer has been fortunate enough to visit Skywalker Ranch, and the walls are adorned with gorgeous (and, no doubt, incredibly valuable) original movie posters of various genres and countries of origin. The guy appreciates a well-designed movie poster, and being a collector with deep, DEEP pockets, he could indulge his collecting whims.
More importantly, as a devotee of narrative art, Lucas believed in the power of a unique image created by artists such as Ralph McQuarrie, the Hildebrandt Brothers, Tom Jung ... and of course, Drew Struzan, who is probably as responsible as anyone for holding off the demise of original painted movie poster art as long as possible. He was using Struzan to create original poster designs for the Special Edition releases in the late '90s and the posters for the prequels in the early aughts at a time when Hollywood marketing departments had already decided to use oversized star photos and collages to fill theater lobbies.
We've rounded up a collection of movie posters covering the entirety of the Star Wars saga for your enjoyment. Something else to note: Artistic license was a much more prevalent concept in movie poster design in the pre-Internet age. Even a famously controlling entity like Lucasfilm couldn't keep a tight grip on some of the posters created for international markets. That's a win for fans, because there are some truly outrageous and spectacular Star Wars posters that were only on display outside the U.S. So sit back and ogle the amazing posters that have spread the gospel of Star Wars across the galaxy (or the world, anyway) for 40 years. And don't forget to hit the comments and let us know which Star Wars poster you like best!
Star Wars Corp. Poster 1
We'll start with the very first Star Wars poster ever created. Officially known as "Star Wars Corp. Poster 1," this classic poster is better known to fans as "The Chaykin." It's named for artist Howard Chaykin, who was tasked by Lucas to draw the poster. Chaykin was already on board to do the proposed Marvel Comics adaptation, so it made sense he would also handle the art duties on this poster. This poster made its debut at the 1976 San Diego Comic Con, where Lucas first banged the drum for his fledgling space opera. Originally sold for $1.75, reports are that less than a thousand were actually printed. Absurdly rare now, it's next to impossible to find a well-preserved copy for less than $3K.
Star Wars Style A Poster
If this isn't the most famous Star Wars poster, then it's certainly in the Top Two. The instantly iconic image was on display int American theaters for most of 1977 and even well into 1978 as the movie became a box office phenom. This poster by Tom Jung gets so much right, from the looming spectre of Darth Vader to the Death Star in the background, and C-3PO and R2-D2 just to the side of Luke. Sure, young Skywalker is a bit too buff and looks more of a fit for a Frank Frazetta cover (the whole poster is heavily influenced by Frazetta), but look at Princess Leia holding the blaster. So what if her dress and manner of posing isn't anywhere close to how she is in the film? The poster defines her fierceness! And up top, the words, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ..." It's no wonder this poster has been reprinted countless times. Funny thing is, Lucas wasn't crazy with the dark, muted color so he wanted it re-done in time for the film's release. Which leads us to ...
Star Wars Style B poster
... this poster by the Hildebrandt Brothers, Tim and Greg. They had 36 hours to do a brighter, more colorful take on Jung's design. They got it done, but in their original painting, they left out the droids. They had to be added in before the poster was printed and distributed (Fun Fact: after all that scrambling, the poster was only distributed to theaters in the UK). This image has adorned countless iron-on T-shirts and other merchandise, and it's easy to see why. The bright blue color makes even Vader's menacing appearance more ... approachable. Luke is still too jacked IMHO, but Leia has a bit less sex appeal than in the Style A poster. The bright lighting on our two main characters gives it a brighter Fantasy Adventure vibe, as well. But the Hildebrandts also brought in some background detail, like Tatooine and its rugged terrain and the Skywalker farm. Oh, and am I the only one convinced that the Galaga video game's ships were directly swiped from TIE Fighters?
Star Wars Style D poster
The 'Circus' poster, as it's known, was notable for many reasons. One being that it was the first Star Wars poster Drew Struzan worked on. This one he designed with Charlie White. Two, it was the first time Jawas made a poster. Disgusting creatures, I know, but they deserve their moment in the spotlight! The brilliant aesthetic of this poster came about like many moments of genius do: by way of sheer time-challenged panic. Struzan and White had designed an amazing poster -- and even were able to do their own font for the title -- but they forgot to leave space for any text. So White came up with the idea to make the poster seem like it was tacked on to another poster on the wall. The 'tear' would allow space for the text, and the extra space gave them the ability to add Obi-Wan Kenobi. The result is a poster that looks like it would fit right into the '40s movie serials era George Lucas loved so much as a kid. In fact, he liked this poster so much it's believed the original art resides in his home.
Happy Birthday Style poster
One of the rarest of the original 1970s U.S.-issued Star Wars movie posters, simply because it was created and sent to those theaters still playing the movie a year after its release. For that reason, the print run is thought to have been only 500, with only about 250-280 actually sent out. This poster is a personal favorite of mine because at that point I was seven years old and Star Wars action figures were an integral part of my daily existence. I love how all the main character figures are here, including double-telescoping lightsaber Luke! But how they left off the vinyl-caped Jawa as the cake topper is an oversight I can't fathom.
Guerre Stellari Italian release
We've shown you the domestic posters; now it's time to venture overseas to view how the rest of the world was introduced to The Force. This poster for the Italian release of Star Wars was done by artist Michelangelo Papuzza, who made some interesting creative choices. First, he's one of the few artists in any country who decided to bury Vader in the background; he's the least prominent character in the image. Second, he adds Chewbacca, which is great. But he leaves out Han Solo, which is perplexing to say the least. His Princess Leia is gorgeous however, and is it just me or does she look a lot like Natalie Portman? The sharp colors and comic book-style art of this poster have only been enhanced by time and nostalgia.
1979 Hungarian poster
Now we start getting into some really interesting poster designs that really underscore what a different time the late '70s were for creative IP. This poster from Hungary shows Darth Vader with a very different mask than his famous grill. His lightsaber is obviously a different color as well, and ... what's up with the floating R2-D2 head? And I have zero clue about that sword-wielding dragon standing behind Vader, but I hope Hasbro gets to work on his action figure, stat!
Polish Star Wars poster
This might be my favorite of the international posters. This is what I imagine the poster for Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation of Star Wars would look like. Luke resembles an extra from Pirates of Penzance, and the whole 'standing on a cloud' thing ... WOW. And hey, there's a floating Obi-Wan head at the bottom. And Vader popping through the bottom of the Death Star, and ...
Who knew Threepio was so beloved in Poland? Apparently, Polish moviegoers love 'Goldenrod' because their country is believed to be the only country where Threepio got his very own movie poster! I'm not sure why the artist went for the ''droid in snow' look, but this one's a keeper.
The Empire Strike Back 1982 Re-Release Half Sheet
The 'Gone With the Wind' style A poster for Empire is the one everyone points to as their favorite from the sequel, but for my money the best Empire poster didn't come out until the 1982 re-release. It's got everything you want in a Star Wars poster: action, the main characters and an absolutely awesome image of Vader. Notice the Ralph McQuarrie look our favorite Sith Lord has as he towers over our heroes. And there's Lando and Yoda and AT-AT's with the faded color design lending a nice contrast to the dark blue background.
The Empire Strikes Back Japan poster
I'm not usually a fan of photo-montage Star Wars posters, but I've always liked this one for the details it includes. Yes, we get Han and Leia kissing, Luke, Lando, Chewie, et al. But we also get Boba Fett and his fellow bounty hunter IG-88. There's also a Tauntaun sighting. And check out Cloud City in the background. Looks like whoever designed this poster at least skimmed the novelization of Empire before getting to work.
Hungarian The Empire Strikes Back poster
Aside from the Emperor's scientists, no one experimented more on Darth Vader than Hungarian movie poster artists. While the body design is more or less accurate, Anakin Skywalker gets another funky headpiece for this Empire poster. I like the dual-color lightsaber though. Again, the wild designs on Vader and the Imperial troops with them are BEGGING for action figures. C'mon Hasbro, TAKE MY MONEY!
Turkish The Empire Strikes Back Poster
This release from Turkey is almost an exact replica of the design of the Style B Empire poster with the overpowering Vader image. A few key differences: this version has Yoda replacing Lando on the bottom right, and the droids are used here to bracket the title at the bottom. The general art style is harsher for this poster as well, but it's extremely effective at capturing the power of the Dark Side.
Revenge of the Jedi advance poster
This poster was one of the Holy Grails for Star Wars collectors in the '80s. Before the dark times, before eBay. We know Lucas had it pulled after he changed the title to Return of the Jedi, but what some people forget is that this version, with the 'Coming May 25, 1983' date at the bottom, was the second one printed. The earlier version printed does not have the date on it. Years later, it's still incredibly hard to find ... which is why there are tons of bootlegs. Be careful out there!
Yugoslavia Return of the Jedi poster
This Yugoslavian take on the ROTJ poster is jam-packed with detail, but it absolutely works. I like how the poster is divided between the Battle of Endor moments and the escape from Jabba's palace. Also, we see Salacious Crumb, which makes me happy.
Russian Star Wars poster
Here comes another wacky abstract Star Wars poster! I expect that whoever designed this poster never saw any of the Star Wars movies or has no idea what any of the key characters look like. But that person created one incredible movie poster. I'm not sure if the central figure is some kind of monolithic creature or a mask, but I want to see whatever movie this poster is selling. Ultimately, that's the best measure of a poster's effectiveness, isn't it?
Episode I teaser poster
Speaking of posters selling movies, I remember the very first time I saw the advance poster for Episode I. It was in a movie theater in Atlanta, and while I was already planning to wait in a crazy long line to see that movie, this poster had me chomping at the bit. The sight of a young boy on Tatooine walking with the shadow of Vader behind him was incredibly powerful. It had me excited to see what next great chapter in the Star Wars saga was coming. And then I saw The Phantom Menace ...
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith one-sheet
I'm not one of those fans who hates the prequels. In fact, I really like Revenge of the Sith and become helpless before its lava-filled power every time I come across it on television. And the final chapter in the prequels also delivered the best of the Struzan prequel posters. This is an absolute masterpiece in layout and character detail. From the central image of Anakin and Obi-Wan locked in battle to Yoda in mid-leap and Mace Windu ready to fight, the symmetry in this poster is wondrous. And the image of Vader rising in the background provides the exclamation point. This was Struzan's final poster for the Star Wars franchise, and the master went out on a high note.