Saturday, May 25, 2013

Anatomy of a Logo: Star Wars

The film, Star Wars, premiered on May 25, 1977. Today, on its 36th anniversary, I’m examining the evolution of the film’s logo. 

During the film’s pre-production, a decal (below) was produced. In the first Official Star Wars Fan Club newsletter, reprinted in the Star Wars Scrapbook (Chronicle Books, 1991), there was an explanation about the decal by Ralph McQuarrie, who did the art:

...“It was done as a symbol for the film—to go on film cans and letters. George [Lucas] had had one for American Graffiti, and wanted one for Star Wars.” 

...“It was done while we were working on costumes,” said McQuarrie. “This was how we first pictured Han Solo. It could be a sort of Luke character, but I think it’s more like Han. Anyway, George decided that Han Solo should be a more relaxed character, and his costume was changed. But this decal was designed before the change.”

At the time the original title was The Star Wars. To my eye, the font on the decal is Futura Display. Below is a detail from a page in the Photo-Lettering’s One Line Manual of Styles with samples of Furtura Display and Futura Display Open. The letter “T” was modified to close the gap with the “H” and “A”.

On the corporate letterhead, the film title dropped the article and a new logo had been created. In the Star Wars Scrapbook, it was revealed that Joe Johnston did the title lettering which was based on the Precis font family. (Thanks to eagle-eyed Ferran Delgado for finding the font.)

1976 San Diego Comic Con; the text credits Joe Johnston for the lettering

From the book, The Art of Star Wars (Ballantine Books, 1979), are some of McQuarrie’s concepts for the film poster with the Johnston logo.

Art by Howard Chaykin

In December 1976, a novelization of Lucas’s screenplay, ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster, was published by Ballantine Books. The cover art was by McQuarrie and the cover fonts are from the Helvetica family.

A full-page advertisement for Del Rey books appeared in Starlog #7, August 1977. Included was the Star Wars novel with a photograph on the cover. The book with this cover was not published. In place of the photograph would be an illustration with a logo, which I have included.

As mentioned earlier, the original title was The Star Wars. Below is a storyboard panel, by Alex Tavoularis, of the opening crawl reproduced in The Art of Star Wars.

Lucas referred to the crawl used in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials. The same crawl was used in The Green Hornet serial.

Universal Pictures, 1936

Universal Pictures, 1940

Dan Perri designed a logo, with a vanishing point, for the opening crawl, but it was not used. Instead, it appeared in print on posters and advertisements.

1977 movie poster

People Weekly, September 4, 1978

The New York Times, March 24, 1985

Lucas turned to Suzi Race to design a new Star Wars logo. She wrote about her involvement in a two-part post on her site: part one and part two. The Star Wars Poster Book (Chronicle Books, 2005) had a short account of her role:

...Though the poster contained no painted imagery, it did introduce a new logo to the campaign, one that had been designed originally for the cover of a Fox brochure sent to theater owners….Suzy Rice, who had just been hired as an art director, remembers the job well. She recalls that the design directive given by Lucas was that the logo should look “very fascist.”

“I’d been reading a book the night before the meeting with George Lucas,” she says, “a book about German type design and the historical origins of some of the popular typefaces used today—how they developed into what we see and use in the present.” After Lucas described the kind of visual element he was seeking, “I returned to the office and used what I reckoned to be the most ‘fascist’ typeface I could think of: Helvetica Black.”

Inspired by the typeface, Rice developed a hand-drawn logo that translated well to the poster campaign, and ultimately to the movie itself. “I did have the screen in mind when I drew the logo originally,” explains Rice, who “stacked and squared” the words to better fit the brochure cover. It was an aesthetic choice that has lasted nearly three decades.

The now-familiar “S” ligature extensions that Rice drew were modified a bit after Lucas “remarked that it read like ‘Tar Wars,’” says Rice. “He asked me to make some revisions on the leading and concluding ‘S’”

Brochure cover with Rice’s logo

Detail from the brochure

Mylar poster with Rice’s logo

A caption in The Star Wars Poster Book explained how Johnston revised the Rice logo:

The second version of the Advance poster on regular paper features the standardized “W” used today. The modification was made by ILM conceptual artist Joe Johnston after it was decided that the original didn’t work well in the pan shot that was initially planned for the opening credits.

Poster with Johnston’s logo revisions

Above are the Rice logo (top) and the Johnston revised logo (bottom). Johnston redesigned the “W”, widen the other letters and increased the letter-spacing. His version of the Rice logo was used in the film.

Rice’s original logo was used in a 20th Century Fox brochure promoting its upcoming films in Variety, January 6, 1977. The logo was also used in some consumer magazines and books, which were in production months before the film’s release.

Rolling Stone, June 2, 1977; Rice logo in perspective; advertisement font is Serif Gothic

U.K. edition paperback

Starlog #7, August 1977

Science Fantasy Film Classics, December 1977

Meanwhile, Marvel Comics was preparing their adaptation of Star Wars by writer Roy Thomas and artist Howard Chaykin. Sometime in 1976 or early 1977, letterer Jim Novak was tapped by Stan Lee to  rework the logo. Novak explained how it happened in an interview with David Anthony Kraft in Comics Interview #1, February 1983.

DAK: You’ve been credited as letterer of almost every series Marvel publishes, at one time or another, Jim. What are some of your uncredited works?

Jim Novak: The Spider-Man newspaper strip, various logos such as Power Man & Iron Fist (that’s one I remember doing that I felt proud of). The Star Wars logo has kind of an unusual story behind it. They brought in their logo from the studio and Stan Lee wasn’t crazy about it—the “W” was a little bit different looking and the letters weren’t Marvel-style. So I ended up re-doing it. It was way before the movie even came out. I didn’t even know what Star Wars was, at that point.

DAK: No one had any idea.

Jim: At the same time, we were working on the comic adaptation. I lettered the first issue, and I had no idea what that was about, either. The next thing I knew, the Star Wars logo was being used everywhere, from newspaper ads to some of the promotion and merchandizing materials.

DAK: You did that logo for Marvel and it ended up on all the Star Wars stuff?

Jim: Yeah. It was kind of a surprise to me, because I didn’t give it much thought. I was either working on staff or just there that day. I made a few significant changes, but it was basically their design and I Marvelized it, let’s put it that way.

DAK: Which one do they use now on posters?

Jim: I think it’s my logo. I don’t recall seeing the one they probably spent a couple thousand dollars on.

DAK: And you did yours for...

Jim: Twenty-five dollars. Things have changed since then. Now the financial situation is a lot different….

In the interview, I believe Novak was referring to the Rice logo. In the first Star Wars issue, all the letters are separated and bolder in stroke width. The major change was the design of the letter “W”. In the next issue, the horizontal strokes of the “ST” and “RS” were reconnected (Return of the Ligatures), as Rice had originally designed. That was done, I believe, for trademark reasons.

Splash page from the first issue

Splash page from the second issue

Novak said “...I made a few significant changes, but it was basically their design and I Marvelized it, let’s put it that way.” On closer examination, I compared his logo to the logos on the Ballantine Books mass market paperback and the mylar poster (all below). As you can see, the paperback and poster logos are essentially the same, with the exception of the W and weight of the outline. Someone drew a new “W” to replace the original one by Rice. Apparently, only the “W” was influenced by Novak’s logo. His logo, as far as I can tell, was never used outside of the comic book.

From the Star Wars Scrapbook was this comp of an unused advertising concept with the revised Rice logo.

It’s clear that the revised Rice logo was applied to some merchandising, mainly in publishing.

Dust jacket

The Del Rey dust jacket has two versions of Rice’s logo; artist John Berkey made Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader left-handed. Below are the Science Fiction Book Club edition and its newsletter, Things To Come, which disregarded the logo altogether.

The Del Rey mass-market paperback with Berkey’s art flopped, so Skywalker and Vader are right-handed. Rice’s original and revised logos were used on the cover and inside. The novel was followed by many more books published by Ballantine Books who had the exclusive license.

The Star Wars Sketchbook, Ballantine Books, 1977

The Star Wars Portfolio, Ballantine Books, 1977

Star Wars Blueprints, Ballantine Books, 1977

The Star Wars Iron-on Transfer Book, Ballantine Books, 1977

The Star Wars Album, Ballantine Books, 1977

The 1978 Star Wars Calendar, Ballantine Books, 1977

The 1979 Star Wars CalendarBallantine Books, 1978

The Art Star WarsBallantine Books, 1979

The 1980 Star Wars Poster Art CalendarBallantine Books, 1979

The Rice logo was used in the comic strip and, modified again, for the 20th anniversary release of the Star Wars Special Edition.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate; Sunday page


The film logo was also used in merchandising and promotion.

Souvenir program

Detail of record album cover

Music book

Detail of record album cover

Trading cards


Playbill, December 1977
Advertisement, 1981

The 1980 Star Wars Poster Art Calendar; logo in Superman perspective

Later, the film logo was used as a frame around the logos of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.



In 1998, a Star Wars manga adaptation by HisaoTamaki was published. Currently, Dark Horse has the license to publish the Star Wars comic books.

Poster for the 1978 re-release

MAD Magazine, January 1978

Credit for the Star Wars logo belongs to Suzy Rice. First there was her original design. Second, Joe Johnston revised her logo for the film. And third, there was her original logo with the revised “W”, which can be traced to Jim Novak, whose contribution, although minor, was significant.

The research for this post was made easier by the chronology and treasure trove of images at Star Wars Pre-Release Collectibles. Special thanks to my brother, Allen, for use of his Star Wars collection.

(Next post May 28: Morrie Kuramoto)


  1. This is a fantastic exploration and retrospective for fans and design geeks! Thank you!

  2. wow. when you read the words "star wars" in that design as many times as they are posted here, the words lose all meaning! great research. a fun educational article.

    1. Yes, I was thinking the same thing. "Star Wars" just became letters and sounds to me after that.

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  4. Anther variant as a header with extrusion:

  5. Great research job, congrats, Jay!

    The Star Wars fan club used Dan Perri's version:
    And the Crazy mag parodied it:

    1. Thank you and thanks for the additional links.

  6. The font that inspired Joe Johnston's logo was Precis Slim:

    1. Thanks for finding the font. You are credited in the post.

  7. Wonderful article. So much work has gone into this. Real gem of an article. Thoroughly enjoyed it thank you! :)

    Just for the benefit of future readers, you might want to correct a couple of typos that tripped me up as I read:

    'The Star Wars logo has kind of an unusual story *begins* it.'


    'The Del Rey mass-market paperback with Berkey’s art *flopped*, so Skywalker and Vader are right-handed.'

    1. Thanks for pointing out the typo "begins" which" I corrected to "behind". For the few decades I've been a graphic designer, the term "flopped" is quite common. I've rarely heard anyone say "flipped".

    2. I've always used flopped meaning a horizontal, side to side movement of the image Flipped is a vertical movement of the image (head over heels). Great post, by the way!!!

  8. Starting with the "The Star Wars Sketchbook, Ballantine Books, 1977" and ending with "The 1980 Star Wars Poster Art Calendar, Ballantine Books, 1979" could anyone tell me the name of the blocked font used for the text? I've been looking for it for a while.

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  10. Here's another variation, from the Making of Star Wars VHS tape.

  11. Coolness...What's sad is that I think I once owned pretty much all of those things you have listed (Including the program magazine from the theater)...Sigh...If only any of us had known...

    ...Great job.

  12. I love all these images, so many I've never seen. Great article too!

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  14. What a well researched project! So much work has gone into this.... An epic read/feast for the Star Wars fan eyes!

  15. Wonderful trip down memory lane. I recall many of these early logos, titles, products and ads. How soon we forget!

  16. As a graphic design professional and a life long fan of Star Wars this was a very impressive and incredible study. Really this is very well done! I'm embarrassed to admit that in my mind The Star Wars logo hasn't changed much since the one in the 1977 version of the movie. But obviously I've idealized this icon of my childhood. I will not be able to look at that logo the same way again without noting the leading, shape of the "W" as it meets the baseline and thinking in the back of my mind that George Lucas ask for it to look very fascist.

  17. Interesting that the artist for the 1980 calendar image chose to go even further than just putting a Superman perspective on the logo and presented the demure Leia as a super-heroine with associated skimpier costume. Oh, and nice boots.

  18. Great post, I've linked to it from my own blog

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  21. Great research, most of these I have never seen, I love the progression!

  22. Having been one to see this movie the day it opened in theaters (my son is sooo envious), and then subsequently the next 5 days in a row… your dissertation and research are quite a feat within itself. Thanks so much for the post. The ‘Force’ is definitely with you, sir.!

  23. Wow it's really nice...Beautiful layout. Excellent work you did. I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. Keep sharing more.

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  28. Hi Alex,
    Great blog. It was great to reminisce designing for Ballantine Books. Exciting and fun especially the SW stuff.
    Hope you and yours are well.

  29. George Lucas is a big fan of Planet of the Apes.... look at the Planet of the Apes logo... ;)

  30. Very nice, beautiful, informative. Had not seen the "star wars t-shirt decal" book, wow. I was one of thousands of kids walking around with star wars decal t-shirts...back in the day. :)
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  33. Star War is my all time favorite movie and its really nice to read about it. Thanks for this interesting post. By the way I really didn't see "star wars t-shirt decal" book. I would love to see that.

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  51. The first star wars poster was like james bond poster. but day by day the poster being a brand. thanks for share those wonderful memory.