'Star Wars' Poster Artist Talks About His Unchosen Design 35 Years Later

'Star Wars' Poster Artist Talks About His Unchosen Design 35 Years Later

May 25, 2012

I'll always feel a special connection to Star Wars, not just because it was the first movie I ever saw publicly or because we'll always be the same age (well, I'm technically a couple months older). My link actually goes back a little further, to when I was still in the womb and my dad was working on the movie poster. Or maybe I should say a poster, since it was not selected as the official one-sheet. 

In fact, it's never really been employed in its intended role. The painting has been featured in the Art of Star Wars book and on a Star Wars Galaxy trading card from Topps, and Zazzle.com recently sold t-shirts with the artwork (sadly I didn't buy one before they disappeared from the site), but it's never been a well-known design like the iconic works done by Tom Jung, Tom Chantrell, Drew Struzan and others. 

On the occasion of the movie's 35th anniversary, I called up my dad, whose name is Jim Campbell (but not the one with a Wookieepedia page), to talk about the painting and the process of its commission. For some reason we hadn't ever talked about much about it. When I was a kid he did tell me that he never expected it to be as good or as successful as it was, and now he specifies that it was primarily the dialogue that "didn't do anything for me." 

He was one of many illustrators around the country hired for the gig. The trading card notes it was an unusually large crop of artists commissioned for such a job, and many of them were big deals in the industry, which my dad says was one sign he could tell it was going to be a big, well-hyped movie. "They just had a lot of money to spend," he says.

Mostly he signed on as a fan of science fiction, though he'd never really done a movie poster before. The studio sent him part of the script and some stills that he thought looked very good, but he received very little art direction and came up with the design on his own. Apparently my dad didn't read the whole script so wasn't aware of how significant Darth Vader is to the plot. "I almost didn't include him," he says. "He's just stuck over there in the corner."

As for its reception, he claims, "they liked it," but he had to make a few changes here and there. He can't recall the specifics. He admits they shouldn't have let him paint the Star Wars logo, because he wasn't a graphic designer and he now doesn't think it looks right. It should have been left out of the artwork and added later, he says. He doesn't think he found out his poster was not selected until he began seeing the real marketing show up in theaters.

Since then, he believes he was paid a couple more times because of additional licensing -- one of which was probably for the book and the other likely for the trading cards. But he doesn't expect the original art work, which was done with colored pencil, oil paint and a lot of turpentine (a favored technique at the time was to pull off the paint more than apply it), to have survived all these decades. For starters, the painting included some glued-on squares and other multimedia design-y things around the composition frame, which he presumes have all peeled off.

If so, that's too bad, because I was hoping to buy it back from George Lucas when I finally got rich. Oh well. I'll at least make sure to get a print or a t-shirt if another online store offers them in the future.

Categories: Movie Posters
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