The History of the Star Wars Logo
Star Wars is a global pop-culture phenomenon dating back forty-five years as of 2021.
From Gen X to Gen Z, this space opera film franchise has impacted over four decades of pop culture with its timeless story.
No matter who you are, I can almost guarantee that you've heard of Star Wars.
Maybe not everyone has seen the movies, but Star Wars is so embedded in western culture that most people are somewhat familiar with George Lucas's science fiction world. The anthology films gave birth to many associated creative projects and merchandise, from comic books to theme parks, a manga adaptation, novelizations, and more.
In this article, we'll take a closer examination of the famous film logo, breaking down each Star Wars movie from the story's historical origins to standalone spin-offs. We'll end with some takeaway design tips we've learned from studying the evolution of the logo.
A Brief History of Star Wars
A long time ago, in Hollywood, George Lucas changed pop culture forever with a fictional universe that has a history so rich and detailed; it almost feels part of real-world history.
Lucas proved his skills as a director with the success of the 1973 Universal Pictures film American Graffiti, which earned him the backing of 20th Century Fox for the first Star Wars film. He began work on it in 1974.
The original title was “The Star Wars.” It was only later changed to “Star Wars.” The original version of the film did not include the episode number (IV) or the subtitle (A New Hope), those were added when Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, was released.
Lucas was influenced by Frank Herbert’s Dune books, the Flash Gordon Serials, and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with A Thousand Faces. He developed one of the most gripping storylines in cinema history, embedded in a quintessential plot: The battle between good and evil, with the thrilling “Luke, I am your father,” twist that almost everyone in western culture is familiar with.
The nine-film-long space opera (aka the Skywalker Saga) tells an unusual story “a long time ago, in a galaxy far away,” where a galactic civil war is raging.
The Rebel Alliance is trying to overthrow the Galactic Empire that has the galaxy in its iron grasp, so that the galaxy can return to a state of peace, ruled by good. That's the rundown in its most basic form. In Lucas’s fictional galaxy, humans, aliens, and robots coexist and travel between planets by jumping between them at lightspeed.
The galaxy is tied together by an invisible energetic force (aka “the Force”) that binds everything together. The power of the Force can be harnessed by living beings and used for both good and evil. There is so much more to learn about the plot, characters, and factions in Star Wars, so you'll have to dig into the treasure trove of information online to learn more about the saga.
From the very first film, Lucas pushed the boundaries of special effects.
He and the artists and designers in the Industrial Light and Magic studio (ILM) drove the entire film industry forward in the realm of special effects to capture this imaginative fantasy world, with the help of detailed conceptual storyboards created by Alex Tavoularis.
Star Wars was a huge success in the creative and merchandising industries, and a plethora of products were created to support the franchise. Consumer magazines were overflowing with Star Wars content, and theater owners were more excited than ever.
In 1977, a comic adaptation was launched by Marvel, which was originally an adaptation of the original film illustrated by Howard Chaykin and written by Roy Thomas (with a special introduction written by Stan Lee) and went on to include adaptations of the rest of the first trilogy.
In 1979, a Star Wars comic strip started running in the Daily Strips and Sunday Strips.
In 1998, Lego created a 20th anniversary release commemorating star wars in lego collectibles, and throughout the 80's MAD Magazine entertained large audiences with caricature illustrations inspired by Star Wars (if you're into character design and caricature, these might be worth you checking out). There is still a massive and vibrant collectors' market for Star Wars memorabilia, including pricey comics still in unused condition.
Star Wars Logos Throughout Time
Any graphic designer out there will understand the challenge of creating a logo from a long title, especially one as long as “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace."
To combine the visual element and all the necessary textual information, including episode titles, in an exciting way would be a difficult challenge.
This logo has undergone a lot of changes. With three trilogies, some complicated titles, and decades between releases, the Star Wars film logo has evolved significantly. Below, we’ll take a look at each film logo and observe its evolution over time.
This is the very first Star Wars logo created during the first months of production.
The costumes and looks of the characters were still being finalized while concept artist Ralph McQuarrie’s team was developing logo ideas. McQuarrie was the artist who helped develop the cinematic look and feel of Star Wars.
The character in the logo was initially intended to be Han Solo, until Solo’s final character design ended up changing. At the time, the film was still being called “The Star Wars.” This logo was commonly seen around the film set as a sticker. When the logo underwent another transition to accommodate a corporate letterhead design, “The” was dropped, and the below, short-lived example was born, which first reflected the actual title of the film.
McQuarrie hired celebrated film and television title sequence designer and typographer Dan Perri to create another logo in 1976, and Perri came up with the design you see below.
Perri also designed the famous opening crawl that provides some backstory before each film, and created the logo to mirror that style, using a vanishing point.
In a Little White Lies interview, Perri reveals that George Lucas’ instruction had been to garner inspiration from thirties and forties serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. It was the 1939 film Union Pacific about the building of the railroad that eventually inspired him.
“Looking down the track with the titles rolling up the track towards the camera—I visualized that in outer space with the titles rolling away from the camera.” - Dan Perri
Perri’s logo was seen in many newspaper ads (such as the Rolling Stone ad below) and an early poster campaign, but by the time Star Wars was released, the official logo had changed again. The opening crawl design stuck, but Lucas was still looking for something a little different to really make those poster logos capture the story of the films and the memories of an audience.
Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
"Make it look fascist,” was George Lucas’ design directive to designer/painter/author/screenwriter Suzy Rice.
This wasn't a reflection of George's personal political beliefs. He had drawn inspiration from many different fascist dictatorships to create his evil Galactic Empire, so he wanted the logo to be striking and intimidating.
Lucas had come to the right person, because Rice had been studying 1930’s German type design for quite some time. She based the design for the initial Star Wars logo on the typography design from Nazi propaganda posters.
She employed these design techniques to develop the famous Star Wars logo that would weave its way into the designs for decades to come. Well—almost. The very final logo is a modification made by Joe Johnston, as seen below.
Rice used chunky letters influenced by German typography and made the logo distinct by stretching out the “S” and connecting each “S” to the “R” and “T.”
This added a flair of movement and adventure. Johnston’s modification stretched out the “S” a little more and slightly flattened the text.
As stated previously, the film's subtitle of "A New Hope" was only added later, so the original designs were only focused on the "Star Wars" part.
Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Empire Strikes Back logo gets a five-star rating from us. What do you think? It’s pretty cool and definitely conveys a sense of adventure!
The design was devised during the film’s marketing as a solution to communicating the name of the sequel to A New Hope.
The Empire Strikes Back became the central text encased by the franchise name “Star Wars.” This officially established Star Wars as a parent title in the visual identity of a film franchise. The closed frame around the poster gives it a sense of completion. It is neatly packaged and looks like a stamp that feels like it says “Star Wars official” on each poster.
The angled text is sleek; it communicates speed and adventure and differentiates the sequel as its own unique film. This version was designed by Ralph McQuarrie, who, as you can see by the hand-drawn logo experimentation below, played with some vastly different concepts before arriving at the final look.
Episode VI - Return Of The Jedi (1983)
Ok, things took an interesting turn here.
They really had something good going with The Empire Strikes Back logo. But, the look of this logo stuck for the prequel trilogy that followed over a decade later. Sure, the Times New Roman font isn’t the most exciting aesthetic choice, but the logo is an effective design solution to a complicated naming convention.
This logo style clarifies the name of the film, and although the lovely, neat, aesthetically satisfying closed border of The Empire Strikes Back is gone, at least there’s somewhat of a border in this version.
Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
A new set of films over a decade later stayed remarkably consistent with the logo of the previous film released fifteen years earlier.
If you compare the two, you’ll notice how the Phantom Menace logo is a little shinier and more contemporary. The main difference is that now the episode name is the main textual attraction. This is another effective design solution to a complicated “prequel” situation.
The first trilogy started in the middle of the story, with episodes four, five, and six (or IV, V, and VI, to be more precise).
Film producers needed to clarify to the audience that although this was the fourth Star Wars film to be released, it was the first chronological episode, going back to the beginning of the story. Highlighting the episode titles helped audiences understand where they were in the story.
It's an interesting case study on the functionality of logo design and how much can be communicated in just one logo. The complicated title is easily understandable in these prequel logos.
Rice’s original star wars design still remained at the top, with a new metallic update that enhances the Sci-Fi aesthetic.
Episode II - Attack Of The Clones (2002)
Almost the same logo design remains for this film, released three years after Phantom Menace.
You’ll also notice consistency in the design of the poster, bearing the same collage look and feel and halos of light emerging from the background.
Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith (2005)
A similar poster design remains, still, and the logo which seems ever so slightly more metallic, most likely thanks to enhanced design technology by this stage.
This poster is slightly more ominous and action-packed than the previous two episodes, communicating a culmination and focus on the dark side in this film.
Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)
Another decade later and 38 years after the first Star Wars release, the logo undergoes another transformation.
But Rice’s design is still very much alive. Borders are gone, episode numbers are gone, and the words “Star Wars” are the main attraction, with the film name in between the words “star wars.” It’s a good, legible design that highlights the franchise name, and although there are no borders or neat lines separating titles, it’s still neatly packaged with the “Star Wars” acting as a frame for the title of the film.
The Force Awakens saw a return of the original yellow from A New Hope. This version of the yellow feels more “sci-fi” than the prequels from the early 2000s, and you’ll notice that it’s become the most recognizable and used in the poster redesign of previous releases.
Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)
The same style of the logo is used two years later for The Last Jedi, but the color has changed to an ominous red.
It’s interesting to observe the symbolic color choice of the final trilogy logos. In The Force Awakens yellow is used for the logo; associated with the light or "good," while red is associated with the dark side, and is used for the logo of The Last Jedi. The color change of the logos works well for differentiating films, as well as communicating something about the themes and tonality of each film.
Episode IX - The Rise Of Skywalker (2019)
The same design is used here, except the color is now blue - again successfully differentiating films.
Blue aligns the focus on the Skywalker lineage, beginning with Anakin Skywalker, whose famously blue lightsaber is passed down to Luke in Episode IV.
Now that we’ve looked at each official Star Wars release, let’s look at the influence of the logo in some spinoffs.
These poster logos are all influenced by the logos from the Skywalker Saga, but each has its own unique flair.
The Clone Wars
This was originally a 2008 film that served as a “backdoor pilot” to the animated TV series created by George Lucas and Dave Filoni, which premiered on Cartoon Network in 2008. It is set in the three years between Episode II: Attack Of The Clones and Episode III: Revenge of The Sith.
The logo used for The Clone Wars combines elements from The Empire Strikes Back and Rice’s original design. The font is consistent with the Star Wars font, while the neat, double-lined closed-border frame around the logo nicely packages it in the same way.
The 2016 Star Wars space opera spinoff film Rogue One was directed by Gareth Edwards and is the first standalone Star Wars film.
The logo for Rogue One more closely resembles the early 2000’s prequels, with the Times New Roman font and gold lettering. The Rogue One logo, however, puts the “A Star Wars Story" phrase at the bottom instead of the top left. The poster design is also reminiscent of the prequels and later releases.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Another standalone release, this 2018 space western film directed by Ron Howard returned to the look and feel of The Empire Strikes Back, with its angled wording, closed frame, and yellow color.
Similarly to Rogue One, the phrase “A Star Wars Story” is placed at the bottom. This placement and phrasing of the franchise name appears to differentiate the standalone films from official Star wars releases.
The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
In 1978 there was an American television special on CBS set in the Star Wars galaxy, starring the same actors from A New Hope.
The logo used for the holiday special was Perri’s vanishing point design.
Star Wars Emblems
Seeing as we’re talking logos, we may as well take a look at some of the fictional emblems that exist within the film.
Each faction has its own logo, and these are observed on costumes and flags throughout the films. Check out the emblems below created by costume designer John Mollo and think about how they use symbolism to represent the values of the faction and how these relate to symbolism we find in real history.
For example, The Galactic Empire—the main antagonist faction of the original story—is a fascist government that wants to establish social control over the entire galaxy. The shapes and colors used for the galactic empire symbolism are reminiscent of fascist symbolism, such as German Nazi and Japanese Tōhōkai symbology.
Bonus Star Wars Design Inspiration
Because we love you, here’s a little extra Star Wars graphic design inspiration.
Below is an example of a storyboard panel by the famous Star Wars concept artist Ralph Mcquarrie.
The above is a first-edition paperback version of the Star Wars novelization, published by Ballantine books, with rather bland Helvetica cover fonts that are somewhat inspired by the logo in color and chunkiness, but the cover art doesn't feature the logo.
This is the dust jacket design for the 1977 novelization published by Ballantine Books; ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster.
Above is a Howard Chaykin illustration for the Marvel Star Wars comic books.
Below is the cover of a Star Wars comic published by Dark Horse, featuring the logo in electric pink.
Above is a panel from the Star Wars comic strip by Russ Manning.
Graphic Design Takeaways
You might just be browsing the history of the Star Wars logos out of curiosity, but if you’re a graphic designer, analyzing these logos from a professional point of view can be extremely beneficial for you.
Star Wars is a renowned brand that had some of the best designers, artists, and marketers in the world on its production team, so it’s safe to learn a thing or two from the branding and identity of this household name.
These are our key takeaways and design tips from studying the Star Wars logo:
- Sometimes clarity has to trump aesthetics. Those Times New Roman prequel logos weren’t nearly as sexy as The Empire Strikes Back, but they worked well for communicating all the necessary information to support the audience’s understanding, which had to take priority. When designing anything, always ask, “what is the most important thing to communicate to the consumer?”
- Design is an iterative and experimental process, and designers need to be very open to change and evolution. Even just observing McQuarrie's experimentation from The Empire Strikes Back, you can see how many tries it took to land at the right thing. You might be way off track in the beginning, but don't let it discourage you.
Your unique experience and interests influence whether you are chosen for projects. This is evident in the example of Suzy Rice, who was able to deliver Lucas's vision for the project based on her knowledge of 1930's German typography.
May the Design Force Be With You
Hopefully, you've learned something, and maybe you're inspired to spend the next 30 or so hours of your life watching all the Star Wars films in chronological order.
And if you're feeling the creative force, why not try a Star Wars-inspired design project? Just download Vectornator today for free, and start designing!
Maybe you can create your own logo for upcoming films, or even illustrate a scene from one of the films, or make your own version of a Star Wars movie poster. It'll be a great design challenge, and if you go for it, we'd love to see! Send us snaps of your work over on our Instagram.
Until next time, Vectornators—may the force be with you.