Ed Driscoll

A Long Time Ago, in a Graphic Design House Far, Far Away...


The typographic blog Tenth Letter of the Alphabet explores the “Anatomy of a Logo: Star Wars” in rather complete detail; fans of the original movie will see many familiar icons from those heady days in 1977 when Star Wars conquered Hollywood due to its freshness, sense of kinetic energy, and brilliant production design. And graphic design: the Tenth Letter of the Alphabet post begins with the initial attempts by George Lucas and company to envision a logo for the original Star Wars (or as it was first known, “The Star Wars”), before finally hitting upon the logo that’s been associated with the film for 36 years now. This passage describing how a graphic artist finally captured Lucas’ intent certainly has a sense of deja vu about it for me:

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.”

I sense something here. A presence I’ve not felt since 2010.  I hadn’t known of Lucas’ intent for his franchise’s logo when I reviewed the documentary titled Helvetica that year:

In a way, Helvetica is the font of liberal fascism; it’s certainly the font of corporatism. To this day, it’s on the side of every one of the airplanes owned by American Airlines, a private corporation. But it’s also the font of the New York Subway system, both the work of Italian designer Massimo Vignelli, now in his late ‘70s, and interviewed in the Helvetica film. And since Amtrak’s inception via Congress and President Nixon in 1971, the typeface on sides of its cars and locomotives is Helvetica as well. Helvetica symbolizes order and authority, but to borrow from one of the concluding memes of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, it’s the softer authoritarian nanny state of Brave New World, not the oppressiveness militarism of 1984. And it’s the font of IRS’s tax forms:

But one of the dangers of Starting from Zero is staying there permanently. In addition to the aforementioned institutions, public and private, the Helvetica film also documents designers who are still using (albeit often ironically) a 50 year old font, in much the same way that architects, interior designers and commercial photographers are still using Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Chair 80 years after Mies designed it. The Bauhaus banished the past, but in a sense, they freeze-dried the future as well.

Like Helvetica, it’s a good thing their best efforts still hold up pretty well. “Timeless” Modernism would look pretty antiquated, otherwise.

From my May 2010 post titled “Liberal Fascism: The Font.”

Star Wars ends with the Rebels, whom George Lucas told interviewers he had modeled after Communist North Vietnam, tromping through a giant hall to pick up their awards. It’s a scene whose composition was straight out of Triumph of the Will. Given all that, and the similarities that exist back in the real world between national socialism and international socialism, perhaps his notion that his film’s logo should look “very fascist” is more appropriate than even Lucas knew at the time.

(Via James Lileks.)