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History in Objects: Early Star Wars Logo T-Shirt

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Following the thread of the iconic promotional tee

“History in Objects” is a continuing series exploring Lucasfilm’s legacy stretching from our founding in 1971 to today. Through objects both rare and commonplace, the company’s past, present, and future are brought to life.

The iconic Star Wars triangular logo, which many older fans may recognize as one of the earliest images associated with the first film, has become something of an all-encompassing symbol for the Star Wars saga, featuring a lone heroic figure standing before a fiery red planet with lightsaber raised, a brilliant star burning above.

The first glimpse most people got of the logo was probably at the July, 1976 San Diego Comic-Con, where Lucasfilm’s Vice President of Advertising, Publicity, Promotion & Merchandising Charles Lippincott, accompanied by Marvel Comics Star Wars illustrator Howard Chaykin and writer Roy Thomas, all wore t-shirts emblazoned with the artwork and title for the first major Star Wars panel presentation.

The illustrated artwork of the figure and planet was completed by Star Wars production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie in mid-June 1975 as a symbol to represent the production on film cans, scripts, stationery, and other items associated with the film.

“George [Lucas] had one for American Graffiti, and wanted one for Star Wars,” McQuarrie told the Official Star Wars Fan Club newsletter in February, 1978. “It was done while we were working on the costumes. This was how we first pictured Han Solo. It could be a sort of Luke [Skywalker] character, but I think it’s more like Han. Anyway, later George decided that Han Solo should be a more relaxed character, and his costume was changed. But this [artwork] was designed before the change.”

The illustration first appeared on decals with the film’s original title — “The Star Wars” — at its base, as can be seen in several behind-the-scenes photos of movie cameras on location for the 1976 shoot. When the title was subsequently shortened to Star Wars, Lippincott took the opportunity to have a new title logotype designed, this one by Los Angeles-based graphic designer and friend, John Van Hamersveld. Van Hamersveld had designed the iconic poster for the surfing film Endless Summer in 1965, and was hired by Lippincott to do a poster for 1971’s Get Carter when he worked at MGM. The new logotype, which pre-dates the more well-known version used today, could be found on the company stationary, production patches, a 1976 poster, and the promotional t-shirts used at Comic-Con and other early conventions.

The t-shirts, which were a light canary-yellow polyester because the Roach-brand dye-transfer graphics at the time couldn’t adhere to cotton, were reportedly hot to wear, especially in a convention hall setting. Nevertheless, representatives of the Star Wars production – which later included Mark Hamill at the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention in September – would all don the now iconic triangle logo t-shirt, heralding the Star Wars saga’s first foray into fandom.

The artwork and title treatment still endure to this day, echoing what the 1978 fan club newsletter understood early-on: “Perhaps more than any other piece of artwork,” it reads, “this design has come to mean Star Wars.”

Many thanks to the late Charles Lippincott, John Van Hamersveld, and John Scoleri for providing additional information for this article.

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