Star Wars is memorable for many reasons, but the visual spectacle of that galaxy far, far away is perhaps the greatest. From that opening shot of the massive star destroyer in A New Hope, Star Wars has always been a feast for our eyes. But all those film-based visual effects didn’t come from nowhere – they originated as concept art on paper. And Star Wars art hasn’t been limited to developing the movies, as fans have thrown their own artistic talents into creating original works that honor Lucasfilm’s vision.
Let’s take a tour of Star Wars art, and some of the places you can pick some up if you’re interested.
What kinds of Star Wars art exist?
The most revered collection of Star Wars art is the official concept art behind the movies. When George Lucas first conceived of his space fantasy he had a lot of trouble explaining it to Hollywood executives – it was such a unique concept that words alone couldn’t do it justice. I mean, how do you describe a “wookie” to someone who’s never made a space saga before?
Concept art like none other
So Lucas hired artists to capture his vision in pictures, and no-one created more of the iconic look of the classic Star Wars than Ralph McQuarrie. Nearly fifty years later, McQuarrie’s artwork is revered by Star Wars fans and it offers a fascinating glimpse into the early ideas that would become the Original Trilogy.
Commercial art for the masses
But while concept art may be considered the “highest” form of Star Wars art, the most well-known is the artwork featured in the many books, posters, games and online resources officially authorized by Lucasfilm.
Beautiful books featuring beloved vehicles, droids and characters are always a popular gift for the Star Wars fan in your family, and all of that artwork is created to purpose. Although inspired by the imagery of the films and TV shows, it’s unique and adds a new dimension to viewing Star Wars.
Community art BY the masses
And finally, there’s the universe of Star Wars art not officially sanctioned by Lucasfilm but just created by fans and enthusiasts eager to explore the galaxy in their own way. It’s a clear sign that a franchise has reached cult status when you can find entire websites devoted to amateur art supporting it.
This sort of art ranges in quality from the level of a preschooler to da Vinci himself, encompassing all styles from anime to high fantasy to comics to gritty realism.
Star Wars art that could have been
One of the fascinating aspects of Star Wars concept art is the progression of ideas as Lucas, McQuarrie and others explored concepts for this character, or that scene, or that spaceship. The early ideas for Darth Vader, for example, show how much Star Wars evolved from the original concept toward the final film.
There’s this iconic McQuarrie painting of R2-D2 and C-3PO, having just crash-landed on Tatooine, that portrays them close to their final forms but still different enough to be intriguing. What’s really cool is that this famous image is so beloved by fans that the droid featured in this painting eventually appeared on screen in Star Wars: Rebels as, of all things, an Imperial assassin droid that hides as a protocol droid.
It’s interesting to view this early artwork and imagine how different Star Wars might have been. The Original Trilogy, in particular, has countless examples of rejected concept art (like Yoda as a human-like elf) because everything in those movies was new and had to be invented from scratch. The overall look and feel of the saga was still being formed, and artists didn’t at that time have decades of precedent to take inspiration from. So they threw out every wild idea they could come up with, and Star Wars took shape.
Star Wars art that should have been
Sometimes, though, there’s concept art that we look at and go “dang – I wish they’d done that instead of what’s on the screen!” Concept art is developed very early in the creative process and can drive the story process as much as the preliminary screenplay.
Ideally the two move forward in lockstep, but the screenplay is always king and film scripts are notorious for changing as they develop (and as various creative geniuses and corporate executives get their opinions injected into the project DNA). This makes for the common phenomenon where the concept art winds up being very different from what actually gets put to video.
Here’s an example from Rogue One, showing a landing of Rebels troops into a combat zone. It looks almost like a Vietnam movie, and we can practically hear the choppers. Rogue One certainly had no shortage of battle footage, but the final version was more like a special ops team than a full-blown invasion. Even so, the aesthetic of this image is true to the movie, even if there were no moments exactly like this.
The good news about concept art, though, is that it doesn’t disappear. Epic designs, cool features and even set-piece battle ideas can be stored away and used for a later project. Clone Wars and Rebels were both excellent venues for bringing excluded concepts to life.
Star Wars art that should never have been
Some concept art, though, is best left on the drawing board. Ahsoka Tano might be one of our favorite characters today, but I doubt she would have been had she appeared in Clone Wars wearing the tutu George Lucas originally proposed for her (honestly, the tube-top was bad enough).
Another idea, from artist Sang Jun Lee, comes from Episode III, where apparently it was suggested at some point that Anakin and Obi-Wan fight a monstrous creature as well as each other in their climactic duel on Mustafar.
The entire Prequel Trilogy suffered from the temptation to overload us in every scene and I’m glad that a more modest vision was accepted for this last battle of the series. Two Jedi dueling over a lava pit with the fate of the galaxy hanging in the balance was plenty, thanks.
And I just wanted to show you this next one, because I unwittingly saw it and have no desire to be exclusive.
Yeah, you can’t unsee that, can you? Now before you go thinking that this is an example of the dark side of Star Wars fan art (and wondering why it’s Jar-Jar and not Shaak Ti or Quinlan Vos) apparently the artist, Terry Whitlatch, was asked to paint the gungan form au naturel to accurately depict the anatomy of the species.
This is an official Star Wars concept drawing – let’s just hope we never see it reproduced in video form.
Star Wars art that captures the mood
Some of the best Star Wars art is the fan art, because these images are free to explore any subject related to the saga, or the legends, or what Star Wars means to the fans. Sometimes an artist will reimagine their favorite moment from Star Wars. Sometimes they’ll give a fresh account for a well-known scene by portraying it from a different perspective.
Take this example of the Battle of Yavin by Rob Surette – which you might not recognize at first because that battle was told from the perspective of Luke and Darth Vader. But it all would have gone very differently if Han and Chewie hadn’t shown up – and here we get to see that pivotal moment from their perspective. Cool.
Sometimes an artist will show us a dark version of a hero, or re-imagine an episode of the saga from the other side. There’s a whole world of possibilities to explore, and each piece of Star Wars art inspired by the fandom adds something to the collection.
Star Wars art that builds character
What I like most is the evocative nature of still images, and the ability of a piece of art to capture emotions and moods difficult to nail down in moving pictures. A talented artist can say a great deal in a single moment, bringing characters to life in a way we never see on screen.
Look at this piece by Jerry Vanderstelt featuring Princess Leia. The moment he captures isn’t specifically from the saga, but clues tell us that it happens during Rogue One and just before A New Hope. It’s a beautiful picture on its own, but to Star Wars fans it carries a great deal of symbolism and foreshadowing.
And emotional responses aren’t exclusive to characters. Star Wars is famous for its vehicles too, and the best prints I’ve seen would look at home in a military museum. Check out this rendition of an iconic scene from The Empire Strikes Back by Christopher Clark. The painting evokes the grim brutality of war which is very much in keeping with this particular episode.
Sites to buy Star Wars art
Don’t forget that artists work hard at their craft, and while many images are free to download, if you want to own top quality, authentic Star Wars prints for your home you should be prepared to pay for them.
I wanted to share some sites that offer Star Wars art for sale, as well as some that might point you in the right direction for art collection books or access to exclusive series.
This is the official Disney site for Star Wars art: https://disneyartonmain.com/collections/star-wars-art
This is a site that sells lots of art, including Star Wars: https://art.sideshow.com/brands/star-wars
Sometimes Star Wars teams up with another company to produce art, like here: https://society6.com/collection/starwars
This is from the official Star Wars site, featuring highlights from their 2020 art show: https://www.starwars.com/news/star-wars-celebration-2020-art-show-revealed-exclusive
And finally, for book-lovers out there, here’s an article that talks about some of the best Star Wars art books for your coffee table: https://www.belloflostsouls.net/2021/01/the-best-star-wars-art-books-for-your-coffee-table.html
So whether you want shop for the perfect Star Wars prints to put on your wall, or on on a search for high-quality designs for your games room, or need a funny sign for the side of your art shop, or you just want browse the last forty years of Star Wars artwork, these are some good places to go.