Last year, word spread like wildfire among fans…artist Drew Struzan would come out of retirement to create the new Star Wars poster. And sure enough, the teaser poster for The Force Awakens was unveiled this summer at D23, featuring the new characters Finn, Rey, as well as Han Solo, looked older and wearier than his freewheeling intergalactic hustler days. As far as Struzan trying to retire, perhaps it's like the line in Godfather III: As soon as he thought he was out, he gets pulled back in. His art is inextricably tied to our memories of the series.
If you're unfamiliar with the name Drew Struzan, you certainly know his work because he illustrated some of the greatest movie posters in history. Struzan not only gave us the iconic art for the Star Wars series, but he also created the ad campaigns for Back to the Future, Harry Potter, The Goonies, John Carpenter's The Thing, and many, many more. You should watch the recent documentary about his oeuvre.
This time, working on a Star Wars campaign is a bit different for Struzan because a new director, J.J. Abrams, is in charge of the beloved universe. Yet funny enough, Struzan unknowingly worked on an Abrams ad campaign before. He created the poster art for the Jim Belushi comedy, Taking Care of Business, which Abrams wrote and sold when he was in his last year of college. "Really?," Struzan asked. "You're bringin' me way back, I had no idea!"
Abrams and Struzan first officially got in touch when J.J. called from the London set of The Force Awakens. It was Abrams's childhood dream to make a Star Wars movie, and the key for everybody was it had to be "legitimate." Having Struzan do the art was a big part of the movie's legitimacy. As Struzan tells us, "Harrison Ford's in it, half the cast from the older movies are still there with him, John Williams is doing the score, Lawrence Kasdan wrote the thing, and I painted the poster. It is a legitimate Star Wars movie, and J.J.'s doing a grand job."
Before working on the poster, Struzan was shown half of the movie, and was one of very few people to read the screenplay. "J.J. screened about half the movie, and he sat right next to me and explained the pieces that were missing," Struzan tells us. "It was a great pleasure, but I always get to see the Star Wars movies before the public because that's the only way I could paint a legitimate Star Wars poster is to see what's in it. I need to see what the spirit of the movie is, what the coloration is, so that the painting will live forever right along with the movie. I got to see enough to know what it was. I got the spirit of what he was doing, so I will be as surprised and as happy as everyone else will (when the movie's out)."
Yet even only having seen half the movie, Struzan has already made the bold claim to movie-weekly that "honest to God, it is far and away probably going to be the best Star Wars you've ever seen." Seeing The Force Awakens spring to life after reading the script, Struzan tells us, "It was exciting, fresh, and new, and I think it's exactly what everybody's waiting for. It really is Star Wars."
When asked if he felt Abrams had successfully reinvented the franchise, he says, "I don't think he reinvented it, I think he's playing the same wonderful song that we've been playing for years."
Struzan worked on the teaser poster for seven months. Like practically every poster he's created, he had to please the director as well as the studio--Star Wars is now part of the Disney family, and there are more stakeholders to consider.
"It was well worth it," Struzan says. "It's gotta be the best it can be, and it's gotta please everybody. It took a while. We talked, we shared. I didn't say, 'Here, this is all you get (laughs).' We cooperate and communicate.
"I think this is the first time J.J. has worked directly with an artist," Struzan says. "It's been computer generated art for the last twenty years. We had a good time. We worked together directly, day in and day out. I knew what he was asking for."
When Disney approved the final product, they gave it the best possible comment: "That's a classic Drew, that's what we wanted."
We also asked Struzan if doing the ad campaign "old school" with hand drawn art was a requirement for the film. Considering he's at retirement age, he laughingly dismissed the term "old school," saying instead, "It's classic man! I'm a painter. I paint with my head, my hands, and my heart."
While there's no doubt The Force Awakens will be a huge movie, we're not sure its success will create a demand for hand drawn movie art. It would certainly be nice to think so. "The audience seems to love it, I wish the computer guys would understand that people love something that's handmade," says Struzan.
So if Struzan gets the call to illustrate the posters for the next Star Wars movies, will he be there? "Damn straight," he says. "Of course I will. I haven't changed my mind. These movies have been keeping me and my family alive and eating dinner since 1977. What am I am gonna do, turn my back on 'em? It ain't gonna happen. I'm gonna love it, and do this for all the fans around the world as long as I can. Even though I'm retired (laughs)."