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It’s the most recognizable logo in movie history, and it all began with a simple imperative: Create something that looks “very fascist.”
Suzy Rice was a young designer at Seiniger Advertising when 20th Century Fox approached the agency about designing a logo for promotional materials for a sci-fi epic called Star Wars. Rice was dispatched to meet the ambitious filmmaker behind the project, who had already rejected a slew of logos.
Sitting in his office at Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas detailed his plans for the film. He said that for the logo, he wanted “something that is very fascist,” would “be intimidating,” and that would “rival AT&T.” No pressure.
The night before, Rice had been reading a book on German type design, which detailed how Nazi war criminal Joseph Goebbels decreed all public signs would have a uniform font (it was all part of the fascist’s control by enforcing conformity). The font Goebbles chose is not known, but it is said to have influenced Helvetica, which came after Nazi Germany fell. As Rice detailed in a 2011 essay, she chose Helvetica Black for Star Wars.
Lucas accepted her work, with the idea it’d be used on brochures to send to exhibitors to get them excited about carrying the film. It wasn’t until later that she was informed Lucas had chosen it to be in the film with one small change to the W (note that the logo above is a little different than the final product fans are used to).
The fascist influences of the logo is a piece of Star Wars history that took on new relevance in the weeks leading up to the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Political conversations swirled around the blockbuster after screenwriter Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta wrote anti-Donald Trump tweets.
“Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization,” Weitz tweeted last month. He later deleted the tweet and apologized, but soon after, the hashtag #DumpStarWars was created by alt-right protesters. Disney chief Bob Iger maintains there is no political message in Rogue One — and Rice agrees.
For Rice, who voted for President-elect Donald Trump, the notion of interjecting politics into Star Wars doesn’t sit right. But, she writes in an email to Heat Vision, if anyone is like the Rebels, it’s hacker organizations, the kind who were active during the presidential election and leaked Democratic emails.
“If there’s any similarity from this Rogue One activity to the present, politically, it is simpatico with the Anonymous/WikiLeaks obtaining leaked documentation from U.S. political parties and making available to the public some quite grotesque correspondence among Democrats,” says Rice.
Even if Lucas envisioned the Empire as a fascist organization, his first motivation was to channel archetypes for dramatic purposes. Reducing these archetypes to current political personalities is “an exercise in graffiti-with-crayons,” says Rice.
“It dissipates the drama and the archetypical characters while creating a new, inept thing in doing so,” she says. “At no point, however, have I ever viewed the SW literary canon to be a comment on any phase or time in U.S. political history.”
At times, Rice says her contribution to Star Wars has come under fire. She spent decades away from Los Angeles and the entertainment industry and when she returned in recent years, she’d hear rumors circulating that minimized her involvement in the creation of the logo. She received no official credit in the film, as she was told the credits had already been created and it would be too time-consuming to redo. (Lucasfilm has acknowledged her contributions and gave her credit in the Star Wars Poster Book, released in 2005.)
Asked if she feels she’s been given enough credit for her work, she offers this: “My answer is, yes, in the present tense.”
“There were a few times over the past decades when the achievement seemed to generate terrible negativity, but those times no longer exist,” Rice adds.
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Paul Walter Hauser