This iconic poster for George Lucas’ original Star Wars film was created by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt and they created it in only 36 hours.
Greg Hildebrandt recently talked to /Film telling the story behind how that poster came to be and in the process admits that it was a “fluke” job. Erik Sharkey and Kevin Burke are a couple of documentary filmmakers that are developing a new film that focuses on the sci-fi and fantasy poster art of Hildebrandt.
In the late 1970s, the brothers were working on whatever illustration jobs that they could get including a toilet training book. But they wanted to be working on things a lot more cool, “something a little more romantic,” so they started cold calling art studios including one in Manhattan that handled movie posters and set up a meeting to show them their portfolio.
Hildebrandt explained, “In those days, they did that. You could call an art director or an editor at a publishing house and have a conversation with them.”
It’s explained that when Greg and Tim arrived at the studio, “there were paintings all over for Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. As huge fans of Brooks’ work, the brothers begged to do a poster for the movie, but the editors explained that they didn’t have a budget for another poster and the current ones were being shipped to California the very next morning. Plan be damned: Greg and Tim designed a poster of their own on the train back to New Jersey, created the entire layout, took some photos for reference once they arrived at their own studio, and banged out a painting overnight with no sleep.”
Greg said that the poster “didn’t get used, but these guys were blown away that we came in the next morning with a painting.” This is what eventually led them to the Star Wars poster.
A couple of years after that, the brothers got a call from the studio asking for their help, “You’ve gotta help us out” the studio said. “We’ve got a sci-fi film here, the film’s being released in a week and the director’s not completely satisfied with the poster he has.”
There was a poster that was already created by Tom Young, but George Lucas wanted a new poster to have “this basic set-up, but he wants it more comic book-y.”
That’s a pretty vague direction but they ran with interpreting it as meaning Lucas wanted “stronger color, higher contrast” and that the ships should be “a little sexier.” The studio needed the poster done ASAP so Greg and Tim got to work and completed it in 36 hours!
“They were flabbergasted that we did it,” Greg says, and he suggested adding a couple of other characters in the background – “like the big hairy guy. I didn’t know who he was,” Greg laughed. “These guys never saw the movie. They had no idea what it was themselves. I said, ‘What’s it about? Who’s this guy with the helmet?’ and they said, ‘I don’t know, the Man in the Iron Mask or something.’” The original agreement – which, crucially, was just a handshake agreement – was for Fox to use their image outside the theater and in newspaper ads. But it ended up as a merchandised product: on T-shirts and all sorts of other places beyond those agreed-upon bounds.
The artists never got the original painting back. Things happened so fast that no agreement was made on how that would all work out. Hell, six months after they submitted the poster, they still hadn’t been paid for their work! Greg ended up having to sue 20th Century Fox.
In the end they got $8,000, which was double the original price. “I said, ‘Great!’,” Greg remembers. “Then the lawyer sent me his bill, which took up four thousand dollars and got us back to the original four thousand dollars. So Tim made two thousand off that picture, I made two thousand. Everybody assumes to this day that somehow, we as artists who did the painting became super millionaires or some god damn thing…but, it’s still there. People still recognize it.”