After months years of waiting, the latest installation of the Star Wars saga is finally within our grasp. Considering the franchise has featured at least one movie in the past five decades (barely making the cut in ’99), we decided to travel back in time and space to geek out over each poster’s design.


A long time ago in an agency far, far away… a mission request came in: We need a creative blog post about design or something. So, in the spirit of “The Force Awakens,” we decided to take a look at the beloved “Star Wars” universe and rank the film posters from worst to first.

First, the caveats. We like “Star Wars,” but to the super crazy hardcore fans, we offer our apologies up front: We are sure we’ve referenced a wrong poster for one of these movies. Certainly there are ultra-rare posters that the Comic Book Guy on “The Simpsons” could prattle on about for hours. Yes, yes, our bad and we should’ve known better – but you’ll live.

7. “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” (2002)


Contrary to appearances, this is not a dime store romance novel. We might have enjoyed it more if it was. Instead, we’ve got RoboCop between our lovers, plus a giant lightsaber and an encroaching army. But don’t worry; two robots with limited movement are sure to save the day.

One of the reasons for the poor ranking is the lack of a Darth or Sith lurking in the background. Luckily we’ve got Anakin filling those shoes looking creepier than a Scientology convert. Yoda is watching his back. On the plus side, since Boba Fett never made it on a poster we fanboys have to settle for the next best thing – his dad, Jango Fett.

As with its predecessors, this poster features a cluttered Star Wars character montage. It uses both warm and cool tones in the same visual space, and with more red than blue, it’s clear the Dark Side is about to get the upper hand. The round design element is a nice touch, but is it a reference to a planet or Death Star XXIV? More likely it’s that someone found the lens flare function in Adobe Photoshop CS4 and is waaaaay too enamored with it.

Biggest Omission: Jar Jar Binks. Not that anyone is complaining.

Characters Shown: Eight. Unless you count all the clones, but really, they’re just one character. Either way, showing eight is GREAT restraint compared to most of the other movies in the series.

6. “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” (1999)


Is this a young He-Man from the original Star Wars poster? No, wait and hold on to your kilt — is this Rob Roy’s far distant grandson and he’s left Ireland? And who’s the chickadee that looks like a queen cobra? So many questions, we almost forget this is the first poster without the shadowy Vader character. Instead, we’ve got a red-tinted snake guy in his place.

Over the course of the double trilogy, Vader/Anakin just slowly moves up the ladder on the poster hierarchy. But just like Drake, he had to start at the bottom. As always, the two droids are totally chill as chaos surrounds them. This poster does heat things up with an overall reddish tint, and combined with the strong black this appears to be more about the Dark Side than the Jedis, even though three have prominent placement.

Lens flare guy, time to let it go buddy. We’d like to think these awful lens flares are symbolically placed behind the two most powerful Jedis on the poster, but even that isn’t accurate.

Biggest Omission: We can’t even remember, since all these movies made us black out. But if we had to pick one maybe we’d say Yoda?

Characters Shown: Nine. And seriously, Mr. Lucas, Jar Jar Binks?

5. “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” (2005)


Looks like X marks the spot, and since the title has the word revenge in it, you know we’ve got a battle on our hands. This could actually be an ad for Light-Em-Up Lightsabers for all we know – there are four of them present.

We can’t decide if this a family tree lineage around the center battle or what, but Anakin/Darth appears on the poster three times, which makes up for the fact that this is his last poster appearance. Most notably, Anakin looks like a child murderer here… which, you know, he is. R2D2 and C3PO apparently got the shaft this time around. Or the saber, as the case may be.

Brooding darkness as a framing device is now the norm, along with the character montage. Our lens flare hero has outdone himself here and the first thing you zero in on is the blue-ish glow flare with the intense light saber duel. There is a nice blend of warm versus cool tones, and based on the placement you could argue that it’s symbolic of Anakin getting consumed by the Dark Side, but in his heart there is some good still in there. Just ask Luke.

Biggest Omission: R2D2 + C3PO

Characters Shown: Well, there are nine at a quick glance, BUT Anakin is on there three times + Obi Wan is on there twice, so really it’s just six.

4. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)


YEEEEEEESSSSSSS! Star Wars is back with “The Force Awakens.” The poster design department hasn’t been very busy. But speaking of busy, there are ten pounds of space junk in a five-pound poster, and we can’t help thinking that we’re gonna find Waldo somewhere in here. But we love it, because “Star Wars” is back (in case you hadn’t heard).

Who’s this badass heroine? Is she a space age Elektra? Who’s the guy who loves Optimus Prime and has the fan mask to prove it? Who’s the new guy showing Lando what swag is all about? Good to see there’s at least some familiar faces, including Solo with his favorite pistol. Our biggest hope is that we find out Finn is Lando’s son, and that Leia is the mom and that they conceived in the city of clouds when Han was frozen and they were “on a break.”

The poster series has established that a strong black background is a great holding device to frame everything. The battling cool versus warm tones split the image in half and there is a lot intertwined within each side, blurring the line between good and evil. This one picks up cues from all the posters, including our in-it-for-the-long-haul droids, who are the only machines in the universe that have been around 60 years without a single upgrade.

Biggest Omission: Luke Skywalker, by a long shot. But hold your lightsaber a moment, is he the man in black? To be continued, as we probably won’t know what the big omissions really are until after we see the movie.

Characters Shown: 13. (Depending how you feel about the Stormtroopers. Otherwise you could call it 11).

3. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)


Or should we call this Gone with the Empire? Han and Leia – our far, far away Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler – take center stage here. The shot perfectly conveys two different feelings based on whether the viewer has seen the movie and understands the outcome.

Before watching the movie, one might have thought Han was holding Leia as she was dying, a bold representation of how and to what extent the Empire struck back. But after watching the movie, this is clearly a passionate embrace and possibly the best chance at future Jedi babies. At the end of “The Force Awakens” will this image take on a different meaning, with Han in fact holding his love for the last time? We’ll see. Cool to see the robots can roll on snow and icy terrain. The galaxy far, far away is more hi-tech than we thought.

There’s also some nice open design space to the layout here with the purplish ice texture. Great brush work with that background, and you almost lose the even more subdued lurking threat in the darkness – the contrast between the two works very well.

Biggest Omission: Lando + Boba Fett. Seriously, how did he never make it on a poster? And a lightsaber. This is the only poster that doesn’t have one on it.

Characters Shown: Seven.

2. “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” (1983)


Luke is evidently kicking it old school to AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” which may or may not be a sign that the Dark Side is in his future. Depending on how you interpret the final battle, you might think so, as his anger and rage force him to act.

Whereas the “Empire Strikes Back” poster had a space horse, this poster features a plethora of characters including Professor Snape’s long lost cousin, a stunt double extra from “Lord of the Rings” and the Snuggle bear in a weird leather onesie. Good to Lando rocking a fro that works every time. Oh no! Where’s the rolling sand and ice droids?

Interesting departure from the first two posters as there’s a lot more going on here and the first in the series that takes the whole montage to a new level. Love the airbrush specs of stars and universe as the background, as well as the stacking of elements from Leia in her bikini (insert fire emoji here) to the glinting Solo gun (trust us, he shot first, much to Leia’s disappointment), to Luke’s saber, to Vader’s omnipresent shadowy presence and Death Star II. The key players form a line right down the middle, with the secondary characters on the side. You’re immediately drawn into these elements first and then the darkness behind them. This is also the first poster that has such a strong use of black in the background.

Biggest Omission: The Emperor. And R2D2 + C3PO, who appear on five of the seven posters, but the third in each trilogy are the ones where they are left out.

Characters Shown: 9. Lucas, you’re killing us with the Ewoks.

1.  “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” (1977)


As they always say, nothing beats the original. Except for Ryan Adams’ version of 1989.

Love the use of black and white, not only as contrast for the illustration but the implied good versus evil connotation. Single point focus of the cross leads you into the heroes to the point you almost miss the foreboding creature in black behind them. The “Star Wars” universe is as simple as the good guy/savior wearing white and the bad guy/devil literally wearing the black hat. The good news: It’s just a dad looking out for his two kids. Based on the Christmas ornament in the background, we assume they are just getting together for the holidays.

We’ve got a strong focal point of a guy resembling He-Man trying to Master the Universe with power from the heavens and creates a symbolic cross of crackling energy. It also appears that when you find power in the desert you get the sexy babe showing leg with a cape, in a very Missouri Bootheel kind of way. As it turns out, the family tree runs in a straight line once you visit a galaxy far, far away. Added bonus: the same robots that can roll on ice can also roll in sand? Score!

As complicated as the movie franchise can be, this poster sums up the original trilogy pretty quickly – it’s Leia + Luke versus their father.

Biggest Omission: Han Solo + Obi-Wan.

Characters Shown: Five. Simple is always better.

Craving more design distillation? Don’t miss our post from the archives, “The Art and Insight Behind Beer Labels.”