In Star Wars Propaganda, Art Imitates Life

by

World War II-style propaganda posters lent a certain credence to the military costumes that populated a recent Star Wars exhibition in New York. For a moment in time, the artwork and the uniforms existed at the confluence of fictional space opera and real world history.

Now the in-universe tome Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy once again captures that duality of myth and reality, this time with an in-depth history of promotional campaigns pitting the Imperial elite against the guerilla Rebellion.

 

Writing as Janyor of Bith, a renowned artist from the planet Garel, author and all-around Star Wars authority Pablo Hidalgo pens a textbook of galactic history beginning with the peaceful Republic, spanning the Clone Wars, the rise of the Empire, and the birth of the Rebellion, to end with the seeds of the First Order.

Several dozen elegant illustrations, emblematic of these movements, plus 10 poster prints slipped discreetly into the cover like secret messages left for a spy network, complete the work.

 

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Rebels and war bonds

Hidalgo, or rather Janyor, aims to take an unbiased and well-balanced approach to the period, giving equal time to the various clashing manifestos: Rebel promos paint the Empire as a power-hungry beast while the Imperial missives liken the resistance to terrorists. Each side attempts to persuade the masses with its own brand of spin.

For the die-hard fan, who studies the Battle of Yavin as if it were a historical moment of our own time, the text offers fresh insights into the history of the galactic struggle and nods to the obscure, like a small “Justice for Baby Ludi” sticker.

But even the more casual fan, filmophile, or history buff skimming the 112-page text will delight in feasting on the images. Several pieces mimic the tone, font, and artistic stylings of WWII-era agitprop. Pushes to “Buy Republic War Bonds,” ration supplies, and “Support the Boys in White” aim to rally financial and community support for the Grand Army of the Republic, borrowing and re-appropriating phrases from our own war times.

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Other illustrations, more subtly linked to contemporary culture, are a mix of artistic techniques and messages. “Deliver us from Jedi evil” proclaims one beautifully dark Clone War-era piece cast in black and blue, the yellow eyes of an ominous Jedi Knight burning brightly from one corner.

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The lens of history

Indeed, part of the beauty of the Star Wars saga has always been its ability to be at once an escape into a completely different universe (far, far away) and a confrontation of our own cultural and political landscape. This collection furthers the cause, planting one foot firmly in immersive Star Wars history as if the reader were a school child in a Naboo academy, while keeping it somehow grounded in our own century.

At its heart, the book is a meditation on the importance of art, the ability to sway public opinion with well-placed, persuasive campaigns, and the rise and fall of empires as viewed through the lens of history.

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Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy

By Pablo Hidalgo. Harper Design. 112 pp. $40. Out now.

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