Star Wars Cover Art: The Pre-Zahn Period

September 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Posted in Art, Star Wars Books | 1 Comment

They say you shouldn’t always judge a book by it’s cover, but that doesn’t mean the cover isn’t important. As part of a new ongoing series of articles, I’m going to undertake an exploration of Star Wars cover art that focuses on the novels. Whether it’s a closer look at the artists, a surprising variation of a cover, or an interesting piece of trivia, the articles will helpfully shed light on a subject that is often overlooked or only briefly glimpsed at. In order to start things off, I’ll be taking a look at where it all began.

When fans think of the Star Wars books that started the Expanded Universe, they generally think of  the Thrawn Trilogy. However, there were books, even EU books, before Timothy Zahn came along and reinvigorated the franchise. Along with those early novels was some rather interesting cover art, domestic and foreign. Let us take a look at how all got started.

It all began with Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, the novel adaptation of the first film. The novel was credited to George Lucas though it was ghost written by Alan Dean Foster (a ghost writer is someone who writes something that will be credited to someone else) and was released in December 1976 and published by Ballantine Books. Keep in mind that Star Wars Episode I: A New Hope was not released until May 25, 1977. The cover art as pictured above was done by Ralph McQuarrie for the first edition. Although the characters don’t match the likenesses of the film characters, the stylistic design of the cover allows for the difference. This was at a point when no one would know who the people on the cover were. An accurate representation was not as important. What was important was creating iconic looking characters that captured the feel of science fiction and induced emotions in the viewer. The man in the dark clad armor exhibits fear, while the smaller characters brandish weapons and appear to be a glimmer of resistance; of hope. The viewer can easily identify the villains and the heroes, although it’s odd that Han and Leia did not make the cover. Adding the early version of Chewbacca, however, would appeal to younger audiences with the attraction of aliens. R2-D2 and C-3P0 also add to that appeal by being robots. Together, the elements spur a curiosity that would be completely overwhelmed once the story hit the screen.

US/Dutch/German/Japanese cover versions.

A later version was done by John Berkey that opted for a more accurate illustration of the actors (as represented in the Dutch cover above). It also includes Leia and a glimpse of the Death Star in the background. Afterwards the covers were redone for the theatrical release of the film, some adopting the iconic move poster image designed by Tom Jung (as seen in the German and Japanese covers). Another version of the American cover finally adds Han to the mix, and even Obi-Wan.

Original/Spanish/Hungarian cover versions.

After the success of the first film, the first Expanded Universe novel quickly followed: Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. It was released on February 12, 1978 and published by Del Rey. The cover art was once again done by Ralph McQuarrie. As before, Vader dominates the cover. Luke and Leia both face away from the viewer, and their body signals help emphasize the feeling of fear. Among the cover variants, the two biggest deviations are the Spanish and Hungarian covers. As you can see, Vader continues to dominate the covers, with the exception of the Hungarian version, yet they do not convey the same strength of emotion.

The next series of books was The Han Solo Adventures written by Brian Daley. Han Solo at Stars’ End (April 12, 1979), Han Solo’s Revenge (October 12, 1979), and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy (August 12, 1980). All three books were published by Del Rey and the cover of each book was done by a different artist: Wayne Douglas Barlow, Dean Ellis, William Schmidt respectively. Personally I like the 70’s ish feel of Han Solo’s Revenge by Dean Ellis but The Lost Legacy probably has the best sell factor with the skull and robot troops. As a series, the covers don’t match too well, but individually they promote the main characters in a way that would attract readers with the unmistakeable Han and Chewie.

In 1997 the series would get an overhaul by Star Wars artist Dave Dorman (as seen below). These covers more closely match the Bantam era and dropped the very heavy 70’s feel. They are also much more colorful.

Yet of particular interest are some of the foreign cover versions of the Han Solo Adventures, specifically Hungary and Russia. The Hungarian version of The Lost Legacy takes the cake with a Rambo version of Chewie who not only looks younger and trimmer, but also sports some battle armor. On the other hand, the Hungarian Han on Han Solo’s Revenge looks a lot like actor Breckin Meyer. Now the Russian covers are supposedly done by Dave Dorman and I like how each of them includes a strange alien of some sort. There’s a ram’s head alien on one cover, a long eared raccoon on another, and then some strange form of dog that looks like it’s being held back by a wizard. It’s been a while since I’ve read the books so I can’t remember how accurate these covers are to the contents of the stories. I don’t remember Han having any creature in a box or hanging out with some strange robot and a raccoon. It’s also very odd that Chewbacca didn’t show up on any of the Russian covers when he shows up on all the others. Regardless, they do have a nice mix of coloring.

Hungarian covers.

Russian covers.

Now it should be noted that the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back was published before Han Solo and the Lost Legacy. ESB was released on April 12, 1980 (notice how all the books are released on the 12th of the month) and was written by Donal F. Glut. Donald also wrote Marvel Star Wars 10: Behemoth From the World Below which was also released in April 1978. The first print cover sticks with the movie poster image, while the Japanese cover takes on a different collage. The third variant shown below is the Polish cover which fits in with the style of the later Bantam era books, but sadly drops the Han-Leia kiss.

Rounding out the OT novelizations was Return of the Jedi by James Kahn. Fun little trivia here, James Kahn was also a medical specialist and helped write some of the medical dialog for ET, and was one of the people wearing a hazmat suit in the movie pounding on ET’s chest in an attempt to save the alien. He would go on to do a lot of writing for television including shows like St. Elsewhere, E/R, Star Trek: Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, and Xena. Like ESB, ROTJ’s first edition utilized the movie poster art. In this case the famous image of Luke’s hands holding up a lightsaber is actually George Lucas’ hands since he was used to model for the picture. The Polish version (second from left) has a Ralph McQuarrie style image, while the Russian version (center) has the Young Jedi Knights vibe with the vibrant colors. Later Polish versions have the Bantam era style. While the Bantam style has an appeal, the early Polish cover is much more dramatic with a high art feel. Both styles convey the right kind of imagery to sell books. The addition of Jabba certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Just a couple weeks after the release of the third film in the OT, Del Rey released Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu (July 12, 1983) by L. Neil Smith. This was followed by Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon (September 12, 1983), and Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka (November 12, 1983). All three novels had cover art done by William Schmidt which maintains a consistent style with Lando stealing all the attention and a very noticeable Millennium Falcon. With blaster in hand, he managed to look rather dashing which is perfectly Lando. Although there were some cover variations, they mostly differed only in coloration with a few, small exceptions. Overall the style works well with covers like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, and The Lost Legacy.

Afterward there was an eight year gap in the expanded universe. That came to an end on May 1, 1991 with Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, and the beginning of the Bantam era.

Written By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.

1 Comment »

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  1. My all time favorite Star Wars image is the one of Luke lighting the galaxy with his lightsaber. So symbolic.


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