Thursday, October 2, 2014

Update: The Star Wars Logo Actually Is fascist.

I'm giving a talk on Star Wars at Whitman College next week, so I was excited to see Chris Taylor speak last night at Seattle's' Town Hall about his new book, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe. It turned out to be the first stop on his first book tour for his first book, and he focused his talk on the first ten minutes of the film - starting with the carton that showed before the original print of the film (Duck Rodgers in the 24 1/2th Century). He is an engaging speaker, went into great detail, and repeatedly stumping a group of obviously die-hard fans. The biggest surprise for me, was very early on, when he got to the appearance of the Star Wars logo and he told us it was designed by a woman named Suzy Rice who says she was told by George Lucas to make the logo "very fascist... something to rival AT&T." It's an amazing bit of trivia, but what surprised me wasn't Ms. Rice's claim - I wrote about Suzy Rice's claim on this blog in 2010 - it's that Taylor chose to include her story in his book.

When I first ran into Rice's claim to have designed the Star Wars logo, I wanted to believe her, but I found her story so absurd, I couldn't. But Taylor is an accomplished journalist and has verified Rice's story:
So maybe this is another instance of an artist being cheated of her rightful place in history (and the fortune that should accompany it). And that Lucas asked for "something fascist" is after all. a great story - one that fits very nicely with what themes I focus on when I discuss the film. The problem I have with Rice's story is that she backs it up with totally slanderous bullshit.

As I wrote in 2010: "While I think Rice’s knowledge of history is mostly bunk, I can easily imagine Lucas saying he wanted 'something very fascist,' after all the film is loaded with Fascist imagery." It was the bunk that turned me off Rice claimed that she based the logo on something called "Helvetica (Helvetika) Black" - this isn't just patently false, it's patently absurd. And to be clear: this isn't just font-nerd niggling, Rice claimed on her blog that "the forerunner typeface version, Helvetika, was designed by the dreaded Joseph Goebbels for use in culture-wide signage." As my friend, and fellow font-geek, Erik Spooner pointed out on this blog:
How false? She writes that Max Miedinger, the designer of Helvetica, used Goebbels’ type designs for reference when he drew Helvetica for the first time nearly a decade after the end of the War, that Goebbels, a German leader in the Third Reich, named his typeface Helvetika (which seems a misguided attempt to Germanize Helvetica, which is the Latin word for Swiss). Even if Goebels was a font designer (and he wasn’t), why would the Thousand Year Reich create a visual program for their infamous final solution and name it for the Swiss? Obviously none of this lines up. She is defaming the early German Modernists as well as the post war Swiss creator of Helvetica, and they both deserve better.
I'm glad to hear that the "something fascist" part of Ms. Rice's story has been verified, but want to make it clear that none of the rest of her story is. I really like the addition of the AT&T logo as Lucas' inspiration - that wasn't part of Rices story originally (but she changed the story on her after Erik and I posted about her, so maybe that detail was added then). My own guess was that the logo had perhaps been inspired by the NASA "worm" - but AT&T is great too. And while Rice's history was garbled, it opened up a really interesting aspect of the visual history of Star Wars for me. I followed up on Erik's post with two more posts on the subject of Star Wars and fonts - one on Helvetica as fascist and one on Futura and Stanley Kubrick.  I haven't read Taylor's book yet, but it is waiting for me back at home in NYC - maybe if he makes a stop there I can get it signed then. I hope so.

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