Marketing the power fantasy
Tom Jung’s classic promotional poster for Episode IV is just as iconic as any moment from the film. It doesn’t recreate a specific moment from Star Wars, but it represents a heightened, hyperbolic sense of what a little boy might see in his mind’s eye when he envisions the film. (Not just any child, mind you, but specifically a boy – it’s an explicitly male vision of the movie’s essence.)
The hulking Death Star and the menacing visage of Darth Vader loom in the background of Jung’s artwork, but Luke Skywalker is the central figure. His shirt is ripped open, exposing a heavily muscled chest that Mark Hamill can only wish that he actually possessed. Luke holds his light saber aloft like he’s some sort of high tech disco samurai, and its powerful bolts of laser energy blast outwards in all directions. Princess Leia kneels in front of him, wearing an outfit that’s far more skimpy and revealing than anything she actually wore in the film. She’s got her hand on her hip, with her upper body twisted to show off her curves. She grasps a blaster in her other hand, but still looks like a bit like a fair damsel in need of rescue, the sort you’d find on a Conan the Barbarian paperback book cover.
Many artworks that appeared on cartridge boxes and arcade cabinets in this era are deeply indebted to this poster. (Promotional art was often even more egregious.) It’s a perfect distillation of what the game publisher wants the player to feel – powerful, potent, hypercompetent, masterful, cool, and desirable.
But the impact of Star Wars on promotional material around games goes far beyond that one poster. Pick up the coffee table book The Art of Atari, and you’ll see many examples of box art that looks far more like a scene from Star Wars than the chunky lo-res graphics of the actual game. Just look at the spaceship on the Asteroids box, the cockpit point of view on the Star Raiders box, the round helmet just like the ones the Death Star Troopers wore on the Missile Command box… The packaging promised an experience straight out of the film.