Few images register instant success like the timeless Yoda “READ” poster design, created by the American Library Association (ALA) in 1983 for National Library Week. Printed nearly three decades before the first official Star Wars Reads Day, the poster still feels as relevant today as it did in the pre-Google days of card catalogs and Dewey Decimals. Composed of a simple production shot of Yoda with a book stripped in under his arm (this was pre-Photoshop, mind you), the image — paired with the elegantly-presented “READ and The Force is with you” snipe — feels so fitting, so natural, so right — that anyone within eye-shot of it is often struck with the sudden urge to crack open a book.
But the iconic poster as we know it wasn’t always going to be the masterpiece it’s become. Digging through the old Lucasfilm archive files, we uncovered some early concept images proposed for the campaign as well as some correspondence regarding the poster’s design. As you can see, these black and white mock-ups utilize a different image of Yoda, keying in on the “Force” aspect of the message rather than the “READ”:
Truth be told, Lucasfilm initially asked the ALA designers not to have Yoda holding the book, but that scattering the books around him would be acceptable. However, when some enterprising designer at ALA (or perhaps at Lucasfilm — it’s unclear) was inspired to use the photo of a reflective Yoda with book, topped with an authoritative “READ” masthead in classic Return of the Jedi logo font, a poster icon was born.
After an initial print run in January 1983, orders started “coming in fast and thick” from thousands of public, private, and children’s libraries throughout the US and Australia, according to a letter from ALA the following month. By National Library Week in April 1983, the poster was already in its second printing, and would be headed to England via UK’s Library Association the following year.
Over 30 years later, the poster can still be spotted in some local libraries and schools, although it’s now considered a collectible, so its days in public service may be numbered. Still, it’s nice to know a poster can still offer such an enduring word of wisdom after all these years — fitting, it would seem, for the galaxy’s oldest Jedi Master.
Pete Vilmur is currently a writer for Lucasfilm Publicity and worked previously for Lucas Digital Media, where he created content for Lucasfilm’s websites, blogs, and social networks. Pete co-authored two books with Steve Sansweet — The Star Wars Poster Book and The Star Wars Vault — and a third with Ryder Windham, The Complete Vader.