If you’ve tuned into Star Wars Rebels this season, you know that the show takes place during the “dark times” as the Empire gains more and more power in the galaxy. On Lothal, they are recruiting new cadets, consolidating farms, and building the machinery of war. Getting millions of citizens to fall in line doesn’t always require more weapons — as we see in Rebels, there is plenty of propaganda in the galaxy to tell help bend citizens to the Empire’s will.
Propaganda in the galaxy far, far away isn’t exactly new. Eagle-eyed watchers of The Clone Wars might have noticed Chancellor Palpatine’s holographic address to the people of Coruscant. Yet the propaganda during the Clone Wars was subtle; more calculated. When it comes to Star Wars Rebels, propaganda is overt and omnipresent. In so many ways, it mirrors the use of propaganda during World War II
It’s almost hard to believe now, but propaganda during the war was very openly distributed. Every country that participated had armies of people creating posters, films, radio programs, and more. In fact, Germany even had a whole ministry whose name included the word “propaganda!” The battle for minds and ideas waged in the open during the 1940s.
Look around at the world of Star Wars Rebels and you will see the same theme. To fill the walls on Lothal, the team created a whole series of propaganda posters inspired by World War II.
Star Wars Rebels artist Amy Beth Christenson says, “For this particular series of images, the artists on the team were free to come up with any and all poster designs. The only guidelines given were that they should convey pro-Imperial propaganda, and that the style should be similar to posters seen in the 1940s.”
Christenson goes on, “I’m a very big fan of that era in history and art style (not to mention Star Wars), so it was a lot of fun to come up with several different ideas at this stage. Most of the early sketches fit into the style of Rebels and its time period, others not quite so much — I couldn’t resist making a version of “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” with the Executor crashing into Death Star II. But for the most part, the state of the galaxy in the Rebels era is very similar to real-world sentiments of years past, so there was a lot to draw from.”
While the art from Rebels is brand new, there is a long history of official Star Wars art that has been inspired by World War II propaganda. There have been scores of other propaganda-style Star Wars images made by fans and licensees, including a number of posters and art prints. Of all of them, my very favorite are the limited edition exclusives done by Cat Staggs. These rare prints were sold exclusively at Star Wars Celebration art shows — and most recently the limited release virtual art show from Acme Archives, where prints were available for just ten days.
Speaking to her inspiration for these prints, Cat Staggs says, “I’ve always been a fan of propaganda art and the lifestyle illustrations of the ’30s and ’40s. Since Star Wars is a story of war, in addition to Luke’s story, I thought combining those elements of the future with a period style propaganda would be a lot of fun.”
Staggs’ propaganda posters really capture the feel of the era with a perfect mix of painted illustration and a weathering process that makes the posters look as if they have been in storage since the end of the war. Capturing that tone was no coincidence. Giving insight into her process, Staggs says, “I do a ton of research. I spend a lot of time studying the slogans and imagery, doing my best to convey not only the style and message, but the emotion of each poster. I will pick a few themes first then I comb through the films and try to find the pieces that fit, or visa versa.” Astute readers will also notice that each of Staggs’ propaganda posters is named for a classic war film. These fun titles are just one more touch that connects her Star Wars art to the Second World War.
As Star Wars Rebels continues to explore the expansion of the Galactic Empire, look for even more Imperial propaganda that is inspired by our own history. From grand military parades to mandatory Imperial holidays, the galaxy we see in Rebels is rife with propaganda themes ripped from the pages of own history.
Cole Horton is an R2 builder, historian, and creator of From World War to Star Wars, an ongoing series of lectures at Star Wars Celebrations. He has also worked as World War II historian for Marvel.com. You can find him on Twitter @ColeHorton.