The acclaimed artist discusses his history with Episode I and being called on to commemorate its latest milestone.
Every saga has a beginning, including that of poster artist Matt Ferguson and his relationship with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It started with the original theatrical release in 1999, which followed a huge buildup — it was the first Star Wars film since 1983’s Return of the Jedi — and level of anticipation seen by few movies. For 15-year-old Ferguson, living in Sheffield in the UK, the hype was real.
“I was actually doing work experience at the time in an office through school, and I remember just being so excited about the new Star Wars movie,” he tells StarWars.com. “I went out and bought this Darth Maul action figure on a lunch break and everybody else was just so excited for it. And then we got to go see it. And I can remember I just loved it.”
Fast forward 25 years later, and Ferguson — still based in Sheffield — has been tapped to create the official poster to mark the film’s quarter-centennial milestone. It follows his anniversary art made for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and will be seen in theaters around the world as The Phantom Menace returns to cinemas starting May 3. The poster is a beautiful image, featuring Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and a regal Queen Padmé Amidala, with Darth Maul’s piercing eyes looming over everything. Earth tones drive the painting, from the twin suns to Jedi robes, in a significant change from his earlier Star Wars work. For Ferguson, the idea of what the poster would be came surprisingly easily. “The key thing is to go on the memory of the film. These are anniversary posters, so it's kind of like, what's my personal memory of the film when it was coming out — almost like, before it came out.” And one specific element plays a big part in Ferguson’s memory. “The color comes into it a lot for me,” he says. “So there's reds and golds, and I remember a lot of the marketing at the time and a lot of the stuff in toy shops, because I always liked action figures and things, was that kind of color. So that was the thing that I keyed on for this one. I wanted that rich, warm color.”
As the character portraits descend, young Anakin Skywalker can be seen bottom-center as just a small silhouette beneath it all. “Tiny, little Anakin is thematic, because he seems so insignificant in that film, really, until Qui-Gon realizes that he's a special, Force-sensitive child.” This also works to tell a story across Ferguson’s other posters. “In my brain, if I'm going to do more, Anakin’s going to get bigger and bigger and bigger, and then by Return of Jedi, Darth Vader is the full thing. That's kind of my idea in the back of my head, is to have it be a path of Anakin in the saga.”
To underscore this theme, he included someone integral to Anakin’s journey as a bit of an Easter Egg. “There is Anakin's mum, she's in there,” he says. “She's sort of seeing him off. He's coming off and then she's in the background watching him go away. Obviously, he leaves her. It's quite sad, really.”