Star Wars First Poster “The Chaykin”

The Chaykin – First Star Wars Poster “Star Wars Corp. Poster 1”

In 1976, a poster was introduced at the San Diego Comic Con to promote a movie that was expected by the industry to fail or, at the most, to barely make an impression at the box office.  Taken from Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 The Hidden Fortress, a young director by the name of George Lucas reimagined the tale as a space adventure to be called Star Wars and was trying to get Universal Studios, the studio which financed his very successful American Graffiti, to also finance this new movie.  But, the movie was thought to be incomprehensible, bizarre and kind of silly, so Universal and every other studio in Hollywood passed on making it, except for 20th Century Fox, and even then the directors and studio heads at Fox thought Alan Ladd, Jr. was crazy for greenlighting the making of this movie.

The studio heads felt that only a good marketing campaign could sell the movie, which they believed should be initiated as a comic under a deal with Marvel Comics.  Howard Chaykin, an already known comics artist, was asked to illustrate this new Star Wars graphic serial.  It was hoped that the comic would generate good buzz for the movie.  Only after this deal was made was there a plan for a poster to be created and presented at the comics conventions and, once again, Howard Chaykin was asked to do the artwork for the poster.

And so it was that the very first poster for Star Wars, titled “Star Wars Corp. Poster 1″, was presented to the world for a piddling $1.75 at the 1976 San Diego Comic Con.  When one says “The Chaykin”, as it is popularly known, every collector of Star Wars posters and memorabilia knows what “The Chaykin” refers to and no further descriptors are needed.

The Star Wars movie posters are the most bootlegged posters of any movie.  The Chaykin is no different, but what is unusual is that the bootleg for it did not appear until well after the other well-known bootlegs surfaced (such as the SW Advance Style ” B”, Regular Style “A”, Style “C”, and various inserts.)

(on all images click on thumbnails for full-sized photos)


I. Variations on a theme

There are licensed reprints of The Chaykin.  However, the sizes of these are completely different from the original 20×29 inches and are easily distinguishable:

  1. A larger size 27×40 inches single-sided US reprint
  2. A French 15.75×23.5 inches reprint given away with the Star Wars Vault book to stores and dealers: has butter-yellow borders and is printed on thick, dull cardstock.

It would be difficult to try to pass these off as originals as the size differential is substantial.

II. The whole view

Here are two complete side-by-side views of the entirety of both posters.  The first photo was taken indoors with natural filtered light and the second outdoors in bright sunlight.  The original is the poster to the left in both photos.  In these images, we can immediately see the difference in color between the original and the bootleg.  The most clear and obvious is the outermost halo sunburst surrounding the spherical Death Star, where the original’s is golden yellow and the bootleg’s is deep orange.   Notice also the overall darker saturation of all the colors throughout the bootleg on the right, from Luke’s darker brown hair to the blacker space background to the darker fuchsia instead of the light pink blast from the lightsabers.

When viewed individually, the bootleg’s color deviation is not all that appreciable, but viewed next to the original, it becomes glaringly obvious.   If you had nothing else to rely on except for a small, poor quality photo, you could probably be able to pick out the bootleg by the deep orange color alone.

III. Color Deviations

As already noted, the colors between the original and the bootleg are clearly different even from a distance, once a side-by-side comparison is done.  The following photos show in closer view and detail how deeper the saturation is on the bootleg.  The conspicuous deep orange of the halo sunburst in the bootleg is a very distinctive characteristic.  In the third photo below, it is not as discernable, though, that the red text of the “Star Wars” title in the bootleg (bottom poster) is darker than the original’s.   This is where having the actual posters in hand would make it easier to see.  The lightsaber in the bootleg is also darker with a fuchsia hue compared to the pink found in the original.  And, the Death Star is a light, turquoise sky-blue in the original, whereas the one in the bootleg is a darker purplish blue.

IV. The Missing Copyright © Symbol

But perhaps the most important detail of all that distinguishes the bootleg from the original is the missing Copyright © symbol.  Barring everything else, this copyright symbol must be present.  In the photo below, the bootleg is missing this essential component.  Please keep in mind that fake symbols can be created after the fact.  If this is to be the case in the future, then matching the text becomes important, because in the bootleg the text font is different from the original’s. This characteristic is discussed in the next section.

The question is, Could the poster without the © symbol have been a first print run mistake that was subsequently corrected and this poster simply got out into the wild instead of destroyed?  I could believe in that possibility if it weren’t for the fact that the text font does not match up with the one used in the original.  And, as will be seen, there are more deviations from the original that point towards this poster’s being a bootleg.

V. Completely Different Text Font

The font used in the printing of the bootleg’s text isn’t just a slight variation in crispness or clarity from the original, it’s a completely different font. This can already be seen in the previous photo displaying the missing Copyright © symbol.  The font used in the bootleg (top poster) is a block type that is bolder and thicker than the one used in the original.

Now, why didn’t the fonts match up if the entire poster were duplicated?  Recall that this reproduction did not surface until long after the other Star Wars bootlegs surfaced.  In the making of modern day posters, the graphics file containing the artwork is separate from the file containing all the text.  Someone actually has to compile these two separate files together to produce the final poster.  This is so that any text can be changed and moved around easily without affecting the graphics portion, and because different people in different departments work on different sections of the poster at different times.  I suspect that whoever reproduced this poster could have had possession of a digital image file (remember that the 27×40 inch licensed reprints would have a digital source) but did not have the text file or the exact same font available to accurately reproduce the text.  They probably thought whatever font they used matched closely enough to the original that only close inspection and comparison would expose the disparity.  Or, they had a copy of the original artwork, which, of course, would not have any studio or copyright information, and so had to reproduce the text. Another thought is that they intentionally left out the original text portion of the poster because it didn’t come out clearly enough in the reproduction process and the blurred text with fuzzy edges would have tipped people off towards its bootlegged status.  In any event, the third most defining characteristic of the bootleg is the variance in the text font.

VI. Reduced artwork area with change in white borders

Another defining characteristic of the bootleg is the reduced artwork area.  The actual artwork portion of the original measures 26 14/16 in length and that of the bootleg measures 26 6/16 (slightly less than 26.5 inches).  However, a reduced artwork area would be difficult to discern from a small photo, which might be the only image offered by a seller.  To look for the reduction in the artwork, examine the bottom white border.

In the bootleg (on the right), the bottom white border is widened to 1.5 inches from the original’s 1 inch.  This widening corresponds to the reduced length of the artwork area.  In contrast, the left and right white borders of the bootleg have been reduced to 3/4 inch from the original 1 inch.  The top border of the bootleg remains 1 inch. Basically, the white border areas of the original poster (the top, the bottom, the left and the right) are all 1 inch.  Look for this consistency in an original. Notice also in the photo the dissimilarity between the fonts of the posters.  And not only this, the subtitle “Poster 1” is flush with the left edge of the artwork area in the original, but in the bootleg, “Poster 1” is not aligned with, and instead precedes, the left edge.

VII. Size and Paper

First, one or two millimeters difference in the width or length between posters is not impressive enough to make me suspicious of a poster’s origins.  Slight variations in the cut of the paper is not an impossibility and unless there is a significant amount of difference in dimensions, I don’t use a minimal size variation as a disqualifying factor.  A poster at 20×29 inches is much easier to duplicate than one that is 27×41 or larger.  In fact, the physical dimensions of the bootleg are almost exactly the same as those for the original and so size alone cannot be relied upon to make a distinction.  For all practical purposes, both posters measure 20×29 inches, with the bootleg’s dimensions falling short by barely 1 millimeter in the width and by barely 1 millimeter in the length.

As for the paper quality, there is some difference in sheen and texture in the bootleg, but these tactile qualities are difficult to appreciate without being able to feel them for yourself.  The most noticeable difference is in the paper thickness, where the paper of the bootleg is thicker than the original’s.  Expectedly, of course, this particular characteristic is not one that can be easily verified prior to purchase without having a comparison original piece.

VIII. Speculations about the Origins of the Bootleg

We really have no definitive facts concerning this particular Star Wars bootleg.  There is speculation that this bootleg originated from France, but we simply do not know.  This is what we do know:  This particular bootleg was obtained in 2004 from a seller in Georgia by one of MPA’s own contributing authors, Jason, a.k.a. morphine.  Up until this time, this bootleg had not been seen before (as far as we are aware) and the only known reproduction at that point was the officially licensed 27×40 U.S. reprint.

It would appear that those who bootlegged The Chaykin are not the same sources for the bootlegging of the other Star Wars posters.

I was told by an indirect source about private printings of The Chaykin using the original artwork, but I have not been able to substantiate this from the person purported to be making the private printings for friends.

IX. Credits

Thanks to:

* Jason/morphine, who was the first to identify this bootleg and who passed the poster on to me.

* Pete Vilmur, Lucasfilm online content manager and co-author of The Star Wars Poster Book, who relayed to me the information regarding the French reprint, provided me with photos of it and confirmed the relative newness of the appearance of the Chaykin bootleg.

The Star Wars Poster Book by Stephen Sansweet and Pete Vilmur, which I used as a historical reference.

* John Leslie Williams, who gave me access to his original Chaykin until I could obtain my own.

* A Paramount and former Dreamworks production executive, who wished to remain unidentified, who provided me with information on how posters were created at his company.