Master of the Universe

Official Star Wars artist Steve Anderson talks fanboy celebrity, lightsabers, and the secretive life of working for George Lucas.

By Bart Blasengame May 19, 2009 Published in the February 2009 issue of Portland Monthly

You’re an “official” Lucasfilm artist. Explain what that means. The images I create are put on a DVD and sent to [companies licensed to produce Star Wars merchandise] as a sort of style guide. From there the images make it onto backpacks, journals, mugs, posters, puzzles. It’s weird: my stuff’s all over the world, but nobody knows it’s me.

What’s your process? For movies, there’s usually not much reference at first. Production stills. Turnaround shots. So I start with those, then add oil paints, acrylics, or even my kids’ paint. Then I scan the image into a computer program called Painter and redraw it using Photoshop.

How did you go from working at Hallmark to being a part of the Star Wars galaxy? I was working in the Hallmark calendar division in 1992. I had my choice between doing a Saturday Night Live calendar or a Star Wars calendar. SNL was going downhill, so I chose Star Wars. The Lucasfilm people reviewed my stuff, and one said, “George is going to love this.” I didn’t think it would go to that level, but then I started getting more Star Wars work. Finally, Lucasfilm asked me to work on The Phantom Menace.

How did that conversation go? I worked around a lot of people at Hallmark when I got the call, so the Lucasfilm folks asked me to leave work since at that point the new episode was a secret. Our office was next to a mall, so I went to a pay phone and told them, “Yes, of course.”

So Lucasfilm is kind of secretive? Sort of. For instance, I’m working on this new Star Wars project for the Bradford Exchange [a major producer of collectible goods] right now. It’s this huge stained-glass character mural. Actually, now that you ask, I probably shouldn’t talk about it.

If you’re inside the machinery, then that means you’ve actually been to Skywalker Ranch, Lucas’s massive creative compound in Marin County, California. Many times. It was like a dream come true. The place was so huge it almost seemed empty. The art director was running late the first time I came, so I just walked around looking at all this Star Wars stuff. Seeing original posters from my idol [famed poster artist] Drew Struzan was the best.

How are Lucas and his people to work for? This morning I turned in sixteen pieces and just got back a few minor corrections. They notice odd details. Mostly it’s like, “Add a lightsaber here” or “Throw a saber fight at the bottom.” That kind of thing.

Do your kids have any idea their dad has such a cool job? My girls are more into Hannah Montana. But my son just watched the new Indiana Jones movie. I tried to turn him on to the original, Raiders of the Lost Ark, but he told me he likes the new one better. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Maybe you need to go back and watch it again.”

Filed under