Nitpicking the Star Wars novel covers

Inspired by remarks by @bantamspectra and @brownjawa on Twitter, I’ve been thinking about Star Wars book covers. What works? What doesn’t? Clearly this is subjective, but here’s my take.

Who's a mopey little Jedi who needs his meds?I’m hard up to pick a single best: I like the work Drew Struzan did on the mid-90’s Bantams, but the unceasing use of collage and recognizable movie-stills soon got tired. (Though really, no one can paint a movie still like Struzan.) Perhaps the worst thing about those fantastic Struzan covers is that they cover books that are not so great otherwise. (I do love that The Crystal Star so perfectly captures the 90’s staple of Prozac Luke, though. Truth in advertising! Sadly, his Dracula collar on Children of the Jedi remains a mystery.)

It’s hard to get away from the movie stills, but I’m happy to see the the reliance on collages seems to be waning, or at least being somewhat toned down. There was a point when things were getting far too ADD for my tastes. (Though Star By Star was a rather ADD novel, so… I guess it works?)

I liked the Legacy of the Force covers for the most part: Tempest was the best of them. I’m torn on our most recent entries, however: The Fate of the Jedi series. From a corporate and graphic design standpoint, they’re fantastic: They’re different, they stand out, they catch your attention, everything a book cover is there to do. As a fan, on the other hand… I want something more representative. (Which is to say: More Dave Seeley, please!)

While I didn’t always like the New Jedi Order covers (Again: Gah!) I did appreciate that a great variety of artists and styles rotated through the series. I’m a big fan of variety, even if it leads to bugs.

(I’m not so fond of the ROTS-era photoshopperies. Too much fire, too many of the same Vader publicity stills, plus there’s something about them that screams Hot Topic rockabilly to me. Or again, visual overload.)

From a purely aesthetic angle (I couldn’t make it through these, so I have no idea how well they suit) I can’t help but express fondness for the Coruscant Nights covers, particularly Jedi Twilight and Patterns of Force.

Good book, bad cover.

But I can’t hedge on worst: To me, that goes to The Thrawn Trilogy covers by a mile. Arguably the best books in the EU – not to mention a great place, perhaps the place to start off – with covers that look like they came off particularly lame collector’s plates. Sure, they were the first, and if you check out some of other the other tie-ins of the early 90’s (particularly Star Trek) they fit right in. But for the here and now? They just look tired. With 2011 bringing the 20th anniversary of Heir to the Empire, I’d love to see them get a fresher look.

I am liking that Del Rey has kept up their commitment to variety in cover art: It’s hard to make a Star Wars book stand out from 19 years of backlist, but they’re giving it their all. And I like their unexpected choices – I never expected to see John Jude Palencar do Star Wars, for instance.

Now, we can go into the foreign editions – the Japanese covers certainly have their following – or the comic books, which tend to have more scene and character driven covers, but I’d like to concentrate on what’s actually on bookshelves here in the U.S. What kind of cover makes you pick up a Star Wars novel these days? What kind of covers do you want to see?

15 thoughts on “Nitpicking the Star Wars novel covers

  1. Kizzik

    Of all the covers I actually think I enjoy the FotJ the best. A large majority give story to the book just by whats on the outside, but FotJ seems to keep secrets. They almost appear to have a slight noir feel as well (Coruscant Nights, too), something the older covers never seemed to attempt.
    Don’t get me wrong the ninety’s did some good things with covers too but some of what I’ve seen in the newer stuff seems to be a bit more progressive without reaching for what the cover artists know isn’t there.

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  2. Kristen

    I actually haven’t actively bought any SW novels from a store. When I go to booksales, if I see a book, I grab it. The covers don’t matter much to me in terms of if I’ll read the book or not, but if I don’t like the cover, I’ll say so.

    That being said, one time I pulled out my copy of The Last Command, and my friend exclaimed “THAT’S Luke and Mara? They look like they’re twelve!”

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  3. Ozzel

    For me, nothing beats Struzan. But unfortunately, he’s retired, so calling for more covers from him will do no good. As for current artists:

    Dave Seeley is my fave. Love his style. Too bad Del Rey keeps canceling his books. :-p

    FOTJ does nothing for me. I can appreciate the bold approach, but they just aren’t pretty to look at. LOTF, although better in comparison, I didn’t love. Hated the ridiculously young woman supposed to be Mara on Sacrifice, and Ben’s ginormous Hasbro lightsaber on Fury was laughable. But others, like Tempest and Inferno, were much better. For prequel books, I can’t say I’m a fan of Steven D. Anderson, either.

    Del Rey artists I’d like to see more of: Dave Seeley, Jon Foster, Terese Nielsen, Glen Orbik, John Jude Palencar.

    Other SW artists I’d love to see do novel covers: Chris Trevas, Hugh Fleming, Chris Trevas, Dan Scott, and maybe Chris Trevas. ;-)

    And speaking of Fleming, mad props to Scholastic for his Life of Luke Skywalker cover(s). Gorgeous stuff. But I’m afraid I will never stop making fun of them for the recurring teen-Anakin head from the Jedi Quest series and its, what, nine appearances?

    But to answer Bantam’s question, I love great cover art, but in the end, it’s not a dealbreaker for me buying a book… unless there’s more than one cover, in which case I’ll just buy the better one (like the original version of TAB or the hardcover COPL). However, the question makes me wonder—can Bantam even commission new Star Wars art?

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  4. Briannakin

    As a closet star wars geek, I tend to take/rip off the covers, and I dont feel guilty doing to it to the books from the 90’s at all. Alot of weird things came out of the 90s and the covers for SW books are no exception, however the cover doesn’t stop me from buying or reading it. As for the newer stuff, most of the LOTF were bearable, but a few were just bad. I really like the FOTJ covers because of the modern, simple look to them. But I think the bane books covers are the best. As for the Japanese covers, they make good desktop backgrounds.

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  5. Nancy

    I think Darksaber is my favorite of the Struzan covers. Great likenessess, great colors. Shame about what’s inside it.

    I like the style of the FOTJ covers just because they’re different and eye-catching, but I wouldn’t want that kind of stark aesthetic all the time.

    I tend to perfer cover art that looks more hand done, like Struzan, Seeley, Palancar, and the Coruscant Nights art. The computer graphics, publicity stills and photoshoppery turn me off, though there are exceptions. I’ve always liked Approaching Storm; I think it’s the color contrast.

    For me the single worst cover is Cloak of Deception. The appeal of Qui-Gon is completely overshadowed by the other two heads. Ugh.

    PS: For COTJ, I think that’s supposed to be a small, profile section of Luke’s shoulder/bust… and it comes out looking weird since it’s all in black. *shrug*

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  6. Lanta

    I really like some of the NJO covers. Dark Journey, for example. Others aren’t so great though (The Unifying Force).

    It took me a while to adjust to the new style for FOTJ, but I do quite like it now, except for the choice of characters which I’ve sometimes felt were really odd for the particular novels.

    My favourites are probably some of the Japanese covers though, I love that they include EU characters not often or even never featured on US/UK covers, and they’re nice to look at too.

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  7. Aaron

    To me the worst covers of all are the ones for the Jedi Apprentice books. Okay, they’re not technically novels but I thought I mention it. ;-)
    Other than that the Photoshop covers are seriously getting on my nerves. They’re so unimaginative and synthetic. Brr…
    As for the ones I love: Drew Struzan was awesome. But I think Paul Youll was even better. Those X-Wing novel covers weren’t overly imaginative but no other cover artist has ever depicted the fun and the visual extravaganza of Star Wars in a more appealing fashion. Just imho, of course. :-)

    Not let’s talk comic covers! :-)
    (would be simple, though: Dave Dorman’s cover for TotJ-The Saga of Nomi Sunrider #1 is unsurpassable as far as I’m concerned)

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  8. Aaron

    That’s true. Though speaking of the YJK covers, I really like Dorman’s Tenel Ka. The Solo twins, though… Nope, not so much. ;-)
    But as far as covers in general are concerned, to me his first Nomi cover has it all. At least I’ve never seen a Star Wars cover that worked better on an emotional level: dead Andur, the fallen lightsaber, the kid… I think that’s just wow! :-)

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  9. Aaron Goins

    In general I have always liked the covers of Star Wars books. I just wish the images on the covers better matched the way the characters are described in the books. Especially with the newer books. The Japanese covers for the NJO books did a great job of accurately depicting the characters. I also liked how those covers features more of the supporting characters like Ganner Rhysode and Jagged Fel.

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  10. T.A.Paxton

    Interesting blog and I was just looking into the whole cover art subject. Sadly, I have had to lay off buying the Star Wars due to the sheer number of them and lack of money. But I do love the wide variety. Struzan was my favorite and some of the NJO ones. I’m glad Star Wars still has that ‘illustration’ look instead of going all photo covers (although that’s hard with sci fi). I love the older stuff but I did get rather weary of the ‘unchanging’ look. After all, they do get older!

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