Who is Joe Johnston and Why is He So Important to Star Wars?

Whadda ya know, Joe?

Joe Johnston is fairly famous in Hollywood circles as a director of some pretty big movies. 1989's Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, 1991's The Rocketeer, 1994's The Pagemaster, 1995's Jumanji, 1999's October Sky, 2001's Jurassic Park III, 2004's Hidalgo, 2010's The Wolfman, 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, and 2014's Not Safe for Work are just some of the movies he's helmed.

They're pretty much all heavily special effects-driven and, before all of that, Johnston actually made his name as an effects artist hired by George Lucas to work on the Star Wars films. He is, therefore, a key component in the success and very existence of the popular space opera franchise.

Light and Magic Docuseries Review: A Look Behind The Camera
Image Courtesy of Disney+/Lucasfilm
(L-R): Joe Johnston, John Dykstra and Dave Jones in a scene from Lucasfilm's LIGHT & MAGIC, exclusively on Disney+. © 2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Here are some key points about Mr. Johnston:

  • Joseph Eggleston Johnston II was born on May the 13th, 1950, in Austin, Texas.
  • He attended California State University, Long Beach, Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, and USC Film School.
  • While Ralph McQuarrie is known as the main concept artist of the Star Wars franchise, it was Johnston that designed many of the spaceships and vehicles, including the Millennium Falcon, X-Wings, Y-wings, Imperial Star Destroyer, the Death Star, and AT-ATs.
  • Boba Fett fans love Joe because he played a large part in the design look of The Empire Strikes Back’s most popular bounty hunter. He also was influential in the design of Yoda.
  • As an effects artist and art director, he made his mark and George Lucas made sure to keep him around him – so much so that Lucas gave him the job of Art Director for 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark for which he won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. He had a similar job on 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
  • He directed a 1993 episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles entitled “Princeton, February 1916.”
  • Johnston in some form or another worked with Lucas and Steven Spielberg for much of the 1980s before he made the leap from Art Director to simply being a director for Honey, I shrunk the Kids.
  • He was the ultralight sequence designer on 1986's Howard the Duck.
  • He was an associate producer on 1988's Willow.
  • He designed the Iron Giant from the 1999 movie of the same name.
  • An author, Johnston has several books to his name; 1977's The Star Wars Sketchbook, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back Sketchbook (with Nilo Rodis-Jamero), 1983's Return of the Jedi Sketchbook (with Nilo Rodis-Jamero), 1984's The Adventures of Teebo: A Tale of Magic and Suspense, 2005's Star Wars: Aux Origines du Mythe (with Doug Chiang), 2007's The Hill Culture, 2011's The Mack Marsden Murder Mystery, 2014's Franklin, 2014's Necessary Evil: Settling Missouri with a Rope and a Gun, and 2015's It End Here: Missouri's Last Vigilante.
  • A final piece of trivia is that Joe appeared as an Imperial Gunner and Storm Trooper in A New Hope.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.