Flags in The Force Awakens

Flags make a couple of brief appearances in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

One is in this scene that draws upon the Nuremberg rally imagery from Lene Riefenstahl’s infamous Nazi propaganda film, 1935’s Triumph of the Will:

Animation from Vince Matthews’ 8/10/2015 post on digitalmediaacademy.org

The flag in the background belongs to the First Order, featuring its emblem of 16 bars radially arranged within a circle, within a hexagon.

First Order flag rendition by RedRich1917 on Deviant Art.

Kristian Goddard has also been struck by the allusion to Nuremberg.  Hitler was fascinated by flags, and put them to effective use in designing the monsterous Third Reich.

Image Comparison Between Star Wars ‘The Force Awakens’ (2015) and Nazi Nuremberg Rally (1935), by Kristian Goddard on Pinterest



The other scene takes place at entrance to the castle of Maz Kanata, which is festooned with banners in various states of decay.  These created a flurry of excitement amongst Star Wars fans, particularly because two of them feature symbols associated with Boba Fett (last seen being devoured by the Sarlacc in Return of the Jedi).  Indeed, some saw this as evidence that Boba Fett would miraculously appear in The Force Awakens — e.g. see Chris Burns’ 10/20/2015 posting on Slash Gear, Is Boba Fett in Star Wars The Force Awakens — which, to their disappointment, he did not.

Animation from Burns’ post, highlighting the Fettinalia.
Additional imagery, from a subsequent trailer.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), The Force Awakens in Fett-less.  Even worse, however, is what these flags turn out to reference: podracer emblems from that Jar Jar-laden disaster, The Phantom Menace.  Stop reading now if you would like to ignore this discovery, by user Calithlin of TheCantina.com.

Research by Calithlin of TheCantina.com

Here is Calithlin’s key to the image above:

• 1 Unknown
• 2 ABC Aldar Beedo
• 3 ABCD Ark Roose
• 4 AB Unknown
• 5 AB Anakin Skywalker (or Watto)
• 6 ABC Unknown (may be another Mandalorian symbol)
• 7 Ziro the Hutt (tattoo on his belly)
• 8 Sebulba
• 9 Unknown
• 10 Unknown (may be another Mandalorian symbol, looks like Sabine‘s helmet in Star Wars: Rebels)
• 11 Boba Fett Wheat
• 12 Mythosaur Skull (Boba Fett, Mandalorians)
• 13 Unknown (looks similar to Tatooine flag)
• 14 Ohnaka Gang
• 15 Sebulba
• 16 Teemto Pagalies

It is perhaps happier just to let these flags be, and to take them only as another way in which Lupita Nyong’o’s character is a highlight of this latest Star Wars film: Maz Kanata is, among other things, a flag geek!


Postscript:  Another flag in the Maz Kanata castle scene has been identified by Twitterer @SailorWookiee.

Flag of the 501st Legion (Vader’s Fist).  Photo by Victoria @SailorWookiee

More Star Wars Fan Flags

Scott Kelly isn’t the only Star Wars fan who has been hard at work designing flags.  This month’s flag design contest in Reddit’s /r/vexillology community had this prompt:

It is a period of flag design. Aspiring vexillographers, illustrating from around the world, have won victories throughout the year. During this month, your task is to create the ultimate design for a STAR WARS FLAG, a flag for any faction or character within the Star Wars universe. Armed with keen ideas and crisp vector graphics, race home aboard your starship, with plans to create the best flag in the galaxy….

And here are the top 20 designs, as upvoted on Reddit:

Flags of the (Star Wars) Galaxy

Earlier in the year we wished May the Fourth Be With You, and now for some reason Star Wars flags are back on our minds…

London-based New Zealander Scott Kelly’s labor of love — to design a flag for the “around 300 planets named over all of the Star Wars universe, from movies to comic books to video games” — has been getting a fair amount of attention given the media’s boundless hunger for all things Star Wars related as western culture revels in The Force Awakens release-o-mania. Kelly is currently at 103 flags and counting, each flag with a page explaining its design at www.flagsofthegalaxy.com. These are all pretty good designs, as The Guardian reports:

He said his “loving interpretations” observed the basic rules and traditions of flag design, including the canton, chevron and 2:3 ratio, and drew on each planets’ individual attributes.

Kelly’s project is actually independent of the flag designs that have appeared in the movies, “extended universe”, etc.  This is interesting, given that he says Wookieepedia was his primary reference — but apparently not Wookiepedia’s collection of images of flags and banners.  Indeed, a number of the planets Kelly designed for already have flags, in this sense.

For example, here is the flag for Tatooine, as it appeared (without further explanation) in Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided.


And here is Scott Kelly’s version:


Kelly also provides a lengthy explanation for this design:

Tatooine was a desert world and the first planet in the binary Tatoo star system. It was part of the Arkanis sector in the Outer Rim Territories. It was inhabited by poor locals who mostly farmed moisture for a living. Other activities included used equipment retailing and scrap dealing. The planet was on the 5709-‐DC Shipping Lane, a spur of the Triellus Trade Route, which itself connected to the Sisar Run. The planet was not far from the Corellian Run. It had its own navigation system. The two acute circles represent Tatoo I and Tatoo II, the two suns which Tatooine orbits. As the suns have such a significant effect over the physical features of the planet and its economic place in the galaxy the two acutely angled circles have come to be the biggest signifiers of the planet. The red strip along the bottom of the flag, represents the rule that the Hutts Lords have over large swarths of Tatooine. The yellow is the primary identifying colour of Tatooine. This association is due to thousands of years of travellers mistaking Tatooine for a sun due to its desert appearance and the bright reflection from the two stars it orbits.

And in this case, and several others, he has manufactured his design, and then “aged” it to give it the classic Star Wars grungy look (that was so much missed in perfect CGI artifice of the cursed prequel trilogy):

Screenshot from flagsofthegalaxy.com

Here are some other examples to compare the flags from existing Star Wars media (right column), and Scott Kelly’s interpretations (left column).  These flags are for Dantooine (top row), Endor (middle row), and Naboo (bottom row).

As flags, Kelly’s designs are fairly simple and legible.  But do they feel like they belong in the Star Wars universe?  In that regard, are they more or less successful than the designs on Wookiepedia?  Let us know what you think in the comments below.

As a postscript, it turns out Scott Kelly has been designing flags for Middle Earth as well: at least, for its cinematic stand-in, Kelly’s homeland of New Zealand.  These five designs were submitted to this year’s design contest for a new Kiwi flag.


A Flag for Pluto

by Scott Mainwaring, Vexilloid Tabloid #53

On 13 July the New Horizons probe sent an image of Pluto dominated by Tombaugh Regio, a large feature informally called “the heart”.

The “heart” of Pluto from 476,000 miles.  Image taken by New Horizons on 13 July 2015. Source:   NASA/APL/SwRI
The “heart” of Pluto from 476,000 miles.  Image taken by New Horizons on 13 July 2015. Source: NASA/APL/SwRI

Inspired, I created a flag for Pluto: its astrological symbol in orange-brown (its overall color), in a white heart, on black (for space).

A Heart Flag for Pluto, designed by Scott Mainwaring, 14 July 2015.
A Heart Flag for Pluto, designed by Scott Mainwaring, 14 July 2015.

I chose the astrological over the astronomical symbol (♇) as its symmetry makes it more flag-friendly.  The aspect ratio of 1:1 is the closest a rectangle can come to the circular shape of the (dwarf) planet; and distinguishes it from standard terrestrial flags.

Stickers, hats, and other products with this design are for sale on Zazzle.com.

Flags and the Apollo 11 Launch

Gregory Cecil has a nice piece today in Spaceflight Insider on symbolism and the first moon landing, commemorating the 46th anniversary of launch of Apollo 11.

Two NASA photos in the piece feature flags.  The first is a famous double-exposure showing the ascending Saturn V and the American flag:


The second shows Johnson and Agnew amidst a sea of 20,000 VIPs watching the launch.  Flags of various countries (representing the nationalities of the VIPs?) fly in the background.


Though not in the Cecil’s piece, here’s another photo of the VIP area and its flags, taken by Frank Beacham.  (The man in sunglasses and a blue shirt looking into the camera is Ed McMahon, to his left is Johnny Carson.)


Apollo 11 was both an amazing achievement of the United States, and of humankind.  The tension between the two is nicely illustrated by the two NASA photos, one a fabricated image of Old Glory and rocket, the other of the multinational audience marked by flags of many nations.

This tension played out in the, for the most part, behind-the-scenes debate over which flag Armstrong and Aldrin would plant on the moon.  As Cecil writes:

Unknown to most of the public, a debate had raged prior to the launch about which flag was to be planted on the Moon during the mission. Some had argued behind the scenes that since the crew ofApollo 11 was representing all of humanity, a world flag, such as the United Nations flag, should be planted on the Moon during the landing.

Others argued that since it was an American venture, the United States flag should be planted. The reason this was such a controversy was that, in the past, the “planting of the flag” indicated taking possession of a land or territory which, in this case, was in direct violation of the 1967 United Nations Treaty on Principles Governing Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty).

NASA, in February of 1969, set up a Committee on Symbolic Activities for the First Lunar Landing to study the issue. The decision was made to use the United States Flag and have a plaque showing both hemispheres of the Earth representing all of mankind. The night before the launch, a team from Marshall Space Flight Center led by Jack Kinzler attached the flag and plaque to the Lunar Module Eagle.

For more background on the flag debate, see Annie Platoff’s 1993 paper, Where No Flag Has Gone Before: Political and Technical Aspects of Placing a Flag on the Moon.  Platoff notes that the US Congress eventually weighed in on the matter:

A House and Senate conference committee agreed on the final version of the bill on 4 November 1969 which included a provision that “the flag of the United States, and no other flag, shall be implanted or otherwise placed on the surface of the moon, or on the surface of any planet, by members of the crew of any spacecraft … as part of any mission … the funds for which are provided entirely by the Government of the United States.” The amendment, in deference to the Outer Space Treaty, concluded with the statement “this act is intended as a symbolic gesture of national pride in achievement and is not to be construed as a declaration of national appropriation by claim of sovereignty.” (footnote 17)

Gregory Cecil ends his piece with an eloquent quote from Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Michael Collins:

I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles, their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified façade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment. The Earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not envious or envied.

Oskar Pernefeldt’s International Flag for Planet Earth

Plutonian Flags

In celebration of New Horizons’ fly-by today of Pluto, some hadeocentric symbols and flags:

Pluto's astronomical symbol:  a monogram for PL, standing for PLuto and for astronomer Percival Lowell who first found compelling evidence of its existence.  The Lowell Observatory proposed the symbol and name on May 1, 1930.
Pluto’s astronomical symbol: a monogram for PL, standing for PLuto and for astronomer Percival Lowell who first found compelling evidence of its existence. The Lowell Observatory proposed the symbol and name on May 1, 1930.  As text, the symbol raises difficulties for flag designers, because its reverse is illegible.
The astrological symbol for Pluto: the symbol for Mercury, with arc and circle exchanged.  It can be interpreted as
The astrological symbol for Pluto: the symbol for Mercury, with arc and circle exchanged. It can be interpreted as “mind (crescent) transcending matter (cross) to reach for divine spirit (circle)“. Vertically symmetric, it’s a flag-friendly (if not science-friendly) symbol.
A flag design by ONI-Defense (on DeviantArt):
A design by ONI-Defense (on DeviantArt): “The flag for Pluto is simple, it’s coloration representing both Pluto, ruler of the underworld, and the dwarf planet, Pluto being an ice world. The navy blue circles represent Pluto and its moons, Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx.”
A personal flag by
A personal flag by “Pyrrhos the Red” (on EstotericOnline): “A flag of personal value to and design from me. It has the astrological symbol for Pluto because 1.) Was one of three planets in the constellation of Libra when I was born (in October). and 2.) It represents Body/Physicality/Matter (Cross), Mana/Lifeforce/Energy (Crescent), and Ghost/Spirit/Soul (Circle). The colors also represent such (from black down to red), being a rough representation of the process of refinement in philosophical alchemy (putrefaction, calcification, etc.) and simultaneously representing my love for my German heritage.”
A flag for Pluto's largest moon Charon, by Maddish (on The Voice of Vexillology, Flags & Heraldry):
A flag for Pluto’s largest moon Charon, by Maddish (on The Voice of Vexillology, Flags & Heraldry): “The flag of Charon uses four colours: purple, navy blue, black and white. This flag has a strong counter charge aspect. The taller figure is the God Charon, the ferry man to underworld. The sitting black figure to the right represents a person crossing over to Hades. The boat is also shaped like a moon to denote Charon’s bi-terminal status as a ‘moon.’ The staff of Charon is black and white denoting the elemental dichotomy between life and death. Near the upper hoist is the symbol of Pluto.”
“Flag of Charon proudly flying on a ‘Pluto-Rise'”
A flag for Pluto, and Plutophiles. Design by Scott Mainwaring, 14 July 2015.

Annie Platoff on the air

Flag scholar and NAVA vice president Annie Platoff was on the Pacifica radio network yesterday discussing vexillology, the Confederate flag, roots of people’s attachment to flags, the Apollo flags on the moon, and Russian and Ukrainian flags.  She was a guest on Brad Friedman’s “BradCast” at bradblog.com/?p=11241.  (Skip 8:40 into the broadcast to hear the flag segment.)

Annie Platoff
Annie Platoff

The MTV Flag on the Moon


Six years before Andy Warhol made Moonwalk, the creators of MTV went to the same Apollo material to announce their presence to the world on 1 August 1981:

Here’s what they said about their decision to “rip apart” a “holy” image in order to make their point:

From I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, by Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks (Penguin, 2011), p. 3.

MTV’s parody of the Apollo 11 flag salute lives on.  Each year at the MTV Video Music Awards winners take home a “moonman”:


For the first MTV generation the image of the MTV flag on the moon resonates as much as if not more than the NASA original, as in this clip from the second episode of Futurama (1999):

See also:

Andy Warhol, NASA, and the Making of “Moonwalk”

Moonwalk is one of Andy Warhol’s last works, produced shortly before his death in 1987 and never signed.  There are two regular edition versions, one in yellow, one in pink.

Andy Warhol – Moonwalk (1987). Yellow version.
Andy Warhol - Moonwalk (1987). Pink version.
Andy Warhol – Moonwalk (1987). Pink version.

There were also 66 trial proofs, each unique. One example:

Andy Warhol – Moonwalk (1987). One of 66 trial proofs.

It is easy to think that this is Warhol drawing and painting over a famous NASA photograph from Apollo 11, but this would only be partially true.

Neil Armstrong did take a famous picture of Buzz Aldrin standing next to the flag on the moon — but Aldrin is shown in profile, and to the right of the flag.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the US flag on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquillity, landing site of Apollo 11, June 1969. Photograph by Neil Armstrong. Detail from photo AS11-40-5875 from the NASA’s Apollo 11 Image Library.

There is also a famous “selfie” that Armstrong took of himself, using the visor of Aldrin’s space suit as a mirror.  This is in fact the astronaut photograph that Warhol used, but only after mirror-reversing it (e.g., in the photo the astronaut is bending his left arm, but Warhol’s astronaut is bending his right).

Buzz Aldrin on the moon, with Neil Armstrong and part of the Lunar Module “Eagle” reflected in Adrin’s visor. As a PR image that surely makes the moon landing deniers happy, this is actually a doctored image with black added above Aldrin’s head for aesthetic appeal. Apollo 11 image AS11-40-5903, version released to the press and featured, for example, in Life Magazine.  
Detail of the original raw image, showing Armstrong reflected in Aldrin's visor.
Detail of the original raw image, showing Armstrong reflected in Aldrin’s visor.

So Moonwalk has behind it a story of artistic liberties, some taken by NASA, many more by the pop artist.

There is another story unfolding about this iconic flag image by Warhol/NASA.  A year after Warhol’s death, Chris Murray’s Govinda Gallery donated Moonwalk screenprints to a charity auction for the Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Houston.  Aldrin and his wife Lois attended the event, and Murray ended up giving them one of the yellow screenprints.  At the end of this month, Lois and Buzz Aldrin will be auctioning off their copy.


The International Flag of Planet Earth

For his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communications project at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm, Sweden, Oskar Pernefeldt has produced a very slick set of marketing materials for an “official proposal” for “the International Flag of Planet Earth“.  On May 18th, Jacob Kastrenakes posted on The Verge a writeup entitled, with needless belligerency, This is the flag we’ll plant when we conquer an alien planet This went viral, sending Pernefeldt’s flag concept zipping internationally around the planet Earth, in cyber space if not outer space.

Seven interlocking circles form a flower.
Seven interlocking circles form a flower.

Is this school project the first Internet-savvy “product launch” for a new flag?  As a point of comparison, it will be interesting over the coming months to see how the countries of Fiji and New Zealand will use graphic design and social media platforms to market the new flags now being worked on.

A row-house resident defies his conformist American neighbors by declaring his allegiance to the planet!
A row-house resident defies his conformist American neighbors by declaring his allegiance to the planet!

This project was far from a solo effort.  Pernefeldt thanks 15 individuals (including FIAV president Michel Lupant, and a heraldic artist from the Swedish national archives, Henrik Dahlström) and the following diverse set of six companies for their assistance:

  • bsmart – a photography, 3D/CGI, and image retouch company based in Stockholm and Cape Town
  • Johnér Images – a stock photography “natural imagery” firm
  • Flaggfabriken Kronan – a Swedish flag maker and retailer
  • LG Electronics – the South Korean consumer electronics giant
  • Namnband – a Swedish company specializing in garment labeling equipment
  • NASA – the US space agency (but why not the European Space Agency?)
A Mars explorer drives out into a shallow valley, inexplicably, to plant a plastic looking banner/flag.
A Mars explorer drives out into a shallow valley, inexplicably, to plant a plastic looking banner/flag.

All in all, a very impressive student project on futuristic vexillography.  It would have been even stronger had it addressed the materials requirements for spaceworthy flags, and for flags that could actually fly in the thin Martian atmosphere.  And it does not try to position itself within the existing design space for earth flags, including John McConnell’s famous Earth Flag.  But for an undergraduate art project, really not bad at all — and perhaps something Fiji, New Zealand, and other new flag promotion projects can learn from.