A Typeface from Yesterday, for Tomorrow …Today?

March 25, 2017 • Louie Mantia

I always wanted to make a typeface of the Aurebesh (the written system for the Basic language in Star Wars), but I previously struggled to figure out how to make it unique.

Most Aurebesh typefaces focus on replicating the original sample by Stephen Crane. While a sample of what appears to be the Aurebesh appeared in Return of the Jedi, it is undecipherable and Stephen Crane redesigned each character and assigned them to our Latin alphabet. This was all done in a desire for people to use in West End Games’ Star Wars tabletop games.

“Aurebesh” in Return of the Jedi. To me, a lot of this seems inspired by Japanese Katakana. The first blue character is a literal horizontally-flipped 「カ」.

Since then, typefaces based on this have appeared in all sorts of Star Wars media. Books, comic books, video games, and the films themselves. In one edit of A New Hope, it replaced a previously English label seen on screen.

Modern Aurebesh in A New Hope, but with different parentheses.

When I began designing my version of the Aurebesh, I started by tracing the sample, like I imagine a lot of people have done. But where I deviated was in weight. I wanted mine to be decidedly bolder. Something that would have great contrast with the background.

But what happened I’m very proud of. I don’t know if many people have looked at the Aurebesh so critically (perhaps David Occhino who made Aurebesh New Roman, which is exceptional), but I noticed many characters were too wide, some too narrow. And it’s okay for this to happen. Our “W” is much wider than an “I.” But for our alphabet, the reason for that is clarity. A “W” contains four times the strokes as an “I.” Since it’s more visually complicated, it’s a bit wider than other characters.

In the Aurebesh, it doesn’t seem to be this way. The “A” and “W” are wider than they need to be while the “P” and “M” are much narrower than they should be. And that’s where I began to modify. This was a fun exercise in re-weighting characters to be more harmonious.

Comparison of original character widths (black) and the adjustments in Sacul (blue).

For some characters, re-weighting them was fairly complicated. But when it was, I looked back to the Return of the Jedi sample. There I often found characters designed in a way that would work much better in my version.

Modifications I’ve made to “S” and “B” based on glyphs found in Return of the Jedi.

My previous two typefaces haven’t needed much in the way of kerning; they’re both block typefaces. There’s not a whole lot to kern. But for the Aurebesh, they’re all sorts of shapes and sizes. They definitely needed it.

In the Latin alphabet, everyone thinks of “AV” when kerning, but with the Aurebesh I’d say the prime example is “GM.” All different letters, so it threw me off for a little while before realizing the task was the same. (Side effect of looking at this so long is now I can read it!)

Kerning examples for gm, oy, and tr.

Also in the Aurebesh are eight digraphs, which I’ve included as OpenType ligatures. There’s also punctuation (which I’ve mostly replicated from Stephen Crane’s designs), however there are some characters I wanted to create that did not exist.

Digraphs for ch, ae, eo, kh, ng, oo, sh, and th.

This posed a weird problem for me. I don’t work for The Walt Disney Company or Lucasfilm, so on one hand, it seemed inappropriate to create what other punctuation might look like. On the other hand, this is what Stephen Crane did for West End Games. He created a lot of punctuation for a followup. So I decided to go ahead and design some too, doing so by relating to existing characters as much as I could.

Existing punctuation in black, my additions in blue.

And then I made a Latin alphabet. In the same style. Why not? In the Star Wars universe, they refer to this as the “High Alphabet.” This explains Obi-Wan’s mention of “a plan B” and the name of the “X-Wing.” The Latin character set design is based on five characters seen in the Tokyo Disneyland Star Tours queue—“Sacul,” this typeface’s namesake.

One thing I wanted to ensure is between the two character sets, no letter character should be identical, flipped, or rotated. Everything should be unique. I did this thinking it shouldn’t be a gimmick. This Latin set should be in the same style, but it shouldn’t try to look like the Aurebesh. While the Basic “V” appears to us as a Latin “Y,” the actual Latin “Y” in Sacul needs to look differently.

Sacul “High Alphabet”

Even though my goal was to make a more practical typeface of the Aurebesh, I imagine this typeface isn’t practical at all for most people.

It’s obviously a novelty display typeface. It probably didn’t need to be made. But I’ve made a little hobby out of type design. It seems like the next logical step for me as an icon designer. They’re both single color glyphs, after all. They need the same things. You want icons alongside each other to feel the same weight too. But there’s a lot more to consider in type design and I’m learning more almost every day, thanks to friends like Jonathan Hoefler.

You can get Sacul Basic & High Alphabet for only $25.

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