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The Strange Case of Lee Seiler

The Strange Case of Lee Seiler

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In 1984 California artist Lee Seiler filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against George Lucas, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Fox. He claimed that the walker designs seen in ESB and ROTJ were stolen from his designs. In addition to damages, Seiler's action asked for an injunction against Lucasfilm's use of walkers and their removal from prints of both ESB and ROTJ. If that had been the result, those would have been strange Special Editions.

Lee Seiler claims to be a Hollywood set designer (though I could not find an entry on IMDB) and he is now one the foremost experts on the model of the Nautilus used in Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Seiler claimed to first have published his walker designs in June 1976, selling them at science fiction and comic book conventions. He also co-authored a popular book on dinosaur stop motion effects for film. In 1981, his blueprints for walkers were bound in a collection entitled "The Garthian Culture: An Alien Profile". Seiler designed his walkers to be especially suited for stop motion effects.

GARTHIAN STRIDER, Medium Attack Troop Carrier
80 tons, maxium speed 25 mph
"Unlike the tanks of Earth, the Garthian Strider walks on
two legs. This is the most efficient way to move on land
in the galaxy. To the Garthian, man might seem insignificant
as bugs." Lee Seiler 1981

A year after the release of ESB, Seiler wrote to Lucas, asking for a meeting and monetary compensation. Months later Lucasfilm's attorney responded that there was nothing to discuss. Seiler then took his case to a patent attorney. One of the keys to Seiler's case was that Dennis Muren was on Seiler's Garthian mailing list.

The case finally went to court in 1986.
The court's decision below the cut


Seiler did not obtain his copyright until 1981, but he contends that he created and published in 1976 and 1977 science fiction creatures called Garthian Striders. In 1981 Seiler obtained a copyright on his Striders, depositing with the Copyright Office "reconstructions" of the originals as they had appeared in 1976 and 1977. Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980.

After a seven day hearing, Seiler could produce no documents or published blueprints that antedated the release of ESB. He claimed that he had either lost or destroyed the original drawings. And no convention purchased blueprints sold before 1981 were ever found.

With no admissible evidence, the district court granted summary judgment to Lucas after the evidentiary hearing.


All Lucasfilm images by Joe Johnston Copyright Lucasfilm
Garthian Striders art by Lee Seiler

Cinefantastique Magazine Sept 1984
Seiler v. Lucasfilm, Ltd. http://www.law.berkeley.edu/
  • Why do people think they can get damages because they say they invented something before someone else but produce no proof? It's amazingly convenient how he 'destroyed' or 'lost' his original work.
    • I like the fact that in 1981 he copyrighted "reproductions" of his 1976 artwork.
  • (no subject) - rosiewook
  • yes, but

    Seiler was right. See my LJ post; I've uploaded two pages from some Garthian Strider model plans I purchased in the late '70s at a sci-fi convention.
    • Re: yes, but

      Wow those are really cool. Do you have more images? Perhaps ones that look like the Star Wars walkers? The first one reminds me of Dean & Dean's designs.

    • Re: yes, but

      Thanks, it's so cool to see these. Every since 1984, I've been curious about them.
      I'm also very envious of those early days of conventions. You must have some cool stories.
      • Re: yes, but

        I posted two more. One is a front view; it is the one that looks most like an AT-ST. The other is the back story. Seiler tries to tie to the then-popular Battlestar Galactica. No mention of SW-ESB, obviously.

        What I remember about those times was the incredible thirst for content. Only one SW movie, which people would see dozens of times, the only ST was more than 10 years old. When the ST movie finally came out, everyone was really disappointed.

        The plans consist of two double-sided sheets. Each is 22x34, and folds into an 11x8.5 size.
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