The origins of Jefferson Starship lie with an earlier band, Jefferson Airplane, one of the most influential groups in the psychedelic rock movement of the 1960s. In 1969, they played at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. Later that year, they were also one of the bands performing at the infamous Altamont Free Concert. The Altamont concert was the subject of the documentary Gimme Shelter, for which George Lucas was a camera operator.
In 1970, rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner and an ad-hoc group of musicians released Blows Against the Empire, a science-fiction themed album credited to "Paul Kantner & Jefferson Starship." Kantner officially formed a group by that name in 1974, consisting of himself on rhythm guitar and vocals, Marty Balin and Grace Slick on lead vocals, John Barbata on drums, Craig Chaquico on lead guitar, Papa John Creach on violin, and David Freiberg and Pete Sears alternating between bass and keyboards. In June of 1977, the group was photographed with Darth Vader (as played by touring model Kermit Eller). Sometime later, Slick met Mark Hamill backstage at a concert, where she introduced herself as "Darth Vader's wife." By 1978, Creach and Slick had departed from the group. It was during this period that the group performed in The Star Wars Holiday Special. Balin and Barbata soon departed the group as well.
Mickey Thomas and Aynsley Dunbar were hired as the new lead vocalist and drummer, respectively. However, members continued to come and go; Slick rejoined in 1981, whereas Dunbar was replaced by Donny Baldwin in 1983. After a series of creative disputes, Kantner left the band in 1984, and a protracted and bitter legal battle ensued over control of the band's name. In the end, Kantner was given control of the name "Jefferson Starship" and the group renamed itself simply Starship. In 1986, they performed at the grand opening of the Lucasfilm/Disney attraction Captain EO. Slick left Starship in 1988 and joined the classic Jefferson Airplane lineup in 1989 for a one-off reunion album and tour. Starship also released an album that year before breaking up in 1990.
In 1992, Thomas recruited a new line-up of musicians and began performing as "Starship featuring Mickey Thomas." At the same time, Kantner, along with various other veterans including Balin and Freiberg, toured as "Jefferson Starship: The Next Generation." Both groups continue to tour and sporadically record to this day.