The incredible imagination and skill of Ralph McQuarrie brought Star Wars to life.
To celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, throughout the entire month of December AiPT! will be covering all the latest news and updates, reviewing the latest comics, teaching you how to build your very own lightsaber on our YouTube channel, breaking down all the best theories on our podcast, showcasing the best cosplay, ranking the best Sith/Jedi and so much more.
When you talk about Star Wars and who helped make it such an amazing achievement, a lot of names come to mind. Names like George Lucas, the writer, director and creative mind behind the whole franchise. John Williams, a man who set these movies apart from all others with his distinct use of orchestral music. Irvin Kirshner and Richard Marquand, who followed Lucas in directing The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
One name that doesn’t come up quite as often who we owe a lot to is Ralph McQuarrie. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you may have heard the name before or are fairly familiar with his contribution, but for those unaware he is the conceptual designer for the original trilogy. He worked with George from its earliest stages to bring to life what was in Lucas’s mind. He is the reason we have characters such as Darth Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3P0 as we know them today. In fact, it was Ralph McQuarrie’s concept paintings that helped get Lucas funding for his sci-fi space opera to begin with. Theoretically speaking, if it wasn’t for Ralph McQuarrie’s beyond impressive artwork, Star Wars may never have gotten off the ground. So in celebration of our countdown to The Last Jedi, we’ll be looking at the work of McQuarrie.
It was McQuarrie who first suggested Darth Vader should wear a breathing apparatus. George wanted a tall dark malevolent figure in a cape with Samurai Armour and to be able to survive in the vacuum of space. McQuarrie suggested he wear some sort of space suit and combined a full face breathing mask with a Samurai helmet.
This is one of my favorite images because I’ve always proposed the Death Star 2 was in production by the time DS1 was destroyed. This would explain why its construction is so far along by Return of the Jedi.
Although Stuart Freeborn designed Yoda’s face after his own, Ralph McQuarrie came up with his overall look and size.
Ralph McQuarrie made a cameo in The Empire Strikes Back as “General Pharl McQuarrie”. Here he is (background) walking in front of a matte painting he did. This was a common technique used throughout the movie for background scenery and was a very effective alternative to computer graphic imagery.
A before and after showing off this technique.
Several of McQuarrie’s unused designs from the original trilogy would later be used for The Clone Wars and Rebels TV series. The planet Orto Plutonia was based off of McQuarrie’s original concepts for Hoth.
His original character design for Chewbacca would later be used as inspiration for The Clone Wars character Zeb Orrelios.
An image done for the original meeting with the Emperor. The lava setting would later be used for Darth Vader’s home base of Mustafar.
Theres that old hunk-o-junk!
Originally the idea was for the lightsaber to be a common weapon used by Stormtroopers. Fortunately that was adjusted to be used only by Jedi.
One of Ralph’s earliest paintings and what would eventually become Cloud City was once going to be the imperial city of Alderaan where the rescue of Princess Leia would take place.
A general city concept art. Hopefully our future can look something like this one day.
One of the concept images Ralph did for a film project called Star Dancing that originally caught George Lucas’s eye.
George Lucas had an amazing vision that was far beyond his time. Those around him, including the crew that worked on the film, looked down on Lucas for his dream of making a silly sci-fi movie. It was Ralph McQuarrie that had the perception of the galaxy he was trying to create and brought it to life. Recently, a compilation of his work was collected together and can be found in Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie.
While a lot of the images can be found online, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of his drawings and paintings that I’ve never seen before. It contains excerpts of scripts and Ralph’s thought process of his art. It even begins with an introduction by Lucas himself. If you are a big Star Wars fan and appreciate behind the scenes work, this is definitely a must have. It would also make a great gift for any of those with the force this holiday season. While this technically retails for $250 it is currently being sold on Amazon for $156 and I managed to get it as low as $135. This is one of those books however I can’t imagine will always be available so I suggest getting it while you can.