Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, R2-D2 and C-3PO all would look differently if not for artist Ralph McQuarrie. McQuarrie died this weekend at the age of 82 after a battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Fans of Star Wars knew McQuarrie by name, thanks to the great access Lucasfilm gave to fans over the years of the making of the original Star Wars trilogy. Even before many had seen Star Wars for the first time back in 1977 they could flip through 21 prints by McQuarrie that inspired the sets and costumes for the original Star Wars in the Star Wars Portfolio compilation. For many kids, this was their first access to science fiction fine art.
The images created by McQuarrie were not his alone. George Lucas had created his ideas behind Star Wars over several years, but to get a pictorial representation of Lucas’s vision, he turned to McQuarrie. “Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision ‘Star Wars,'” Lucas said in a statement. “His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy…. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘Do it like this.'”
McQuarrie’s style for the original Star Wars trilogy was often Art Deco influenced, with his original vision of C-3PO very similar to the robot of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
McQuarrie created images for many productions, many that would influence the final production and some that would not, including images for Star Trek and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, McQuarrie created this biblical image to explain the power of the lost ark of the covenant that Indiana Jones used to show the feds what they were up against:
In this image, McQuarrie included an image of Mark Hamill for what would be the original Battlestar Galactica series, when Hamill was offered, and ultimately declined, a leading role as Commander Adama:
One of McQuarrie’s most reproduced images is of Yoda for an early Lucasfilm Christmas card:
McQuarrie had a cameo appearance in an ice planet Hoth scene in The Empire Strikes Back. For the 30th anniversary of Star Wars Hasbro produced an action figure of McQuarrie as that character. Over the years Hasbro did something else that was unprecedented: creating action figures of the Star Wars characters based on the original paintings of McQuarrie.
The original Star Wars Portfolio is difficult to find these days, but several books that have chronicled the original Star Wars trilogy contain these images, including The Illustrated Star Wars Universe, the rare The Art of Ralph McQuarrie, and many old Star Wars calendars.
There is no doubt McQuarrie left an indelible mark on the artistry of classic science fiction.
(All photos above Copyright Lucasfilm Ltd).