Here at Cinetropolis, we are massive Star Wars fans. So it was with great sadness we learned of the death of artist Ralph McQuarrie yesterday at the age of 82. Ralph was the man who George Lucas turned to when he needed to explain his vision to studio executives in 1976, as he tried to get Star Wars greenlit.
His background as a commercial artist and designer for Boeing amongst others helped create the “lived in Universe” look of the Star Wars films. Ralph McQuarrie said of his concept portfolio: ”I wanted to make these paintings as close to what would be on the screen as possible. That was a product of, or a result of our wish to make the people at Fox feel that we had a picture that was going to have a quality image, one that wasn’t going to be trashy science fiction . . . It was going to be a real polished product.”
Others have said that he is to Star Wars what H.R Giger was to Alien, and that is true. But Ralph had a wider influence on film than Giger, going on to contribute not only to The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, but to provide concept art for other films and T.V projects, such as planned follow up T.V series Star Trek Phase II, the original Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek The Motion Picture, and E.T the Extra-terrestrial. He won an Academy award for visual effects for Cocoon, and has inspired thousands of other concept artists to follow in his footsteps.
Probably his most iconic image (and was ever a word more aptly applied to a body of work?) is this early concept of Darth Vader engaged in a light sabre duel with a bemasked Luke Skywalker.
According to Ralph, the idea of a breathing mask for Darth Vader came about from his reading of the script. Ralph figured if Vader was going to board another ship by cutting through the hull, he’d need some breathing gear. Again, his contribution to our appreciation of the vividness of the Star Wars universe cannot be underestimated.
George Lucas had this to say about his earliest Star Wars collaborator:
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of such a visionary artist and such a humble man. Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision Star Wars. His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled 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.’
“Beyond the movies, his artwork has inspired at least two generations of younger artists—all of whom learned through Ralph that movies are designed. Like me, they were thrilled by his keen eye and creative imagination, which always brought concepts to their most ideal plateau. In many ways, he was a generous father to a conceptual art revolution that was born of his artwork, and which seized the imaginations of thousands and propelled them into the film industry. In that way, we will all be benefiting from his oeuvre for generations to come. Beyond that, I will always remember him as a kind and patient, and wonderfully talented, friend and collaborator.”
Please enjoy this showreel of Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars artwork, and remember one of the greats.