Amazing Vintage Star Wars Art

Ralph McQuarrie / Lucasfilms

Ralph McQuarrie (1929-2012) was an American conceptual designer and illustrator. He had a keen sense of aesthetics and imagination that set him apart from other illustrators. So he was a natural choice for George Lucas, who looked to him for inspiration for the Star Wars trilogy.

McQuarrie was responsible for designing many of the film’s characters, including Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO. He was also responsible for the conceptual design of the film sets and props. He inspired many artists including my incredibly talented friend Eric Gehlin whose work is mind-blowing as well.

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” I just did my best to depict how I thought the film should look, I really liked the idea. I didn’t think the film would get made. My impression was it was too expensive. I thought there wouldn’t be enough of an audience. It’s too complicated. But George knew a lot of things that I didn’t know.” – Ralph McQuarrie

There are some key differences in some of his illustrations compared to the end result. Originally in the paintings, only the storm troopers and other non-Jedi characters had light sabers, before they were incorporated into the Jedi mytholody.

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”That there’s such a connection between a lot of those iconic images and the movie scenes. The way that he illustrated them was an influence on those characters, how they acted. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s illustrations and say ‘Do it like this.”’ – George Lucas

It was McQuarrie who came up with the idea for Vader to wear a breathing apparatus to survive the vaccuum of space. George then added the samurai helmet and Darth Vader was born.

McQuarrie is an example of what a mind set free by creativity can achieve. He has a brilliance of insight that sets him apart from other illustrators and has inspired newer generations of Sci-Fi illustrators. The book Star Wars: The Art of Ralph McQuarrie is out through Dream and Visions Press.

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In the future when we are all living on space ships, people will say ”That’s beautiful, it looks like something McQuarrie designed.”

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for this wonderful trip down memory lane!!

    I have a great interest in concept and production art for movies, games and television.

    I discovered Ralph McQuarrie’s work just before he started working on Star Wars. He quickly became my favorite movie production artist. Mr. McQuarrie also worked on the original Battlestar Galactica television show and Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.

    Many of his best works were in the form of paperback book covers that he did during the 1990s.

    In my mind McQuarrie set the visual language for the Star wars films and it’s great that you’re bringing his work to a wider audience.

    Best Regards,
    Eric

    1. I love that you know all about this Eric. I knew this was the case just from looking at your work! I am sorry i was meant to link back to you – for this very reason, will do this now.

      So evocative his paintings and so classical. They seem to have been copied so many times elsewhere by other artists.

  2. Gosh, it’s amazing how well you read my interests in art.

    First off I’d like to mention that I learned to read in the early-1960s when I was about 5 or 6 years old. My dad bought me my first Marvel comics and a dictionary. He showed me how to use the dictionary and things went from there. This explains why I prefer to tell stories using words and pictures.

    When I was in high school I took an interest in the artists who inspired the comic book creators I’d read as a youth. I found that most influences came from the book illustrators of the late 1800s and early 1900s. These artists included Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Thomas Mackenzie, Rene’ Bull, Charles and William Heath Robinson, N.C. Wyeth, Franklin Booth and Sir William Russell Flint.
    (BTW_In my opinion, William Russell Flint is the finest watercolorist to have ever lived–EG)

    I also found that American comic books were inspired, in part, by the Japanese woodblock print artists. These prints featured black outlines and bright primary colors that are the trademarks of American newspaper strips and comic books. My favorite Japanese woodblock artists are Katsushika Hokusai (known for his landscape scenes including the famous “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”) and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (known for his prints of the supernatural and (in)famous murders).

    This is why I love movie and game production art so much. The styles have much in common with both comics and the Japanese prints.

    Thanks for the cool link to stevenpoke.com. I’ll be visiting his site often.

    Very Best Regards,
    Eric

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