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.
” 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.
”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.