Hey guys. Quint here. The great Ralph McQuarrie passed away today at the age of 82. This news has hit me harder than I expected it to. As a kid I had his artwork on my walls and looked in awe through the portfolio set of his artwork from Star Wars (I never called it A New Hope, the first film was always just Star Wars to me and to this day I still feel awkward calling it A New Hope).
Without Ralph McQuarrie we would not have Star Wars, plain and simple. George Lucas’ script was being turned down left and right. Nobody was understanding his vision. Lucas realized he couldn’t count on a studio exec having even a small amount of imagination and sought out Ralph McQuarrie to do a series of production art pieces that would visualize the world.
Lucas’ first pitch with McQuarrie’s art laid out before him was at 20th Century Fox and you know what happened next.
If that had been McQuarrie’s complete legacy we would owe him our eternal thanks, but not only did he grasp the story and imagery Lucas was desperate to put on screen, he set the template for the universe. I’ve included much of McQuarrie’s art below and when you look at his Star Wars stuff, look at how exactly his machines were adapted by ILM. I’d say you can thank Ralph for the lived-in look of the universe.
Back in my youthful days I remember being mesmerized by the alternate reality suggested by his image of Luke, with breathing apparatus, having a duel with Vader in Star Wars, and by the thought of what it would have been like had the Stormtroopers carried lightsabers.
When you get to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi you see his artwork and just kind of marvel at how, in both cases, that IS the movie.
McQuarrie’s art also influenced the mothership in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and he was even called upon to illustrate that great image from Indiana’s book depicting the power of the Ark of the Covenant.
While he will be forever known for influencing the look and style of Star Wars, McQuarrie also set the template for Battlestar Galactica and produced art for Cocoon (for which he won an Oscar), Total Recall, E.T., Masters of the Universe, Nightbreed (!?!) and Batteries Not Included.
Ralph McQuarrie achieved the dream of every artist: his work sparked the imaginations of millions. His particular style met with Lucas’ vision at the right time and that spark created the most iconic original film series in the history of cinema.
In my mind, McQuarrie was to Star Wars what HR Giger was to Alien. His contributions to film history are undeniable and I hope he knew they didn’t go unnoticed.
My thoughts are with Mr. McQuarries’ friends, family and many fans.
I ran a picture of Ralph touching up a matte painting from The Empire Strikes Back in a Behind the Scenes Column a while back. I’m going to re-use that photo here and let that kick off an avalanche of his artwork. His concept art for Battlestar Galactica will be first, followed by his Star Wars concept work.