Ralph McQuarrie, the visual genius behind Star Wars

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I’ve been a Star Wars fan ever since the first movie came out, but I guess I wasn’t a serious-enough fan to realize the importance that artist Ralph McQuarrie played in the evolution of the visual concepts of the movie. I just assumed that George Lucas had not only created the story, but also created the visual look of the series of movies, and upon the passing of Mr. McQuarrie last week, realized how incorrect that notion was.

Ralph McQuarrie, the artist behind the visual style of Star Wars

McQuarrie, pictured above left, passed away last at the age of 82. As the story was revealed to me last week, Lucas had finished the original Star Wars script and was showing it to movie executives at both United Artists and Universal Studios, but they both rejected it. He realized that his pitch for the story of “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” did not include any significant visuals to help the movie executives better understand his vision for the movie. So he turned to Ralph McQuarrie, who went away from his meeting with Lucas only to come back with a dozen drawings that, amazingly, became pretty much the look of the movie as finalized by Lucas. I guess Lucas saw creative genius in these original concept drawings, because Darth Vader, above right, and the Tusken Raiders, below right, look just like the movie versions.

Ralph McQuarrie, concept artist for Star Wars

To learn more about Ralph McQuarrie and his art, check out his website here. While I focused on his work for Star Wars in this post, it should be noted that he also contributed art to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “ET,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Star Trek IV,” (1986), “Jurassic Park,” and “Battlestar Galactica,” among others. That’s pretty amazing, to be the visual concept artist for some of the biggest movies of the past 30 years!

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