The name Ralph McQuarrie is one that should be a household name. He was the very first person to be hired by George Lucas to bring his idea Star Wars to the big screen. His conceptual paintings for all three original Star Wars films helped shaped the imaginations of an entire generation and every one since.
Saturday, March 3rd 2012 we lost that amazing mind at the age of 82. McQuarrie’s biggest impact on the world will be his work on the Star Wars films, but we would be remiss of we didn’t acknowledge some of his other conceptual works, including Back to the Future and the failed reboot of the original Star Trek, Phase II.
His early designs for the original Star Wars have grown a cult life of their own, with action figures, art prints and even Halloween costumes devoted to his earliest concepts. This is rarefied air in the world of conceptual art, as the very nature of the job is that your work will be twisted and changed for the final product.
There is little doubt that McQuarrie’s paintings are as important to the phenomenon of Star Wars as John Williams music or the characters themselves. George Lucas himself has stated that during the filming of the original trilogy the work of McQuarrie served as motivation for the entire crew. Even allowing Lucas himself to point to something tangible when his words wouldn’t do his imagination justice.
For me McQuarrie represented an ‘in’ to the behind the scenes world of feature films. During my burgeoning days as a film fan I would spend hours on the internet just looking at pictures and reading articles about Star Wars. It was McQuarrie’s art that drew me in, the what if presented in his works blew my young mind.
I went down the rabbit hole finding out more and more about what could have been with the film series I loved. I actually found myself learning about the film-making process itself while browsing his galleries. One piece in particular always stood out to me, the famous early Luke vs Darth Vader.
Vader was still his ominous self, but this was back when Luke had the moniker of Starkiller, and wore a far more exciting gas mask ensemble. The image acts as a window into a parallel universe’s Star Wars and always forced my brain to ask what if when being lost in the fantasy of movies.
It is this profound impact, one that I share with a great many people of the last few generations, that makes his passing so tragic. As Kevin Smith would say, McQuarrie’s life is a big bucket of win, and the world is legitimately a more interesting place because of his presence.
I strongly encourage all of you to spend some time seeking out some of McQuarrie’s art, browse his catalog of works. While at first it might seem like a limited number of projects for a man garnering so much respect, once you truly dig into his works, and of course take into account the milestone that was Star Wars, you will understand that he was one of the great artistic minds of our lifetime.