Way back in 1975 George Lucas commissioned the concept designer and illustrator Ralph McQuarrie to illustrate the characters and scenes for an upcoming unknown sci-fi movie he was working on. That movie of course turned out to be the original Star Wars (later retitled to Episode IV – A New Hope).
McQuarrie envisioned these amazing scenes, gorgeous backdrops, fanstastic looking worlds and movie characters like the droids C3PO and R2D2, everyone’s favourite wookiee Chewbacca, and the most famous of bad ass of them all – Darth Vader.
“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.”
Obviously Lucas knew a lot more because he just knew that the film was going to be a success.
You can see from some of the concept art that the characters may slightly differ from the finished movies. One of the main changes is that McQuarrie had made the white lightsabers as stormtrooper weapons until Lucas decided to develop the mythology of the Jedi and have the Jedi carrying different coloured lightsabers.
“Ralph was the first person I hired to help me envision Star Wars. His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled production paintings… Propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy.” – George Lucas
Star Wars (1977)
“It was a special opportunity to start from the ground up. Being able to create new characters, vehicles and worlds… And since when I started it wasn’t clear that the film would be made… “I didn’t have to limit myself.” – Ralph McQuarrie
Empire Strikes Back (1980)
“It’s really a testament to how important he was… 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.”
“It’s really a testament to how important he was… 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
Darth Vader is wearing breathing apparatus thanks to suggestion of McQuarrie.
“George had described Darth Vader as having flowing black robes. In the script, Vader had to jump from one ship to another. To survive the vacuum of space, I felt he needed some sort of breathing mask. George said, ‘OK,’ suggested adding a samurai helmet, and Darth Vader was born. Simple as that.” – Ralph McQuarrie
Return of the Jedi (1983)
“Ralph was a very special person for many more reasons than his undeniable brilliance with a brush. Beyond the movies, his artwork has inspired at least two generations of younger artists… All of whom learned through Ralph that movies are designed. Like me, they were thrilled by his keen eye and creative imagination… Which always brought concepts to their most ideal plateau”
“His influence on design will be felt forever. There’s no doubt that centuries from now amazing spaceships will soar… Future cities will rise… And someone, somewhere will say… That looks like something Ralph McQuarrie painted.” – George Lucas
Art work sourced from Star Wars: The Art of Ralph McQuarrie. All images are strictly copyright of Ralph McQuarrie, Lucasfilms and Dreams and Vision Press. You can follow Ralph McQuarrie on Facebook.