SVCC Celebrates the Art of 'Star Wars' Concept Artist Ralph McQuarrie

Saturday, 22 April 2017 - 3:22PM
Star Wars
Silicon Valley Comic Con
Saturday, 22 April 2017 - 3:22PM
SVCC Celebrates the Art of 'Star Wars' Concept Artist Ralph McQuarrie
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Ralph McQuarrie/Lucasfilm
While George Lucas was the brainchild behind the world and story of Star Wars, artist and painter Ralph McQuarrie was undoubtedly the brainchild behind the look of Star Wars. If you were ever curious about the original Star Wars artist, a panel was dedicated to all his art at Silicon Valley Comic Con.

Moderated by John Scoleri, a self-described "evangelist of Ralph McQuarrie" who's written several books on the man's artwork (including The Art of Ralph McQuarrie), it should be noted that McQuarrie didn't just create the iconic Star Wars atmosphere - he was a busy guy creating iconic images for plenty of other sci-fi movies, books, etc.

Early Work:

Before designing space ships, McQuarrie worked on regular old planes, designing parts and concept art for technical manuals. He eventually got involved in some smalltime monster movies - although his first one, The Legend of Boggy Creek, exploded in popularity, and he eventually made enough friends doing posters that some introduced him to a guy named George Lucas.

McQuarrie though that Lucas' "Starkiller" space opera idea sounded cool, but never expected to hear from him again. And then he did.

Star Wars: A New Hope

McQuarrie's original Star Wars work speaks for itself. Things weren't completely the same - lightsabers were a bit lacking in color, Chewbacca was less fuzzy, and C-3PO looked like the robot from Metropolis - but the seeds were there, and when Star Wars became a hit, McQuarrie became a celebrity. 


McQuarrie did a bunch of promotional art too, back when Star Wars was obsessed with having a holiday presence too. Needless to say, this was much better than the Star Wars Holiday Special.

The Empire Strikes Back

This next photo was technically drawn by McQuarrie for the first movie. It's the original plan for the Death Star, back when it was a floating Imperial City. Both Lucas and McQuarrie loved the design, so even after the Death Star became moon-sized (even though it was no moon), the original became Cloud City from Empire Strikes Back.

He also very casually created Boba Fett. In an early meeting with Lucas about their vague ideas for Empire Strikes Back, McQuarrie created a new Stormtrooper concept. Other artists repurposed it into a bounty hunter and turned his armor green, and McQuarrie refused to take credit for Fett even though a lot of his design is in it.

Other Movies

Once everyone wanted to work with "the artist from Star Wars," McQuarrie ended up working with Steven Spielberg designing the ships from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and other things like Battlestar Galactica, Forbidden Planet and Cocoon. He also made an illustration for Raiders of the Lost Ark that made it into the final movie.

Personal Artwork

He did plenty of other, more personal work too. It was mostly surreal, although McQuarrie never did much with it since he never seemed to think he was a good artist. Even though nearly everyone he'd ever met had told him otherwise.

McQuarrie passed away in 2012 at age 82. Modern Star Wars is still very much based on his ideas though: nods to his artwork are littered throughout the new movies and shows like Star Wars: Rebels. Heck, Rey is based on one of the oldest concepts for the new movie, when the original hero who became Luke was female. His presence will undoubtedly be felt in The Last Jedi this December.

All art by Ralph McQuarrie - Star Wars art comes via Lucasfilm.
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