Darth Vader. C-3PO. Stormtroopers. R2-D2. The images of these characters are now a part of popular culture. They’re iconic and anyone can recognize them. Super Bowl ads have been based around them. They were all dreamed up by a single man: Ralph McQuarrie.
A good deal of people owe their childhoods to him. He was the illustrator who helped get Star Wars off the ground. His paintings and concept art helped persuade 20th Century Fox to greenlight what became the original Star Wars film. It’s definitely not a stretch to say without him there would be no Star Wars. He’s just as essential as George Lucas or John Williams.
He dies in his home in Berkeley on Saturday. He was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and had been in declining health as well.
Not only did McQuarrie design many of the characters in the films, but his paintings were also used as a basis for many of the sets you see. One of the more famous scenes might be when you first see the Millenium Falcon docked.
George Lucas posted the following statement online:
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of such a visionary artist and such a humble man. Ralph McQuarrie 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. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘Do it like this.’
“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. In many ways, he was a generous father to a conceptual art revolution that was born of his artwork, and which seized the imaginations of thousands and propelled them into the film industry. In that way, we will all be benefiting from his oeuvre for generations to come. Beyond that, I will always remember him as a kind and patient, and wonderfully talented, friend and collaborator.”
The Star Wars website also posted a slideshow of the McQuarrie’s work, which you should really check out. It’s quite amazing how these simple drawings went from his mind, into the film and into the dreams of people across the world.