Star Wars has been a cultural phenomenon ever since that fateful day on May 25, 1977. George Lucas created one of the most memorable and popular movie franchises of all time. It could be argued that his Star Wars films jump started the space science fiction themes for movies as we know them today. Lucas had a vision and was able to make his dream a reality. However, did you know that if it wasn’t for this one particular person, Star Wars may not have made it to the big screen? It seems surprising at first, but it is absolutely true. This person made all the difference and allowed George Lucas the opportunity of a lifetime by convincing the movie industry (20th Century Fox) that his vision would be truly epic in scale. He knew right then and there that what he was about to create was going to be extra special. The one person that EVERY Star Wars fan should thank other than Lucas is non other than Ralph McQuarrie.
Ralph McQuarrie was hired by George Lucas in the year 1975 with a MAJOR goal: To become the concept artist to create and design a series of paintings that would persuade 20th Century Fox to “green light” the project of Star Wars. Basically, the Star Wars franchise rested in the palm of McQuarrie’s hands (literally). McQarries sole focus was to establish Luca’s perception for Star Wars in a sequence of hand-drawn portraits. If Fox was not satisfied with the product, it may be unfortunate to say that Star Wars might never have happened. Obviously Fox must have been impressed with the pictures because, well we have Star Wars. Below are some of the paintings that were presented to the studio. I will give you my honest opinion on them as we go down the list.
In this first image, we see an original looking C-3PO and R2-D2 unit in what looks to be located on the planet Tatooine. This concept art brings out unique qualities to these characters as to what their personality may be as well as how they might maneuver throughout the galaxies. Lucas decided to go with a less human-like look to 3PO such as removing the body or chest image as well as the entire facial features that resemble more of a human. As for R2-D2, he doesn’t look all that different when recreated into the film. This was the first official painting that showed our lovable robotic duo that would prove to be hugely important in EVERY one of the Star Wars films.
This second painting shows us the first official image of what we know most notably as a stormtrooper. Instead of wielding a gun, this clone however is holding a lightsaber. Not realizing the impact of the use the lightsaber will have in these films McQuarrie was quoted saying, “I gave Han Solo a lightsaber, and I thought it was reasonable to assume the opposing forces would have the same weapons.” Loyal Star Wars fans know that the “other enemy” would be non other than Darth Vader himself. It goes to show how crucial this weapon has become generation after generation. This would no doubt later become the most recognizable weapon in all of Star Wars.
One of my favorite paintings from Ralph, this is yet another important and unforgettable image depicting the first time we see the X-Wing fighter being chased by a ruthless TIE fighter. This image appears to be a part of the famous Death Star Trench Run which is perhaps the biggest highlight from the original movie. The picture captures that feeling of an epic space battle and one that will always be remembered in our hearts.
The Tusken Raiders or “sand people” as they are often referred to as, are seen here in what looks to be parts from a crash landed space ship. This painting captures their look PERFECTLY as this is exactly what they look like in the films. These “monsters” if you will are savages who live and thrive in the desert and will stop at nothing to get what they want. Their masks hide their true identity and strike fear into those unfortunate travelers in the dangerous deserts on Tatooine. Lucas put them to good use in the original film as this was Luke’s first true enemy encounter in A New Hope.
Another space themed painting, this one shows the audience the first look of the Y-Wing. The Y-Wing as most of us know is another space craft that the Rebel Alliance has at their disposal in order to take down the Galactic Empire. These ships were not heavily used in the films however they can be spotted in the Death Star Trench Run movie scene in A New Hope. The Y-Wing’s armor is heavy and are primarily used to drop bombs down on more heavily guarded targets. This allows other space vessels such as the X-Wings as well as the A-Wings to finish the job. Once again, this portrait was another accurate transition from a painting to the big screen.
Noted for being one of McQuarrie’s favorite paintings, here is yet another portrait of the planet Tatooine. While we don’t know for sure who that character is in the picture, what we do know is that Luke oversees the town of Mos Eisley in the film while atop a cliff. If you look closely you can see the desert city in the background. This planet establishes the epic scope that is Tatooine and the brilliant work of McQarries shows once again. It’s no wonder that the planet Tatooine plays a pivotal role in the first Star Wars film.
I have saved the best painting for last. This picture is known as being McQuarrie’s most famous. THIS may have been the one that ultimately convinced 20th Century Fox that Star Wars is a movie universe that is well worth exploring. This scene captures that intense feeling of a climactic battle. The person in the body armor fighting Vader is mostly claimed to be Luke Skywalker. However, Luke’s original character was going to be called Deak Starkiller. Hmm Deak Starkiller or Luke Skywalker? Yea, I am glad they went with that one instead. This painting is however mostly famous for its rendition of Darth Vader. This portrait shows us everything that is badass about Vader. He has a lightsaber, awesome suit for protection, a breathing mask, and a cape (yea, you CANNOT forget the cape). Vader was truly brought to life in this stunning portrait and was where it all started for this famous movie villain.
Well there you have it! While we can arguably say that if George Lucas were never born, we would never have had Star Wars to begin with. However, the man who I believe that should receive just as much credit if not a bit more was Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas may have been the mastermind of storytelling, but McQuarrie was ultimately the man who brought Luca’s vision to life. More importantly, McQuarrie convinced 20th Century Fox to move forward with this project and proved to us all that just a few paintings could tell stories of their own.
Thank you George Lucas for bringing us an unforgettable journey through the Star Wars universe. But most importantly thank you Ralph McQuarrie for helping to bring Luca’s dream into a reality. As a fellow Star Wars fan I cannot thank you enough for telling this wonderful story of love, tragedy, and most importantly adventure. The journey will now continue with a new director in J.J. Abrams and I can no longer wait to see what he has in store for us. December 18 cannot come soon enough!
Sources: If you want to see more of McQuarrie's work please click here.
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