“I just did my best to depict what I thought the film should look like, I really liked the idea. I didn’t think the film would ever get made. My impression was it was too expensive. There wouldn’t be enough of an audience. It’s just too complicated. But George knew a lot of things that I didn’t know.” — Ralph McQuarrie; on Star Wars (1999)

Ralph McQuarrie was a legend when it came to concept and design illustrations in film. Having worked on some of the most visually spectacular films ever produced, McQuarrie shaped universes and designed the dreams of fans that would be remembered long after his splendid lifetime. Most Geeks will know McQuarrie’s work better than his name, sadly, as he was the concept designer for the original Star Wars Trilogy (and the ever so amazing holiday special). Beyond this, he was brilliant mind and artist that was also responsible for several other legendary films, such as: Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Cocoon, Star Trek IV, Batteries Not Included, and Jurassic Park. He had worked closely with famous directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, earning the respect of both men. It is even said Rick McCallum (the producer of the Star Wars prequels) offered McQuarrie a role as designer for the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but that McQuarrie rejected the offer, stating that he had “run out of steam”. However, the steam he had given us will live one in the designs for movies we love; as the Captain of the Galactic Navy, Pharl McQuarrie, he cameo’d as in the Empire Strikes Back; and even his small role in designing Television series (Battlestar Galactica) and theme rides (The Back to the Future ride at  Universal Studios).

Yet, as the sad tone of conclusion in this article denotes, Ralph McQuarrie passed away today. He was 82, and has hopefully passed on peacefully, as a man of his splendid character deserves. On his official website, a small message now states:

It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the passing of Ralph McQuarrie.

People say you should never meet your heroes. Ralph was the exception to that rule. We were all fans of his amazing art long before we were blessed with his friendship. But once you got to know Ralph it was impossible not to become a fan of Ralph the man.

Ralph was a very special person for many more reasons than his undeniable brilliance with a brush. He was an especially kind, sensitive, deep, modest, funny and fascinating gentleman. And as fine a role model as any one could have wished for.

His influence on design will be felt forever. There’s no doubt in our hearts that centuries from now amazing spaceships will soar, future cities will rise and someone, somewhere will say…

“that looks like something Ralph McQuarrie painted.”

McQuarrie’s art left a legacy that all Geeks must respect, and all artists should look up to. Not only did he live the dream, but he left a legacy to be proud of and looked upon with reverence and admiration. He was the man to give visualization to the Star Wars universe as we know it. He was a man to be remembered.


UPDATE – George Lucas talks about McQuarrie on StarWars.com:


“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.”

—George Lucas