Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars Concept Art – Breathes Life Into George Lucas’ Vision

Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars concept art really did breathe life into George Lucas’ vision of what Star Wars was to become. I was having a look through my Bonus Material DVD from the boxed original Star Wars set (not Blu-ray) bought back in 2004. I was fascinated by the work that Ralph McQuarrie put into the actual creation of star wars as a movie. 

I must admit, this is the first time I have watched much of this. Naughty I know, but I have a newfound interest in preserving anything I can from the Star Wars and Star Wars Expanded Universe due to Disney’s takeover. I don’t feel confident that the ideas, concepts, characters or general ‘feel’ will be carried over and continued on, but of course time will tell and I am not closed minded about it all.


Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars Concept Art Extraordinaire


Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars Art

Early concept artwork of Illustrator Ralph McQuarrie for the Star Wars original movie, episode IV, A New Hope



“I Felt A Great Disturbance In The Force, As If Millions Of People Cried Out In Terror And Were Suddenly Silenced, I Fear Something Terrible Has Happened” – Ben Kenobi, Star Wars, A New Hope, on The Destruction of Alderaan.



This is what I felt when I learned of Disney’s take over of the star wars franchise and my terror at the prospect of losing all of the stories in novel or comic form that I had grown to love.


Great Disturbance In The Force

Ben Kenobi & Luke Skywalker as Ben Feels The Great Disturbance in the Force


Therefore I thought it best if I learned as much as I could about some of the aspects that never really captivated me all that much in the past to help me provoke some thoughts on how you too can help preserve this epic adventure. Perhaps if ‘many people cried out in fear’ at the potential loss of the much loved Star Wars Expanded Universe stories as the new stories from Disney take off, the authors may still be allowed to create storylines to keep it alive.


Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars Art

George Lucas Discusses the Star Wars Concept with Ralph McQuarrie

Help In The Form of Ralph McQuarrie


When George Lucas was trying to put the Star Wars storyline to film, he enlisted the help of illustrator Ralph McQuarrie. Ralph, who passed away with Parkinson’s Disease at 82 years of age in 2012, has been responsible for not only the conceptual work on the movies of the Star Wars series, but many of the star wars fantasy art of the book covers of the star wars expanded universe and comics artworks too.

The image above of Darth Vader is one of the early concept pictures of the characters from what was to become one of the most famous movies of all time. The picture has the characters C3PO and Chewbacca in their early imagined forms, and Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and R2D2 more similar to the forms they took.

From Conception to Perception


Ralph McQuarrie was able to help create the characters in George Lucas’ mind and bring them visually into being. Lucas had specific ideas about what he wanted in terms of how the characters and scenes might appear, and McQuarrie worked with him to produce many of the scenes that we see in the movies.

For example McQuarrie created the scene below where Luke Skywalker is riding his tauntaun. The beast of burden is a furry kangaroo-dinosaur like animal that was used as transport by the rebels on the snow planet Hoth when scouting around in Star Wars V, the Empire Strikes back. It’s amazing seeing images of what was yet to be created come to life the way they did in the movies.


Luke Skywalker, Ralph McQuarrie Art, Tauntaun

Luke Skywalker on his Tauntaun, planet Hoth during the Empire Strikes Back.

Ralph McQuarrie – A Master of Imaginative Creation.


One of my favourite scenes of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars episode 6 is where Luke Skywalker was dropped down into the Rancor pit. Jabba the Hutt kept the rancor as a pet that was mistreated and used it for entertainment for his guests when poor unsuspecting souls angered him. From the looks of this picture, below, its not surprising that no one ever survived the rancour’s wrath.

That is of course until my hero, Luke, came along. Only a jedi could escape the deadly jaws of the rancor and yet still manage to feel sorry for it. (That story was told in one of the Star Wars Expanded Universe books, The Courtship of Princess Leia).


A Master At Work


Ralph McQuarrie certainly was a master at what he did, to have such creations in his imagination, or to be able to illustrate what someone else might have in theirs, and make it appear on various art mediums amazes me.  To think that he could have put together this weird looking but fearsome creature from a description of what George Lucas wanted is simply astounding. I struggle with imagination, especially creating something from a vision in my head. So I take my hat off to Ralph every time I see a Star Wars movie or a book cover that has used his work.


Ralph MacQuarrie Star Wars Art Rancor

Luke Skywalker faces down the rancor determined to eat him at Jabba’s Palace on Tatooine.

Ralph McQuarrie The Actor?


Ralph McQuarrie even got to play a role very briefly in The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars episode V). He played a general appropriately named Pharl McQuarrie (anagram on the name Ralph) and appeared in the opening scene of the rebel base on the planet Hoth.

Apparently they also honoured him by producing an action figure of this character for the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars. What a great way to immortalise a man who put so much of this universe that I love into reality and onto the screen. I tried my best to find a clear screenshot of General Pharl McQuarrie but the scene is so fast the image below is the best I could do.


General Pharl McQuarrie, the blurred figure walking at the right.

General Pharl McQuarrie, the blurred figure walking at the right.

McQuarrie’s Work Lives On


Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars concept art was probably the most important factor in the creation of the star wars sage and his work will live on forever in our vision when we watch a star wars movie, or in our hearts as the person behind bringing life to the characters and scenes of the movies.

McQuarrie mainly worked artistically on the first two episodes of the original Star Wars Trilogy, episodes IV & V, however his concepts have continued to be used right into modern day with the production of Rebels, part of the Star Wars canon where some of his early conceptual art is still being utilised. For example the original images for Chewbacca and R2D2 are being used for the characters of  Zeb Orellios and Chopper in Rebels.


First I Had Heard Of Ralph McQuarrie Was From Comic Books


He was asked to work on more of the Star Wars saga but declined saying he’d run out of steam. McQuarrie wasn’t the only artistic talent to work on the Star Wars saga, but he was probably the most renowned. I probably wouldn’t have heard of him if it wasn’t for buying the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels and comics, which credited his work on covers and within pages.

Thank you for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed learning a little about the history of the Star Wars epic from behind the scenes. Feel free to leave a comment below.




Images are all derived from my own media



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