Ralph McQuarrie was not a household name, yet the characters and creations he conceptualized are seared into the consciousness of generations of Earthlings. You don’t have to be a science fiction fan at all to know and love R2-D2, C-3PO, Yoda, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, or Boba Fett. I challenge you to find a male between the ages of 8 and 48 who doesn’t want to do the Kessel Run in the Millennium Falcon in less than 10 parsecs. It was McQuarrie’s art that brought all of those characters into our lives– and yes, I would argue the Millennium Falcon is a character. So it is with a heavy heart that I report the news of Ralph McQuarrie’s passing today at the age of 82.
Without the vision of McQuarrie, it’s impossible to say what the original Star Wars trilogy would have looked like. Though since he didn’t work on the second trilogy, I think it’s safe to say things probably would have been a whole lot different. George Lucas usually gets the credit for bringing the Star Wars universe to life, but it was McQuarrie’s blueprints, sketches, concept art, and ideas that made the characters, spaceships and planets look and feel both compelling and believable.
It would have been more than enough to have conceived the Star Wars iconography. But McQuarrie also designed the mothership for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he worked on E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek IV, and Jurassic Park. And all those ships in the original Battlestar Galactica? McQuarrie had a hand in that as well.
When I was in the 4th grade, I had this book of Empire Strikes Back concept art. I wore the spine out of that book tracing pictures of Yoda, the snow speeders and Imperial AT-ATs. It fired my imagination and undoubtedly played a part in my fondness for faffing about with home made spaceships nowadays. I don’t know why it’s important, I just know that it is. So I bid Ralph McQuarrie a heartfelt farewell. May he be free to roam the cosmos in the coolest spaceships ever designed.