When I was a kid, there were three people who bought me Star Wars: George Lucas, Ralph McQuarrie and John Williams. In the historic days before the internet us Star Wars fans had access to very little in the way of media, or at least we could only afford so much as children, and for me it was always the music and the art books. I had the albums on vinyl and cassette and I had the novelisation and, most importantly, I had books with lots and lots of pictures in them.
Invariably, the illustrations were by the amazing Ralph McQuarrie, an artist who was most likely the very reason George Lucas got the original film made, illustrating his vision the way he did. My favourite possessions will always be the portfolios of the original trilogy I bought, with large widescreen-style prints of his greatest work. I’m no art critic, and no doubt my view of the work is slightly skewed by my youthful exuberance and joy for the original movies, but there was always a lot of energy in the illustrations, and there was always a sense that Ralph was illustrating the things that you didn’t see in the films, such as a tauntaun being chased by Imperial walkers or Rebel troops freezing in the trenches of Hoth. The original concepts were just as amazing as what appeared on screen and more often than not I’d find myself wondering what it would have been like if this had looked like that, or how much better it would have been if it had looked like it’s original design.
Ralph McQuarrie inspired people of all kinds; his work inspired artists, his designs inspired writers such as myself, his imagination inspired filmmakers. He has a lasting legacy that will be felt for decades to come and his ideas and talent will be the benchmark for the following generations of artists and filmmakers.
Ralph McQuarrie passed away on March 3rd and his passing has left a huge hole where that part of my childhood was, but it’s not a problem. You see, Ralph left such a huge body of work for so many different movies and shows – Star Trek, E.T., Coccoon, Battlestar Galactica – that there’s plenty of material to soak up and marvel at, and in turn allow my creative mind to flourish. The more I look at his pieces the more the hole will be filled.
So rest in peace, Mr McQuarrie. I never met you, but I will mourn for you as if I had.