A picture is worth a thousand words.

©Lucasfilm

R2-D2 and C-3PO by Ralph McQuarrie ©Lucasfilm

With that adage in mind, it cannot be underestimated how important Ralph McQuarrie was in visualizing George Lucas’ early drafts for a space fantasy film called The Star Wars. As the legend goes, studio funding was given when McQuarrie’s commissioned concept paintings of characters and locations helped give Lucas’ script a more understandable sense of scale and design.

As much as I was a fan of the eventual movie back in ’77, I was probably even more enamored of the published books of artwork. When I was young, I loved to draw and doodle. And now I come to see that all the fantastic creatures and ships on the big screen started out as many little thumbnail sketches, progressing to detailed art.
I can do that when I grow up!

One of the best opportunities to get up close with the Star Wars universe was the traveling exhibition “Star Wars: The Magic of Myth” a decade ago (has it really been that long?) featuring many articles of costumes, visual effects models and artwork. Among them were McQuarrie’s original paintings. I was thoroughly surprised to see they were no larger than what I’ve seen in book spreads, perhaps 14-inches in width. But it didn’t diminish my appreciation of every deliberate pen mark and brush stroke he made.

While writing this post, I keep thinking “Which is my favorite of his painted artwork?” That’s really difficult for me to declare because each illustrated scene seems to exude a life of its own. Even if you never see the movies they were designed for, a potential story emerges based on the environment and people’s body language, especially for the early ones where it looks like the script(s) hadn’t solidified yet.

Ralph McQuarrie’s career wasn’t limited to just Star Wars (as evidenced by this website), but his talent for making the unimaginable seem possible is the connective tissue between everything he’s done that we will cherish forever.

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