The new Star Wars film is now in theatres and has quickly taken the world by storm. But even more widespread than its box office clout is the indelible influence the series has left on not just movies but video games (Battlefront, anyone?) and science-fiction in general when it comes to its art. Much of this can be attributed to the contributions of the concept designer for the original trilogy, Ralph McQuarrie.
McQuarrie was an American illustrator and designer that worked on Star Wars: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. He actually went on to design many of the most iconic and recognisable characters that have influenced the tone and style of the rest of the series. That includes Darth Vader, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2. Try and imagine how the series would look and how video games and movies would be without the classic, intimidating black helmet of Darth Vader or the incredible droid designs of R2-D2. We wouldn’t have BB-8, that’s for sure.
The designer was also highly influential in helping to design the film’s sets and bringing the exotic worlds and planets of the Star Wars universe to life, including that of Tatooine. In fact, McQuarrie’s original concept paintings, such as his piece of R2-D2 and C-3PO crash landing on the desert planet, were instrumental in originally convincing the executives at 20th Century Fox to invest in the film. The rest, as they say, is history. McQuarrie even has his own walk-on cameo in Empire Strikes Back in an uncredited role as “General Pharl McQuarrie” (“Pharl” being an anagram of “Ralph”) and can be seen in the opening sequence on the Hoth ice base.
But McQuarrie’s influence on sci-fi and gaming doesn’t stop at Star Wars. He went on to design the alien spaceships Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind in addition to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
He also did much of the design work for the classic Battlestar Galactica series back in 1978, a mere one year after Star Wars. McQuarrie was influential in the designs of the evil android Cylons and classic Viper fighter planes that would be seen by fans once again in the critically acclaimed 2004 remake of the series. As with Star Wars, it was McQuarrie’s illustrations that would help to get the project greenlit and become an unforgettable part of science-fiction and pop-culture. Thanks in large part to this designer, much like Star Wars, Galactica has become household name. And in just the past few years alone, we’ve seen licensed casual games based on the popular property in addition to comedy sketches seen on popular TV shows dedicated to the series inventiveness and addictiveness.
McQuarrie earned an Academy Award for Visual Effects for his work on Ron Howard’s 1985 film, Cocoon. Sadly, McQuarrie passed away in March 2012 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. The influence and legacy of his work, however, will live on forever.