Ralph McQuarrie, the man who came up with the original designs for Chewbacca, Darth Vader and both R2-D2 and C-3PO, has died aged 82.
As well as working on the iconic designs for the original Star Wars movie in the mid-1970s, McQuarrie also worked on the original 70s Battlestar Galactica TV series, and Steven Spielberg films Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In 1985 he won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects for his work on Spielberg’s Cocoon.
Born in the steel town of Gary, Indiana in 1929, McQuarrie started work as a technical illustrator for Boeing. He soon got extra work designing film posters and working on the animation for US television network CBS’s coverage of the Apollo space missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Star Wars took McQuarrie into the big time, but it may never have been made had he not been involved. George Lucas had been turned down by both Universal Studios and United Artists and decided that his next pitch would have to be enhanced by pictures. This lead to the director hiring McQuarrie to draw up his ideas for the characters he had created for the project.
The vivid images of worn-looking droids, eerie desert landscapes, lightsaber fights and now instantly recognisable space ships helped Lucas win funding from 20th Century Fox. McQuarrie worked on the first three films and without his input they would have had a very different look.
Anthony Daniels, the British actor who played C-3PO, has said that it was the pictures of his character that persuaded him to accept the part he had initially turned down. McQuarrie also came up with Darth Vader’s mask that enabled him to survive in space.
Having created some of the most iconic images in modern sci-fi, Ralph McQuarrie was hired by Stephen Spielberg to design the UFO in Close Encounters, he went on to work on E.T., Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Total Recall among other classics of the genre.
George Lucas has said in a statement, “I am deeply saddened by the passing of such a visionary artist” before going on to acknowledge his seminal influence “he was a generous father to a conceptual art revolution that was born of his artwork.”
It only remains for us to add, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” Farewell Ralph McQuarrie.