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Monday, March 05, 2012

Ralph McQuarrie's Legacy

The sci-fi world is mourning this weekend at the passing of Ralph McQuarrie.  McQuarrie was a graphic designer and artist who wound up doing a lot of concept art for some legendary science fiction films.  He had a hand in designing what E.T. looked like, the alien ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and even Skeletor's movie look in the live-action Masters of the Universe.

But he is, by far, best known for being the conceptual artist for Star Wars.  He's the one that gave the Star Wars universe it's distinctive look.

Here's, perhaps, his most iconic piece of Star Wars concept art...Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader.



As the legend goes, George Lucas was having a devil of a time trying to sell the Hollywood studios on Star Wars.  So, to jazz up his pitch, Lucas hired McQuarrie to illustrate some scenes in the script.  Needless to say, McQuarrie's illustrations knocked it out of the park, 20th Century Fox was sold on Star Wars, and McQuarrie landed the gig as the head artist on the entire Star Wars trilogy.

We can even thank McQuarrie for Darth Vader's suit...not just the design for the suit, but the fact that the suit covers Vader's entire body.  After reading the script, McQuarrie reasoned that a person like Darth Vader wouldn't stand around waiting for things like airlocks to pressurize and such.  He'd just storm from one starship to another, no matter what the interior atmosphere was like.  Therefore, Vader would have to wear some kind of space suit all the time.  Thus, Vader was always armored.

Here's perhaps, his second most iconic image.  An early design of C-3P0 and R2-D2 on Tatooine. 



Back in 2007, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the franchise, they released this line of Star Wars action figures known as "the McQuarrie concept figures," where the figures were based on this original art.  I have the McQuarrie concept R2-D2 and C-3P0 figures.  They were offered as exclusives to Hyperspace, the pay-subscription section of the official Star Wars website.  I'm not a Hyperspace member, but I have a friend who is, and I totally begged him to buy them on my behalf.  He did, and they are, by far, the coolest figures in my collection.

I was chatting with that friend on Sunday, and we talked about McQuarrie for a minute.  My friend was quick to point out that, while McQuarrie turned down the offer to once again be the head artist on the prequels (I think "I'm getting too old for this," was the reason he gave), a lot of his unused designs did find their way into the prequels and the current Clone Wars cartoon. 

I was thinking about this as I looked at my McQuarrie concept figures tonight, and I took a closer look at one of my favourites, "Starkiller Hero."  See, at one point in the development of Star Wars, Lucas toyed with the idea of making Luke Skywalker a girl.  Of course, that idea didn't last long, but it lasted long enough for McQuarrie to make some sketches.  This figure is so named because "Starkiller" was originally going to be Luke's name, until Lucas figured it sounded kind of sinister and changed it to the not-as-evil-sounding "Skywalker."  And "Hero" because she was going to be the film's hero.   Hence, "Starkiller Hero."

(BTW, "Starkiller Hero" is totally going to be the name of my band someday, so don't steal it.) 

Anyway, as I looked at Starkiller Hero tonight, she struck me as being kind of familiar.  And then it hit me.  Her uniform was recycled as the uniform of the Naboo starfighter pilots in Phantom Menace.  Neat!



From left to right, that's McQuarrie's concept for Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3P0, and R2-D2.  The one kneeling in front is Starkiller Hero.

For McQuarrie concept figures, I have Starkiller Hero, Darth Vader, the C-3P0 and R2-D2 two-pack, Boba Fett, and Chewbacca.  My holy grail of Star Wars action figures is the McQuarrie concept Stormtrooper.  It's a Stormtrooper with a lightsaber and a shield.  I only ever saw it on a store shelf once, but since I've been conditioned to buy action figures in pairs, and there wasn't a second one I wanted that day, I didn't buy it.  STUPID STUPID STUPID.

Here's his concept art for the Stormtroopers.



And before I go, let's not forget McQuarrie's contribution to the other big sci-fi franchise with "Star" in the title, Star Trek.  Before The Motion Picture came along, there were lots of aborted attempts to do a Star Trek movie throughout the 1970s.  The most famous one was called Star Trek: Planet of the Titans.  McQuarrie was hired to do some concept art for Planet of the Titans.  Here's his sketches for an all-new Starship Enterprise:






This vessel eventually did make its way into the Star Trek canon.  For the legendary TNG 2-parter The Best of Both Worlds, this vessel was added to the field of ships destroyed by the Borg.  And McQuarrie was also brought on as a concept artist for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

McQuarrie was 82 years old.

I got most of these images from the tribute to McQuarrie on the official Star Wars website, and I got the rest from McQuarrie's official website

1 comment:

Daniel Johnson said...

Good blog. I linked this post today over at notsodaily.com. Keep it going!