Ralph McQuarrie, Artist Who Helped Bring ‘Star Wars’ to Life, Dies at 82
Ralph McQuarrie, the artist who transformed George Lucas's rudimentary concepts and earliest scripts into lush, vivid images of intergalactic expanse and light-saber combat that became the visual core of the Star Wars" saga, died on Saturday at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 82.
The cause was complications of Parkinson's disease, said Stan Stice, a friend and co-author of the 2007 book The Art of Ralph McQuarrie."
Mr. McQuarrie had a hand in some of the most successful science-fiction and adventure films of the 1970s, '80s and early '90s. He created the original drawings for the mother ship in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) and the spaceship for Mr. Spielberg's ET" (1982). He also did conceptual art for Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), Star Trek IV" (1986), Batteries Not Included" (1987) and Jurassic Park" (1993), as well as for the original Battlestar Galactica" TV series.
In 1986, he shared an Academy Award for visual effects for the movie Cocoon," about a group of elderly people who regain their youth with the help of aliens.
But Mr. McQuarrie was best known as the concept artist for the first three of the six Star Wars" films: Star Wars" (1977), The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and Return of the Jedi" (1983). Mr. Lucas's tale of cosmic civil war against the evil regime of Emperor Palpatine had been rejected by both United Artists and Universal when Mr. McQuarrie was brought on board. After Mr. Lucas placed before him illustrations from comic books and several pages from an early script for the first Star Wars" film, Mr. McQuarrie came back with a dozen full-color renditions of Mr. Lucas's imaginings.
Mr. McQuarrie's paintings, most of them in gouache, would be pivotal in persuading the board of directors of 20th Century Fox to finance the first film in the series, and to distribute the others under the production of Lucasfilm Ltd.
These paintings helped George get the movie approved by Fox because it gave them something to visualize, instead of just a script," said Steve Sansweet, the author of 16 Star Wars" books and until recently the director of fan relations for Lucasfilm.
Among the original images was a tall, elegant, expressionless Art Decoesque golden female robot. Standing to the side was a small, silver robot with a trashcan-like dome, bearing what looked like a big Swiss army knife with an array of implements. That painting became the model for the two droids in the Star Wars" films. The female evolved into the male droid C-3PO; the sidekick became R2-D2.