I first learned the name Ralph McQuarrie when I read it on thirteen trading cards promoting The Empire Strikes Back. It was 1980. I was six.
I’ve previously written about the influence of the original Star Wars films on my life, but I somehow left out my introduction to McQuarrie’s work. It was, I believe, my first encounter with the idea of conceptual design, and therefore a key step forward in understanding just how movies become movies. Props and sets and costumes don’t just happen – they’re created in the mind, worked and reworked through collaboration until imagination can become something that can be captured on film.
It probably didn’t hurt that his paintings were simply gorgeous, stunning to look at even when separated from their films or the context of their creation. I poured over those cards as eagerly as I would his work for Return of the Jedi three years later. My curiosity with his art is one of the reasons I wound up loving movies.
Ralph McQuarrie died today at the age of 82. He was a major reason some of the greatest movies ever made were some of the greatest movies ever made.
A list of his film work – which also includes Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – can be found at his official website. A slideshow of his most memorable Star Wars paintings can be found at Star Wars.com.
Note: The above images are taken from Mr. Potter’s Funtime Blog. Follow that link for a look at the entire first series of Empire trading cards.