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RIP Ralph McQuarrie

I was nine years old when I first saw Star Wars, along with a good portion of the world’s population.  Is it too melodramatic to say that it changed my life, when practically any event changes the life of a nine-year-old?  Regardless, nothing else effected the direction my life took as much as George Lucas‘s science fantasy epic.  One of the most powerful things that struck me about the movie, even at that young age, was the artistic imagery.  Not long into my Star Wars obsession, I was given the book The Star Wars Album, which chronicled the making of the film.  One section of the book was “The Art of Ralph McQuarrie: Easel Come, Easel Go” that focused on his pre-production artwork of early character designs.  The name Ralph McQuarrie became synonymous to me with the look of Star Wars.  The film may have been George Lucas’s creation, but it was made possible through the imagination of people like McQuarrie.  Along with other names associate with that far, far away galaxy a long time ago like John Williams, John Dykstra, Dennis Muren, Rick Baker and Ben Burtt, Ralph McQuarrie became part of a pantheon of icons of a mythical level that I hero worshiped.

Hailing from Gary, Indiana, McQuarrie provided his artistic skills for Boeing as a technical illustrator before being enlisted by CBS to provide animation of the lunar surface for their coverage of the Apollo missions.  This led to designing a movie poster for a film from Matthew Robbins, future director of *Batteries Not Included.  Through Robbins, McQuarrie met George Lucas and began work developing characters for Star Wars.  His drawings helped convince 20th Century Fox executive Alan Ladd, Jr. to take a chance on this crazy project, which everyone else in Hollywood had rejected.  If not for McQuarrie’s talents, Star Wars would probably have never existed.  None of this would have happened if he hadn’t survived being shot in the head during the Korean War.

McQuarrie lent his creative vision for the art design in other major science fiction events such as E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Cocoon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica, in addition to illustrating work for Isaac Asimov, produced concepts and packaging for video games, designing art for a number of advertisements, and even conceptualizing a shopping mall.

I was lucky enough to see some original artwork on display during the Star Wars Celebration in 2010.  It was like witnessing a piece of history, and seeing his work sent an amazing thrill through me.  The nine-year-old me was alive and well, and was just as excited as the first day I saw Star Wars in the movie theater.

Ralph McQuarrie passed away on March 3, 2011 from complications of Parkinson’s disease.  His legacy will always be with us.  Thank you, Ralph, for inspiring us to dream.

copyright © 2012 FilmVerse

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