Imagined Worlds: Ralph McQuarrie (Star Wars)


Ralph McQuarrie is a much accomplished artist who was born on the 13th of June, 1929 in Gary, Indiana. His influences for being immersed in the world of art came from his parents due to both of them being artists and he had gotten his first taste of painting with water colouring and sketching. He had learned technical drawing during high school after beginning his official art studies when he was 10.  The skills that he had developed had landed him with a job  Kaiser Graphics then shifted to the Boeing Company not long after. He illustrated concept art in air and spacecraft with help from his abilities in mechanical drawing along with creating graphic illustration used for televised coverage of NASA’s Apollo Lunar missions.

Ralph McQuarrie

Ralph McQuarrie

It was in 1975 where Ralph became acquainted with a young director called George Lucas who had been trying to convince  the executives at Fox to fund a science fiction fantasy that he had written called “Star Wars”. Ralph had made concept sketches and paintings for the movie idea and it was presented as a worn and weathered  world that the characters lived in which resulted in the project being a go and ended up being a surprising blockbuster hit.  Ralph was also involved in the two films after that, developing the iconic looks to the characters Darth Vader, R2-D2, sandcrawlers as well as the Stormtrooper armour.

Darth Vader

Darth Vader



Storm trooper


Ralph McQuarrie had also gone on to use his work for other films such as E.T., Back to the Future, Star Trek, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Battlestar Galactica, Cocoon and Close Encounters. He had also done advertising work for companies such as Bud Light, Chevrolet, Pepsi and Panasonic.

RM concept 1

RM concept 2


“Ralph McQuarrie is not only a conceptual artist, but a visionary who has created fantastic otherworldly environments, creatures and technology. His work has a very unique and creative edge to it. Many individuals, from those in cinematography field to those in the scientific community, have been inspired by his artwork and designs.” – (quote from:

This shows how much of an impact that Ralph McQuarrie’s artwork has made. From imagining and designing how environment, characters and technologies would look outside of our planet. Just by seeing how Ralph has been able to create this art allows people to be inspired to create their own environments, characters and technology for their projects. Ralph was unsure if Star Wars would even get funded. ” I didn’t think the film would get made. My impression was it was too expensive. I thought there wouldn’t be enough of an audience. It’s too complicated.” “Since when I started it wasn’t clear that the film would be made. I didn’t have to limit myself.” (quotes from –

Star Wars art 1Star Wars art 2Star Wars art 3

Ralph McQuarrie uses water painting for his artwork to make his art look rather realistic due to the shadings and details to capture the life like look. Water painting also allows objects that are far away from where the camera is (in terms of the scene) to look more faded and distant. I like how well the colours blend in with each other to make realistic looking objects and environments.  I also like how the colours that are meant to stand out, do so without looking out of place in the scene. The lighting in the artwork is really well made.  It helps make the objects look even more realistic. The artwork really captures how the scenes could look when made into the movie. There’s a lot of detail put into the concept art and for the amount of detail put into the initial concepts of Star Wars that was rather unsure to be made in the first place, a lot of care and effort is shown in Ralph’s work.

Not all of the artwork looks realistic as some artwork looks a bit odd in my view.  Take the artwork with Darth Vader and the Storm troopers for example.

RM concept 3

Whilst Darth Vader has a rather realistic look to him, the background and parts of the Storm troopers have rather “sketchy” black lines to them which I’m personally not really fond of. Also some of the boxes doesn’t have shadings which makes them feel rather flat with black sketch lines used which also gives me a sense of it being rushed.

mcquarrie speeder chase

The speeder chase scene is also another one of Ralph’s artwork. I’m not to fond with the little detail in the characters face; however, I like the sense of speed that Ralph tried to create by using lines to show that the character is going at a fast pace. The blue in the artwork I find a bit off putting as it doesn’t really work with the environment and seems rather out of place.

The final product of the imagined worlds is pretty faithful to the concept art. There are some changes that are made in the final product such as being night time instead of daytime, the characters looks, what the character is doing (like Chewbacca carrying c3po’s broken body parts in a box rather than just carrying his body), different camera angles, etc.  But besides some small changes, you can still tell that the scene in the final product is off the concept art.  The same thing is happening from the art into the final product but just with some subtle changes.

I feel that the final product was really successful with it still going strong today. After 40 years, 12 movies, 6 TV series’ and 50 games along with the rights currently owned by Disney.  Star Wars still maintains a rather large fan base that continue to purchase and support Star Wars content. It’s still a very successful franchise and will continue for a long time. The amount of support that this franchise that started off unsure if would be funded or if there would be enough of an audience to last ended up being really successful and will last in the memories of many fans of the franchise. I feel like the franchise will only continue to grow and the rights may get passed on to someone else if Disney if they ever feel like they can’t make anymore movies or content which is doubtful with how much money that Star Wars brings.


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