How Ralph McQuarrie’s Concept Art Gave ‘Star Wars’ Its Soul

Features Writer

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In the full-length trailer for The Force Awakens, when the new character, Rey (Daisy Ridley), rappels down inside the remains of a crashed Imperial Star Destroyer, it’s hard for fans not to see the influence of artist Ralph McQuarrie. As Rey’s body is dwarfed by the massive spaceship left to decay on the surface of some desolate, alien world, the image resonates with all the elements of McQuarrie’s work.

A graduate of the Art Center School in Los Angeles, McQuarrie was a technical illustrator for Boeing who would design film posters on the side. The latter led George Lucas to approach him about creating some concept art for a project. What resulted were paintings of vast, decaying worlds that featured golden robots walking across a desert, and images of aerial dogfights in space that bordered on the surreal, but would end up becoming vital to the very existence of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Though McQuarrie died in 2012 at age 82, his influence on the upcoming The Force Awakens remains profound. As director J.J. Abrams strives to make a film that captures what audiences loved about Star Wars in the first place, drawing from the concept art that was crucial to the film’s creation may prove the most important aspect to this approach.

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