If the name is unfamiliar to you, you’ll probably recognize the artwork.
Today, March 3rd, 2015, marks three years since the passing of Ralph McQuarrie, illustrator and concept artist who worked on some of the most memorable films of our generation. Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Indiana Jones, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek IV… quite the resume for a guy who started out drawing teeth after serving in the Korean War.
His influence is also returning to the franchise, as the Star Wars Rebels cartoon and Episode VII concepts all harken back to the work Ralph produced as early as 1975. It’s great to see today’s artists and designers taking Star Wars back to its roots, rather than employing another clumsy “gritty reboot”.
I love this quote of Ralph’s style:
A McQuarrie Star Wars design looks like what would have resulted if Salvador Dalí had sketched concepts for Universal’s 1936 Flash Gordon serial by way of Sergio Leone’s Old West.
The quote is right on the money, as Star Wars successfully blends a lot of disparate elements into one cohesive universe. You have plenty of fantasy, an Old West color palette, a dash of Samurai imagery, and plenty of added character in the form of dirt, debris and weathering.
This is part of the reason why Star Wars didn’t need a gritty reboot, it was already a lot more gritty most early sci-fi. It had scoundrels, thieves, bounty hunters and all manner of lowlifes rubbing elbows with generals and princesses right from the beginning. Obviously Ralph can’t take all the credit for the Star Wars universe, but his visual style helped make the Star Wars universe seem like a real place. I find this is where most of today’s sci-fi (prequel trilogy included) falls short — things are either too bland and sterile, or you’re literally drowning in garbage and visual noise. Either way, every detail that is included in the scene gets used as an elaborate prop for some over the top action sequence. There’s definitely an art to using just the right amount of clutter, and Ralph had it figured out long ago (although you could argue that his Imperial designs could use a few more handrails… so many ways to fall to your death when you’re serving in the Imperial Navy).
Some of his original artwork is used in the official X-wing miniatures game art; most notable in my mind is the Prototype A-wing pilot card. I always loved that painting, with its color scheme that stands out from the usual Rebel fare, and those big juicy white triangles on the “hood” adding a huge hit of contrast and implied motion to the speedy craft.
As a tribute to the late artist, I made another batch of alternate art X-wing cards using some of Ralph McQuarrie’s paintings. Check them out below. I hope they are a fitting tribute to someone who played a big part in making the Star Wars franchise so timeless.
I’ll add them to the static page as well, where all my custom card art is going.
Thanks for reading. Do you have a favorite Ralph McQuarrie painting? Feel free to share below in the comments.