Conceptual designer Ralph McQuarrie, who designed the look of “Star Wars” characters including Darth Vader and Chewbacca, died Saturday, March 3, in Berkeley, Calif. He was 82 and had been suffering from Parkinson’s.
McQuarrie, part of the team that won an Oscar in 1986 for the visual effects in “Cocoon,” worked on all three of the original “Star Wars” films and designed the spaceships in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” He was also credited on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and worked on the original “Battlestar Galactica” series.
McQuarrie was born in Gary, Ind., but moved to California. He was a technical illustrator for Boeing at first, but also designed film posters and provided animation for CBS’ coverage of NASA’s Apollo missions. George Lucas hired him to illustrate scenes from his “Star Wars” script, and McQuarrie not only created the look of characters Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO but also of some of the sets, including of the desert world Tatooine. His conceptual drawings helped convince 20th Century Fox execs to finance the film.
The artist even appeared in “The Empire Strikes Back,” playing General McQuarrie, who was among the characters made into action figures.
In a statement, Lucas said: “His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘Do it like this.'”
McQuarrie later worked on the films “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” “Batteries Not Included” and “Nightbreed” and was the conceptual designer of Back to the Future: The Ride at Universal Studios in Hollywood and Florida.
He was later asked to work on the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy but declined.