Sunday, March 04, 2012

Ralph McQuarrie 1929-2012

Ralph McQuarrie, the conceptual artist responsible for the landmark vision of the Star Wars films and consequently, one of the most influential visions in all cinema, passed away yesterday.  It's impossible to separate McQuarrie from Star Wars; without hin, Darth Vader likely would not be the icon he is today.  Vader only got his famous mask because McQuarrie was conceptualizing the scene where Vader was entering the Rebel Blockade Runner at the beginning of the original Star Wars film; it struck him that since Vader was passing from one spaceship to another, he should have a breath mask.  This stroke of genius - luck? - had as much to do with the mythic, dynamic figure Darth Vader would become and why the character will live forever.

It's equally impossible to estimate the impact McQuarrie had on generations now of subsequent artists.  Not just visual artists and engineers - McQuarrie worked for Boeing before Star Wars - but writers like myself whose imaginations were fired by the paintings, sketches and books that followed in the wake of the Star Wars films.  I'm primarily a visual thinker.  I see scenes.  I use a tremendous about of visual inspiration when I work and any time I'm writing I have photos, paintings, etc. close by.  I have stacks of concept art books on my shelves.  I have all the art books of McQuarrie's Star Wars art right next to books on Escher, Parrish, James Jean and other artists.  I live in these books.

For the last 6 months or so, I've been writing a sci-fi novel set on a planet where night only comes once a year.  I've been gathering material for this novel in one way or another since I first saw Star Wars.  There is undeniably a lot of Star Wars and McQuarrie in the design of this world, its cities and its characters.  Words will likely never convey what I see in my head, or the debt that I and so many others like me owe to Ralph. 

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