Relax, this post contains no spoilers.
While most Star Wars articles you’ll see this week are focused on the soon-to-be-revealed adventures of Finn, Rey, Poe, and BB-8, today we’ve got a blast from the past to share with you—sort of. As any self-respecting nerd will tell you, the whole look-and-feel of the Star Wars universe owes a lot to Ralph McQuarrie. In 1975, George Lucas hired the conceptual artist to create the characters and worlds that then only existed on the pages of his scripts. So McQuarrie’s paintbrush created the first images of C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, stormtroopers, and others, not to mention all those TIE fighters, X-Wings, and Y-Wings.
His paintings and concept art heavily informed Lucas’ filmmaking, and the director reproduced many of McQuarrie’s pieces in Star Wars. But quite a lot changed between the earlier scripts McQuarrie was working from and the film that audiences saw in 1977. Stormtroopers used lightsabers. Luke Skywalker was a girl. And the Millennium Falcon looked very, very different. Now, thanks to the 2017 graduating classes of the DAVE School, we have an idea of what a 1975-era movie—”The Star Wars”—would have looked like:
In Mark Cotta Vaz and Shinji Hata’s book, The Star Wars Archives, McQuarrie said “my job, as George defined it, was to capture the grand theme, scale, the complexity of structures. After that, they’d worry about the effects and whether it could be built or not.”
Advances in CGI—in part driven by Lucas and the stories he wanted to tell—can now free the artist’s vision in a way that simply wasn’t possible 40 years ago.
McQuarrie went on to work with Lucas on the next two Star Wars films, and he had a hand in the spacecraft we saw in Battlestar Galactica, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T. But his early work remains relevant; in theThe Star Wars Archives, we also learn that a sketch for R2-D2 depicted “the droid perched on a large ball bearing.” Lucas ditched this idea for the tripod undercarriage we know and love, but that sure sounds like a description of the adorable BB-8 to me.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost time to start rewatching everything before The Last Jedi arrives later this week.