Fine Art: In Memory Of Ralph McQuarrie, The Artist Who Designed Darth Vader & R2-D2

Fine Art: In Memory Of Ralph McQuarrie, The Artist Who Designed Darth Vader & R2-D2

I run the Fine Art feature on Kotaku because it’s an aspect of the creative process that I have a big interest in, and the utmost respect for. Indeed, there was a point in my life where I hit a fairly substantial crossroads, and if I hadn’t gone down the path that led me here, I’d have ended up pursuing a career in production/concept art instead.

This story was originally published in April 2012.

The single biggest inspiration for that flirtation was the work of Ralph McQuarrie, who passed away in 2012, aged 82. McQuarrie designed some of the most iconic and important elements in science-fiction movie history, from the alien mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind to the original Battlestar Galactica TV series to some work on Jurassic Park.

He is most widely known, however, and will be most fondly remembered, for his contribution to the visual identity of the Star Wars universe.

McQuarrie’s hands are all over the three original Star Wars films, on which he worked as a production illustrator, design consultant and concept artist. He designed Darth Vader. He designed R2-D2 and C-3PO. He designed Chewbacca. Indeed, it was McQuarrie’s vivid concept paintings, all done on the strength of nothing but George Lucas’ script, which helped convince studio executives to green-light Star Wars in the first place.

McQuarrie appears briefly as a Rebel General in The Empire Strikes Back, and later won an academy award for his work on 1985’s Cocoon.

If you love Star Wars, a lot of what you love is down to the work of this man. His contributions to the enduring popularity of the original trilogy simply cannot be understated.

For perhaps the single best collection of his Star Wars work, many of which you probably haven’t seen, you should really check out this 1997 book. It’s collated like a work of Star Wars fiction, but really, the words are a thin thread tying together an astonishing collection of concept art for the original three films.

Fine Art is a celebration of the work of video game artists, showcasing the best of both their professional and personal portfolios.


  • It’s great how TFA uses the early xwing concept art. Still have to wait for 10 more hours before i see it. 🙁

  • The Vader Vs. Luke in the throne room one looks like they are actually fighting in a janitors closet or something.

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