Star Wars art secrets: how Ralph McQuarrie built a universe

In this feature we've gathered some of the best Star Wars art from the late Ralph McQuarrie, an artist who helped design the look of the galaxy far, far away.

This concept art from the original Star Wars trilogy set the tone for every Star Wars movie that came afterwards. The artist also solved many problems the script raced and helped shift the tone of the film altogether. 

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Click the images below for larger versions to take a closer look at Ralph McQuarrie's brush strokes to get a better glimpse inside the art of Star Wars. These images first appeared in Imagine FX magazine.

1. Star Wars art: Luke and C-3PO on Tatooine

In this Star Wars art concept we get a glimpse of Luke Skywalker's home planet of Tatooine. The desert habitat, which plays such an integral part in the saga, is artfully imagined. You can just imagine the planet's indigenous lifeforms - such as the Womp rat and bantha - inhabiting such a desolate scene.

2. Star Wars art: the original Darth Vader design

We love this Star Wars art as it reveals a different version of Darth Vader from the one that finally appeared on the big screen, but - compared to many of McQuarrie's original character illustrations - the final version of Darth Vader was a close facsimile to the concept art. Vader's intimidating demeanour, cape, and iconic helmet are all present.

3. Star Wars art: AT-AT on Hoth

This is Star Wars art is a fantastic scene showing an AT-AT and a Snowspeeder crossing swords during the Battle of Hoth. So close to the final designs, at a glance this could quite feasibly be mistaken for a still from The Empire Strikes Back. McQuarrie was a pioneer of production art and part of his role was to visualise the key moments and drama of George Lucas' script. It was due to painting such as this that Star Wars got funded.

4. Star Wars art: Luke crashes on Hoth

This Star Wars art shows the famous orange flight suits worn by the Rebel Alliance can be seen in full effect in this Star Wars art concept from Ralph McQuarrie. This illustration shows a downed pilot - presumably Luke - looking on as an AT-AT strides into view. Awesome. In the true sense of the word.

5. Star Wars art: Luke and Leia

Looking for the inspiration for the closing scene of The Empire Strikes Back? Well, look no further. There may be some characters missing, but this piece of Star Wars art clearly inspired the closing shot of Lucas' second movie, which left the story balancing on a knife edge and - because of this - was one of the most striking shots from all the movies.

6. Star Wars art: A raging rancor of doom!

The Rancor takes centre stage in Return of the Jedi, and is this concept drawing Ralph McQuarrie brings the ghastly creation to life. Taking place at the start of Jedi, this is where we discover Luke's progress as a Jedi, as he dispatches Jabba's pet to the great rancor pit in the sky.

7. Star Wars art: Jabba's Sail Barge

We'd rather not think about the unsavoury acts that took place on Jabba's Sail Barge, but this illustration shows it precariously balancing over the Sarlacc Pit, where many of the ships inhabitants come to an unappealing end. Again, the final designs that made it into the movie were almost carbon copies from McQuarrie's concept art.

8. Star Wars art: Luke on the Speeder Bike

For some, Endor was the home of the Ewoks, for others it was the setting for one of the most exhilarating chase scenes in the whole Star Wars saga. Ground breaking ast the time, we see Luke trying to evade the clutches of the Empire. McQuarrie captured the speed brilliantly, and - yet again - the Speeder Bike is all but identical to the ones we saw in the final movie.

Hopefully, this Star Wars art has given you an insight into the world of Ralph McQuarrie, and if you'd like to learn more - such as his design background, his work techniques, and how his chance meeting with George Lucas changed his life - check out this Ralph McQuarrie interview at our sister site Imagine FX.

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Ian Dean
Editor, Digital Arts & Design

Ian Dean is Editor, Digital Arts & Design at Creativebloq, and the former editor of many leading magazines. These titles included ImagineFX, 3D World and leading video game title Official PlayStation Magazine. In his early career he wrote for music and film magazines including Uncut and SFX. Ian launched Xbox magazine X360 and edited PlayStation World. For Creative Bloq, Ian combines his experiences to bring the latest news on AI, digital art and video game art and tech, and more to Creative Bloq, and in his spare time he doodles in Procreate, ArtRage, and Rebelle while finding time to play Xbox and PS5. He's also a keen Cricut user and laser cutter fan, and is currently crafting on Glowforge and xTools M1.