Legendary graphic artist, Ralph McQuarrie, passed away on Saturday at the age of 82. McQuarrie is best known for the artistic visions he created for the Star Wars movies — from the iconic design for Darth Vader’s helmet to the sweeping vistas of Cloud City, he was responsible for much of the look and feel of the Star Wars universe.
I was introduced to that universe as a very young child, when my parents took me and my brother to see Star Wars during the summer of 1977. But it wasn’t until I saw its stunning sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, that this fictional universe had any significant impact on me. By the summer of 1980 I was old enough to cogitate on the visions before me, and I remember being completely blown away by Empire, particularly the scenes that took place on Cloud City. I saw the movie many times that summer, and I simply could not get those visions out of my head. Not that I wanted to.
It was years later, when I became a collector of Star Wars memorabilia, that I came across several prints of McQuarrie’s concept paintings and realized from whose imagination those stunning visions emerged. So complete were McQuarrie’s concepts for the Star Wars universe, that George Lucas and the other directors didn’t merely use them as guides, but recreated them on the screen with astonishing faithfulness.
The adventures of three young people in a galaxy far, far away had almost nothing to do with astronomy or space science, but I was so swept away by what I had seen that for the first time in my life it got me thinking about outer space in a meaningful way. It was a very short journey from the fictional Star Wars universe to the real universe, and it eventually led to a career as a professional astrophysicist. In a way, I owe my passion for outer space to McQuarrie and his astonishing vision. May the Force be with him.