Patt Morrison for March 8, 2012

Popular culture loses a legend: Ralph McQuarrie passes away at age 82

Star Wars Exhibition in New York

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Original artwork titled 'Bounty Hunters in Cloud City' by Ralph McQuarrie.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Original sketches of Imperial Storm Troopers by artist Ralph McQuarrie.


Science fiction illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, best known for his work on George Lucas’ Star Wars films, passed away Saturday in Berkeley, CA, after multiple decades of living with Parkinson’s disease.

Lucas found the perfect mixture of talents in McQuarrie: a technically-trained illustrator who originally worked for Boeing, McQuarrie also had a flare for the dramatic and other-wordly. The end result was a parade of fantastic creatures and landscapes, rendered with utter realism.

McQuarrie’s costumes, set paintings, and technical designs shaped popular response to the films as much as Lucas’ script, and his images are now iconic: a cloaked and masked Darth Vader fighting Luke, a svelte C-3P0 standing in the middle of the Tatooine desert with an R2-D2 unit behind him, and the blur of the forests of Endor filling out the background of Luke’s speeder-bike chase.

McQuarrie is survived by his wife and family, as well as, in the words of Lucas, “at least two generations of younger artists—all of whom […] were thrilled by his keen eye and creative imagination.”

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