Long-time fans of the Star Wars franchise will no doubt recognize the work of concept artist and illustrator Ralph McQuarrie. He was instrumental in turning George Lucas’ epic into a reality, and played a key role in creating the visual language for the entire universe. This fall, Abrams Books published Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie, the definitive collection of his work. We’ve spent some time with the final product and can say without reservation that it is among the finest Star Wars art books ever made.
The two-volume, $250 set comes hardbound with a custom slipcase adorned with the now famous concept art for Star Wars: A New Hope. It’s one of the first paintings that McQuarrie ever did for the project, depicting R2-D2 and C-3PO leaving their "lifepod" and setting out across Tatooine’s Dune Sea. Both black, cloth-bound volumes are 400 pages start to finish, and each full-color page is a dramatic 12-by-14 inches. At that scale, it makes the many two-page spreads inside a genuine treasure.
But even more valuable is the behind-the-scenes history of the Star Wars universe that these books contain.
While the forward, written by George Lucas himself, is bland in the extreme, the work of the book’s actual authors — Brandon Alinger, Wade Lageose and David Mandel — is extraordinary. It charts McQuarrie’s early days as an illustrator for Boeing where he produced aerospace illustrations and technical documents. Later, it highlights the work he did animating the Apollo missions in the 60s and 70s for television. It even touches on McQuarrie’s service in the U.S. Army, where he fought in some of the Korean War’s most brutal battles.
The bulk of the text, however, covers McQuarrie’s working relationship with Lucas and other key members of the Star Wars creative team.
Where applicable, the team has added additional works by other artists, including production photos, matte paintings and photographs of hand-made models. Together, they tell the complete story of the original Star Wars trilogy. There are also Easter eggs inside, including illustrations done for LucasFilm corporate holiday cards, toys and merchandise as well as original artwork produced for the Indiana Jones films.
Abrams has agreed to share with Polygon’s readers some of the collections’ more than 2,000 images. Among them are new pieces from the LucasFilm archives, renderings of original McQuarrie pieces that have never been seen before in public or published in any book.