Obituary: Ralph McQuarrie / Artist who drew film characters Darth Vader, humanoid robot C-3PO

June 13, 1929 - March 3, 2012
March 8, 2012 12:01 am

Share with others:

Ralph McQuarrie, an artist whose paintings of a gold-plated robot in an otherworldly desert and an intergalactic sword duel between a scraggly youth and a black-masked villain helped persuade film executives to gamble on a young director named George Lucas and his visionary story, "Star Wars," died Saturday at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 82.

He had complications from Parkinson's disease, said John Scoleri, co-author of a book of Mr. McQuarrie's art.

"Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision 'Star Wars,' " Mr. Lucas said in a statement posted online. "When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, 'Do it like this.' "

Mr. McQuarrie, for instance, designed the Samurai-inspired helmet and black caped-outfit worn by arch nemesis Darth Vader. (It was Mr. McQuarrie's idea to put a breathing apparatus on Vader's mask, so that he could survive in the vacuum of space, which led to the villain's raspy voice in the films.)

Mr. McQuarrie's pens, pencils and brushes brought lush color, dramatic scenery and lifelike characters to stunning vibrancy in film classics such as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Cocoon," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "E.T."

He was part of a team that won the 1985 Academy Award for best visual effects for his work on "Cocoon," about aliens who can pass on the gift of immortality.

As an artist for all three episodes of the original "Star Wars" films, Mr. McQuarrie was widely credited with shaping Mr. Lucas' far, far away galaxy.

Mr. McQuarrie had been fascinated with flight and outer space exploration since his days building model airplanes as a youngster.

As a technical artist for Boeing in the 1960s, he drew diagrams for a manual on constructing the 747 jumbo jet and later worked as an illustrator animating sequences of the Apollo space missions for NASA and CBS News.

Through two artist friends, Mr. McQuarrie was introduced to Mr. Lucas in the mid-1970s.

First Published 2012-03-07 23:40:00

Join the conversation:

Commenting policy | How to report abuse
Commenting policy | How to report abuse
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.
PG Products