Back in 1977, there was a little space adventure film that flew into theaters called A New Hope, Episode IV of a story called Star Wars. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

The film spawned a trilogy, returning fans to a galaxy far, far away in 1980 with Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and again in 1983 with Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Over a decade later, in 1999, Star Wars creator and director George Lucas brought the world the beginning of the saga with the start of a new trilogy, going back to when Anakin Skywalker was just a child in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The progression and growth of Anakin from precocious child to Sith Lord is the focus of the “prequel trilogy”, which continued in 2002 with Episode II: Attack of the Clones and concluded in 2005 with Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, a new movie, Episode VII: The Force Awakens (subsequently released in 2015), was announced to mixed feelings; the backstory and cannon from the popular Star Wars book series was tossed aside and no longer considered legit, allowing Disney free reign over the future of the Rebel/Empire struggles. It also allowed Disney/Lucasfilm to branch out and create additional story arcs, similar to the way Lucasfilm did with Star Wars: The Clone Wars, bringing fans Star Wars: Rebels, Rogue One, and the forthcoming Solo. The next chapter in the Star Wars timeline, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, is set to release this coming weekend.

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But what about that 1977 film was so great? What could have been done so right to capture fans’ hearts? Aside from the story, which must be fantastical enough to retain the attention of the audience, the world in which the story takes place must be spectacular. Before filming can even begin, the details must be ironed out, and for Star Wars, that meant having a brilliant conceptual artist to provide guides for all the trades.

Enter Ralph McQuarrie. An artist with a small background sketching teeth, dentistry equipment, and creating drawings for Boeing, as well as CBS News. When Lucas approached McQuarrie about providing conceptual designs and paintings for a script, McQuarrie was certain the project would be too expensive to ever be produced, but took the job anyway. The result of that decision echoes throughout the last four decades of film. A collection of McQuarrie’s art is available from Abrams Books, but take a look at a small selection below to get an idea of how brilliant the man was:

Star Wars Ralph McQuarrie Concept Art R2D2 C3PO

Star Wars Ralph McQuarrie Concept Art Tatooine

Star Wars Ralph McQuarrie Concept Art Stormtroopers

Star Wars Ralph McQuarrie Concept Art Deak Starkiller Darth Vader

It is easy to see where McQuarrie had a major influence on the final Star Wars franchise. What fascinates me is that his initial concept of Chewbacca later became the design base for the Lasat, the most notable character of the alien race being Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios on Star Wars: Rebels.

Students of Orlando, Florida, based Digital Animation & Visual Effects (DAVE) School took up the challenge of “What If…” in regards to McQuarrie’s art. What if Lucas had taken every concept and created it on the screen? What would that look like? Would it still hold our hearts the way A New Hope did? Two graduating classes had a hand in the creation of the short trailer for what might have been. Take a look below and tell us what you think: Would you love to see more? Is there anything that exists in this video that you would love to see come alive in a future Star Wars movie? 

Originally published December 14, 2017.



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