As 2012 winds down, it’s natural to look at back at the big events of the year and of course, the famous people we lost.
But it was one former Boeing worker that passed away in 2012, who changed the lives of tens of millions of people. And most probably had no idea who he was.
Does the name Ralph Angus McQuarrie ring any bells for you? No?
How about Darth Vader? R2D2? C3PO ?Indiana Jones? Surely you know E.T.?
Well you wouldn’t have known any of those characters without Ralph Angus McQuarrie; or at least you wouldn’t recognize them.
McQuarrie was a technical artist who started his career after World War II drawing human teeth for a dentistry firm. After that, he used his skills in art going to work for Boeing in the 60’s. That’s where he said he first became interested in planes and space ships and started sketching ideas.
By the early 70’s he was having second thoughts about his career.
Then he was introduced to young director George Lucas who’s latest script had been rejected by two big movie companies.
“(Lucas) had a concept for a big spectacular visual and didn’t come across in the script,” said McQuarrie in the documentary “Empire of Dreams.” “I tried to give it scale. George would say – don’t worry about how we’re going to do it.”
So using his Boeing-honed skills and a fantastic imagination McQuarrie got to work and Lucas called the impact of the artwork “incalculable.”
“(McQuarrie) bringing together the characters that I described in words, in life and in visuals — just to be able to see what they look like,” Lucas said in the Ralph McQuarrie Retrospective.
The first time Lucas presented the script with art he sold the picture and something huge was born.
It was McQuarrie who figured out what Darth Vader and Chewbacca and the droids would look like.
Actor Anthony Daniels said in the “Empire of Dreams” documentary that he wasn’t going to take the part of C3PO until he saw Ralph’s painting of the character. “I kind of looked at this face and the vulnerability in his face made me want to help him. That painting completely changed my attitude towards the whole project. Years later I was able to go to Ralph McQuarrie and say – this is all your fault,” laughed Daniels.
The Death Star, the Millennium Falcon, X-wing fighters: all those repressed Boeing dreams came to life. He even created the light saber.
After Star Wars went supernova at the box office he had no more career doubts and went on to do the concept art for other iconic film characters like Indiana Jones and ET.
Back in March, Ralph McQuarrie died at age 82. Like many people, I didn’t notice. This man’s creations shaped my nerdy young life and millions of others and I never knew it.
I feel like George Bailey getting the big lesson from Clarence, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole – doesn’t he?”
I know it’s a little late Ralph, but thanks. For all of it. You really made my life more wonderful. And to think you started out on bicuspids and Boeing jet engines.
Exterior image by Ralph McQuarrie; courtesy LucasFilm