Entertainment Weekly: Who is the “Ralph McQuarrie” of The Force Awakens?

McQuarrie production painting of Threepio and Artoo

In another in their series of articles about The Force Awakens, Entertainment Weekly takes a look at Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie and asks director J.J. Abrams about who filled that role for him during the production of TFA. Read on for more…



Entertainment Weekly’s latest Star Wars related article delves into the question of what influence the late production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie had on the upcoming Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens, and whether J.J. Abrams found somebody to fill McQuarrie’s shoes for the new film.


McQuarrie, who died in 2012 at age 82,  painted countless concept images for the original Star Wars trilogy, creating the iconic landscapes of Tatooine, Hoth, Cloud City, and Dagobah, as well as the visage of characters like Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3PO (pictured above), and many, many more.


Ralph McQuarrie Dagobah production painting


His influence can still be found in the details of The Force Awakens, more than 40 years after the artist began visualizing the galaxy far, far away. But in talking with writer-director J.J. Abrams about this first step back into the cosmos, I wanted to know: Who was his Ralph McQuarrie?


In other words – who helped him see the unimaginable?


J.J.’s answer? His production designer, Rick Carter, about whom J.J. is almost gushingly enthusiastic:


“I was incredibly blessed to work with Rick Carter, who – beyond being a brilliant production designer – is a font of imagination and associations,” Abrams says, without having to think long, “He is able to make connections to things that no one else can see, and he has such a trove of references and life experience and images and design ideas.”




“I brought him in very early on, when I was working, originally, with [screenwriter] Michael Arndt,” Abrams says. “I brought Rick in to our story meetings, which is atypical in a production designer’s job description, but I wanted him there because he was a dreamer – a complete dreamer.”


Abrams described Carter as “a giddy, excited genius, and he was a muse for me in that regard. Not just visually, but also spiritually, and he was just a terrific partner in crime.”


Rick Carter - The Force Awakens production designer


But what of McQuarrie himself? Was his influence still felt during the TFA production? I think we all know the answer to that, but… for the record:


Another person who was Abrams’ Ralph McQuarrie was … Ralph McQuarrie. Even though he’s gone, his illustrations are still influencing Star Wars, and the late artist was a kind of guardian angel for both Abrams and Carter.


“We both knew the importance of what McQuarrie had done, and how critical he was in creating the aesthetic of what we all know is Star Wars,” the director says. “We could have taken another path and said, ‘Okay, everything that we all know about Star Wars has been done; let’s go somewhere else and do something totally different,’ but when you’re lucky enough to inherit the history of this world that we know, there should be a continuum.”


Okay J.J., okay… we get the broad conceptual angle on this, but let’s get right down to it. What IS it about McQuarrie’s work that still has a hold on you all these years later? C’mon man, you can tell us…


“I don’t know what a Star Wars movie would look like without TIE fighters, and stormtroopers, and that pill-shaped lighting from the Empire,” Abrams said. “All things that are Ralph McQuarrie’s brainchild.”


McQuarrie production painting of X-wing and TIE fighter


And there we have it. For those of us of Abrams’ generation who, sitting in darkened movie theaters as children, were bowled over by “Star Wars, mesmerized by “Empire”, and enthralled by “Jedi”, that beloved galaxy far, far away looks the way it does largely due to the imagination and artistic sensibilities of Ralph McQuarrie. Not to downplay the astounding stuff that Joe Johnston and the others also laid on us back in the day, of course. But McQuarrie’s design work formed the foundation on which all of that was built. And clearly, it’s a foundation that J.J. Abrams and company still endeavor to build upon today, almost 40 years later.



Ralph McQuarrie working on Cloud City matte painting



Read the entire Entertainment Weekly article HERE.


+ posts

28 thoughts on “Entertainment Weekly: Who is the “Ralph McQuarrie” of The Force Awakens?

  • August 14, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    You guys are killing me here… I’m trying to get work done & I’m literally being drowned in Star Wars news… please stop! (lol)

    Just kidding… lets get a poster or snoke pic 🙂

    • August 14, 2015 at 10:53 pm

      From the desert to the oasis.

  • August 14, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    I welcome JJ continue the look of the world of ST affected by Mcquarrie. But in other word, that is the limit of his artistic boundary. SW is bound to pass the looks of Mcquarrie design in near future. Another artist or visionary must lead the franchise.

    • August 14, 2015 at 11:11 pm

      I don’t think anyone has ever said that J.J. is basing production design of TFA solely on the works of Ralph McQuarrie. J.J. certainly hasn’t ever said anything to indicate that this is what he’s doing.

      There is a world of difference between building on a previously established foundation and being walled in by that foundation. I fully expect TFA to go beyond McQuarrie’s concept drawings, but I’m also glad to see that J.J. used McQuarrie’s imagery as the springboard for how TFA would look.

      • August 14, 2015 at 11:24 pm

        I see your point. We only see the trailer and may well see just a glimpse of the whole new design. Besides,as much as I love McQuarrie , I also like what Doug Cinang and Rian Church did for PT. As Lucas said the design should be served to tell the story.

        • August 15, 2015 at 12:19 am

          Chiang and Church did a fine job, but I’ve always noticed a tendency for their designs to go for cool visuals over functionality, which are two elements that were more often balanced out in the OT (especially in ANH.)

          Case in point, the OT X-wings vs. the ROTS clone fighters. Both designs look very cool onscreen, no question about it. But whereas the S-foils in ANH had a functional purpose (to broaden the fire spread of the wingtip lasers) the ROTS design just has wings that open… well, apparently because it looks cool to have wings open.

          To me, that was the big difference between the two production design teams. With McQuarrie and Johnston and company, there always seemed to be more thought given to WHY equipment works the way it does in the GFFA. To me, that always added a whole lot to the films.

          • August 15, 2015 at 8:38 am


            There is a lot of design work done in the PT to show off tech that it leads to a lot of inconsistencies.

            The jedi fighter not being able to house an R2 unit properly being one, the “useless” S-Foils on the ARC-170, the needlessly chrome ships from Naboo (shouldn’t they be very dark in space?) it just doesn’t feel “at home” especially since the transition from the Republic to the Empire happens so quick with a lot of visual changes to just about everything, it feels way too forced in RotS and should’ve been handled differently.

  • August 14, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    The anticipation is killing me. I cannot believe we are only 4 months away from seeing a sequel to Return of the Jedi. This is f*king awesome.

    • August 14, 2015 at 11:22 pm

      I can’t figure out what I’m more excited about… seeing a brand new cast brought to life, watching old friends appear again on the big screen, hearing a new John Williams score…

      A splendid time will be guaranteed for all in December. That I am sure.

      • August 16, 2015 at 2:43 am

        Do you really have to choose?

        After all, you’re (we’re) getting all three!


    • August 14, 2015 at 11:26 pm

      Read it aloud!
      We’re getting to see a SEQUEL TO RETURN OF THE JEDI.
      It’s just…it’s still hard to believe. I’ll be pinching myself once I’m in the theater. Unless I pass out from feverishly and gleefully *anticipating*. It’s STAR WARS VII, after all.
      And then I’ll probably leave the theater with a shrug and a “It was just a movie.”
      But I’m convinced I can also add, “It was a much more entertaining experience than Episodes I-III. Phew.”
      And then I’ll go see it again. And again. To make up my mind, I guess.
      It has to be AOTC-level bad for me to *not* see it more than once (I saw AOTC twice).
      Image-wise I’m all in. The story has to deliver, and while I think the story (what we think we know, anyway) smells a little iffy, what with the lightsaber and the many obvious similarities to already existing plot developments in IV-VI, articles like this just get me hyped and excited.
      Man, I don’t want to be disappointed.

      • August 15, 2015 at 12:20 am

        I think story is overrated as a concept. It’s all about characters. ANH has one of the silliest stories imaginable but its characters are so iconic and so full of life, you immediately buy into it. ESB almost has no story. It all derives from the characters. Vader is pursuing the heroes of the Rebel Alliance to get to Luke. That’s pretty much it. Only when we get to ROTJ do things get a little too complicated and things completely go off the wagon with the Prequels.

        Everything Abrams and Kasdan have said about the script needing to be air-tight as far as the characters go is 100% the right approach. What has made Star Wars from the beginning is the characters and if they pull THAT off, we’re in for an absolute treat.

        • August 16, 2015 at 6:33 pm

          Ben , I think you’re very wrong assuming ANH and TESB “have no story”. It’s like saying ‘Bridge over Troubled water’ or ‘Mama Mia’ have no melody because ‘they are so simple and it’s just the quality of singing that matters.’

          In writing, character and story are equally important and totally dependent of each other. There really is no line dividing them.

          Do you really think TESB would have been as successful had it been about feisty Leia and idealistic Luke admiring the beauty of the universe now that the Empire has been defeated?

  • August 14, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    Bless Ralph

  • August 14, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    So happy about this. Ralph McQuarrie is Star Wars. Thankfully JJ understands that.

  • August 14, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    Tie Fighters were designed by Colin Cantwell and Joe Johnston, not McQuarrie.

  • August 14, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    i like how the xwings and ties are black now

  • August 14, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    But…Ralph McQuarrie was a concept artist. Rick Carter is a production designer…completely different job. If any connection to McQuarrie should be made, it should be with Doug Chiang, who is doing the actual concept art for TFA together with Iain McCaig.

  • August 14, 2015 at 11:46 pm


  • August 14, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    Can’t agree with you more. Norman Raynols was a legendary production chief who also did Raiders.
    Doug and Ian seems to legitimate successor for me.

  • August 14, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    What’s Doug Chiang up to these days?

  • August 15, 2015 at 12:12 am

    He was rehired by Kennedy well before JJ assumed the director chair, so presumably he oversee all the design for TFA , Episode 8 and possibly Rogue One

  • August 15, 2015 at 1:33 am

    You guys really need to look into Collin Cantwell. He was right there at the beginning with McQuarrie and the two actually fed off each other’s ideas when creating the designs. In fact, the X-wing and TIE fighter are arguably better attributed to Cantwell then Mcquarrie.

    As to TFA, unless they are holding back, I haven’t seen anything original and fresh enough to say that ANYONE is comparable to McQuarrie (or Cantwell) working on this film.

    As for Doug Chiang, I haven’t seen anything that looks like his normal work except for Rey’s popsicle speeder which is unimaginative, ugly and boring to look at.

    • August 15, 2015 at 1:47 am

      But what is truly original, without being too abstract or looking dysfunctional in design?

      This takes place 30 years after RoTJ so not everything is going to look completely new. It makes sense to me at least, that a lot of things would look like derivatives of the OT which is exactly what most of the designs look like so far that we’ve seen.

      • August 15, 2015 at 3:28 am

        Compare cars from today to 30 years ago. A much larger difference in design then what we are seeing here.

        Not sure what you mean about abstract in relation to vehicles since the are always abstract in relation to the source that inspired them. As to “dysfunctional” I think sound effects and greebles go a long way in making the weirdest looking vehicles come across as plausible (ex: Slave 1).

    • August 15, 2015 at 7:30 am

      I think it should be mixed.
      Look at technology today.

      Military vehicles haven’t changed all that much, Jeeps are still Jeeps + situational mods / new color schemes;
      most of the large cargo planes are 20 years old,
      but then you got special projects, the harrier is completely foreign to any of its predecessors – not to mention that stealth plane that looks like a UFO.

      However, civilian stuff is even more mixed. Muscle-cars still look more or less like muscle-cars – though this is intentional.
      Other cars have intentionally distanced themselves from the past, with Lexus, Buick, Ford, Honda, Suzuki, and Hyundai all using aerodynamic designs – i,e. THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME.
      Then you got the japanese Washing-machine Cars [small, box-shaped, low-powered, cheap, economical cars that – seriously – look like a car and a washing machine “got it on”], which are just downright silly, but charmingly so.

      So in real life, we got the outdated, the classics, the intelligently new, the “weird-for-the-sake-of-weird” BS, and the “I’m too cheap to care” little stuff, the cutting edge stuff for a specific purpose, and then you got stuff that’s just an outright toy [why does the segway exist anyways??].

      Now the OT has always had the strength that it’s incredibly well-rounded. EVERYTHING is included, cheap shit, outdated shit, pimp-out shit, expensive pointless shit, expensive useful shit [Death Star: Best Use of Tax-Dollars EVER], and shit that just simply defies the logic of human understanding: http://img3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20060615062617/starwars/images/d/d7/Gonkpromo.jpg

      So I [to a degree] second your worry that TFA may be a little shallow in its portrayal of technology. But I’ll judge when I see the film whether or not they rounded out the spectrum.

  • August 15, 2015 at 7:10 am

    I am both a computer artist and a carpenter, and while they’re different medium, my decision-making process is actually unchanged, figuring out how I want to do a corner-joint is actually the same kind of sense required to figure out how to blend the color layers on a bus being hit by sunlight.

    I early years, sure, CG was a toy and there were quite a few CG artists who coasted on its novelty. But there have been quite a few movies in this past decade that have really shown true artistry in their CG work. Life of Pi had stunning graphics on that freighter traveling at an even pace just before the storm, and when the actual storm hits and things are more obviously outlandish, the graphics still hold up.
    And as for Avatar, I’m the first person to say that movie was a pile of crit, but the CG was absolutely stunning, and, much as I tried to hate Zoe Saldana she really put in a good performance that was well rendered.

    To say “I paint in real life and in the virtual” is by no means a silly statement.

  • August 15, 2015 at 10:30 am

    I’m torn. On the one hand, I enjoy the McQuarrie influence and like how they are actually trying to make it fit into IV-VI but it’s also very derivative of it at the same time. I’m not saying that they should go out there like I-III but I hope we see something new that’s still Star Warsy rather than upgraded TIEs, Star Destroyers, Speeder Bikes, Shuttles, and the like.

Comments are closed.