Most Star Wars nerds and even casual fans agree on something fundamental regarding the franchise. It's that George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, is not the best steward of his own creation. He almost destroyed it all with those terrible prequels. And thank God they were taken away from him. But he still has apologists. "Star Wars is George Lucas' vision," is what they say. But that's not even really true. Star Wars is production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie's vision. And we have the receipts – his concept art – to prove it.
If you know anything about Star Wars, you'll recognize these two. They're C-3PO and R2-D2, Luke Skywalker's two pet robots that he brought with him on his intergalactic adventures. One of them was always nervous, and the other one said naughty words in robot language. Ha ha ha! Terrific!
McQuarrie's concept art for the robots was even cooler than how they look in the movie. C-3PO has a more streamlined robot body, almost feminine. McQuarrie must have been inspired by the 1927 film Metropolis. The background here appears to be Morro rock, in Morro Bay California.
The first time we get to see a laser sword duel is at the end of Star Wars. Darth Vader finally confronts his old teacher, Obi-Wan Kenobi, on the Death Star. Obi-Wan has a blue laser sword so you know he's a good guy, and Darth Vader has a red laser sword so you know he's the baddy.
The design for Darth Vader is almost all there in McQuarrie's concept art, although McQuarrie's Vader is slightly sleeker in his armor. He appears to be fighting a version of Luke Skywalker who looks nothing like anything we see in the movies. And, interestingly, they both use colorless laser swords. Indeed, the idea to color the laser swords wasn't thought of until post-production.
One of the most famous locations in Star Wars is the cantina. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. It's where Luke Skywalker arranged to get a ride off of his home planet from Hans Solo, who was basically like a space Uber driver.
McQuarrie's concept art features some furry aliens who look quite different from the scum and villainy we know from the movie. According to StarWars.com, "George asked Ralph to add more technical details to the original version [of the painting], so he added the seekers patrolling, and an air-conditioning unit to the right."
Stormtroopers: the clone army of Imperial soldiers. There's an endless supply of them, but it doesn't matter because not a single one can hit the broad side of a barn with his blaster. But they look cool as hell.
Unsurprisingly, Imperial stormtroopers look cool as hell thanks to Ralph McQuarrie. Their design is almost completely nailed down in this concept art. The most interesting thing about the painting, though, it that it shows us it wasn't just Jedi who wielded laser swords in early concepts. Apparently, everyone used them as weapons, including the dime-a-dozen stormtroopers.
Rebels fly X-wing starfighters. Empire baddies fly TIE fighters. Why is the technology so different on either side? Where does the Rebel Alliance get its X-wings? Probably nerds know the answers. All I know is they don't matter because both spacecrafts look so cool.
More than any of McQuarrie's other concept paintings, the look of the X-wing and the TIE fighter is almost exactly the same from artwork to film in this example. This image could be a painted-over still from the Death Star trench dogfight. That's how perfectly McQuarrie envisioned the starfighters.
That's no moon; that's a space station the size of a moon. The Death Star is of course the big, bad weapon the Empire uses to blow up entire planets in Star Wars. It's huge and terrifying thanks to great design by Ralph McQuarrie.
McQuarrie's Death Star is only slightly different from the on-screen design. What's more interesting in this painting is the starfighter, which is a rebel Y-wing, not an X-wing. Y-wings are less well known than X-wings, but they did indeed participate in the Death Star assault sequence in Star Wars.
A lot of people still call these indigenous Tatooinese "sand people," which is hideously racist. Their proper name is "Tuskens," or sometimes "Tusken raiders." They ride banthas, which are furry, mammoth-like creatures you wouldn't think should exist in a desert. Oh, well; it's just a dumb kids' movie.
Again here, the look of the Tusken raiders in the film is almost exactly as designed by Ralph McQuarrie in his concept art. Of this painting, McQuarrie explained that he "figured there were probably thousands of years worth of battles above Tatooine, and as a result, wrecks might have fallen from the sky and been buried in the sand."