If there can be one man other than George Lucas who we can say defined the shape and look of the Star Wars galaxy more than any other, it would very easily be Ralph McQuarrie.
His paintings established the look of the Star Wars universe and all of its inhabitants, bringing them to visual life for the first time.
Even those early paintings that only vaguely resembled the final product were works of such fine art that they are as recognized as the films themselves.
Who of us didn't have at least one McQuarrie painting hanging on our bedroom walls as kids or teenagers? I had more than a few and I'm sure you had a couple as well.
At Star Wars Celebration V, I made the time to spend well over an hour in the display of his artwork and I said then, and I'll say again now, that it was one of the most impressive and awe-inspiring displays of art I'd ever seen. Even just the work scribbled in his notebooks was something to marvel at.
It's not quite fair to just talk about his contributions to Star Wars, though. He designed the looks of movies and shows like the original Battlestar Galactica, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. In fact, he came up with the biblical illustration of the Ark in Indy's bible that he shows to the men from the Government.
His work will live on, but it's still sad to see a man of his talent go.
For his part, George Lucas released the following statement yesterday upon news of Ralph McQuarrie's passing:
"I am deeply saddened by the passing of such a visionary artist and such a humble man. Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision Star Wars. His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, 'Do it like this.'
"Beyond the movies, his artwork has inspired at least two generations of younger artists—all of whom learned through Ralph that movies are designed. Like me, they were thrilled by his keen eye and creative imagination, which always brought concepts to their most ideal plateau. In many ways, he was a generous father to a conceptual art revolution that was born of his artwork, and which seized the imaginations of thousands and propelled them into the film industry. In that way, we will all be benefiting from his oeuvre for generations to come. Beyond that, I will always remember him as a kind and patient, and wonderfully talented, friend and collaborator."
There is a more complete slideshow of his work on StarWars.com.