The recently released, Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie is one of the most stunning publications that I have seen in recent years. One of its author’s David Mandel recently sat down with the Wall Street Journal to discuss the book.
A new book about late illustrator Ralph McQuarrie isn’t just the definitive look at his vast contributions to George Lucas’s vision for “Star Wars.” It’s a labor of love for its three co-authors, one of whom is David Mandel, the showrunner of HBO’s political satire series “Veep.”
Mandel says he and his co-authors, Brandon Alinger and Wade Lageose, left no stone unturned in their search for bits and pieces, both big and small, of McQuarrie’s “Star Wars” work. They were granted access to Lucasfilm’s archives to scavenge for sketches and paintings, and they used their connections in the memorabilia-collecting world to find pieces of McQuarrie’s art. They also tapped their extensive personal collections.
“We decided we wanted a book that, if you decided to spend that money and you got it, you’d go, Jesus Christ, this thing is a monster of a book and it was worth it,” Mandel said. “You hate to make it about the money, but I have yet to hear anyone complaining that they spent the money and didn’t feel like they got their money’s worth.”
Indeed, “Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie,” which was published in late September by Abrams Books, is no stocking stuffer. With a list price of $250, the book, consisting of 800 pages and two volumes, weighs in at 20 pounds. Considering the wealth of material it contains, from reproductions of large matte paintings to tiny pencil drawings, a smaller set just wouldn’t do.
Mandel says the book took about two-and-a-half years to complete, with most of the work centered on arranging the images. Some McQuarrie works were on museum tours, for instance. In some cases, people who owned McQuarrie artwork didn’t have scanners or the correct technology to copy the images and send them to Mandel, Alinger and Lageose. Lucasfilm, meanwhile, helped the authors by re-shooting and re-scanning several pieces with newer technology.
“It was an organizational challenge as much as it was fun,” Mandel says.
The book shines a spotlight on McQuarrie, who died in 2012 at the age of 82 and is celebrated in “Star Wars” fandom as one of the visionaries behind the look of Lucas’s far, far away galaxy. In the mid-1970s the filmmaker enlisted the artist to help him conjure an outer-space mythology populated by dashing heroes, ominous villains, bizarre aliens and strange vehicles.
In the early going, the conceptual art for “Star Wars” had a sleek, weird style that captured the spirit of paperback science-fiction novels and classic space operas such as “Buck Rogers” and “Flash Gordon.” That spirit remained in the final products, namely the three “Star Wars” movies Lucas created in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but the world had a grimier, more lived-in feel in the films.
“You can still see them working that out” in the first images, Mandel says. “It was them trying to figure out what they were going to do.”
For instance, McQuarrie’s early drawings of droid C-3PO evoked the robot character Maria from Fritz Lang’s seminal silent science-fiction film “Metropolis.” Over time, Lucas and McQuarrie developed something more tactile, more mechanical, and their collaboration eventually helped spawn the C-3PO that has appeared in all seven “Star Wars” movies.
“You can see them synthesizing all of these influences and then turning them into something very original, which I think is sort of sometimes the definition of art, absorbing things you like and turning them into something else,” Mandel says.
Lucas, who sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, went “above and beyond” to contribute to the book, Mandel says. The filmmaker wrote the foreword and answered questions provided by the three authors. “That’s not something he’s done for a lot of the [‘Star Wars’] books,” Mandel says, “which is really something I think is special — that Ralph was important enough to him that he wanted the book done right.”
The book doesn’t stop with McQuarrie’s contributions to the “Star Wars” movies. In their searches, Mandel and his co-authors found other projects Lucasfilm commissioned from the artist, from fan club materials to marketing images to logo designs to company Christmas cards.
“Nowadays, if you think about it, modern movie making is much more of a bureaucracy,” Mandel says. “The idea that one guy would be so involved in all these aspects is really just impossible.”
Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie by Brandon Alinger, Wade Lageose, and David Mandel is available now from Abrams Books.