How original Ralph McQuarrie concept art inspired Star Wars: The Force Awakens

George Lucas may have dreamed up Star Wars, but from the very beginning legendary concept artist Ralph McQuarrie was instrumental in translating those dreams into reality. Before principal filming ever began on Star Wars: A New Hope, the late illustrator established so much of what we love about the galaxy far, far away, from the menacing look of Darth Vader to our favorite heroic droids.

Today, nearly 40 years later, much of McQuarrie’s original unused artwork continues to be used as a source of inspiration in the Star Wars universe. The creators behind the animated series Star Wars: Rebels have made many mentions of closely referencing McQuarrie’s work, and just last week in an interview with Stephen Colbert, director J.J. Abrams credited the artist’s designs as the primary inspiration behind the incredibly popular droid BB-8 in the upcoming new film. But the influence of McQuarrie’s artwork in The Force Awakens doesn’t appear to end there. Check out these references savvy Star Wars fans have spotted so far!

***Beware, potential spoilers below***


Let’s start with a side by side comparison of BB-8, who draws inspiration from the original concepts for everyone’s favorite astromech, R2-D2.

Visually it might not seem like a match at first, but in this interview excerpt where Ralph McQuarrie recalled the original intentions for R2-D2 it’s easy to recognize the similarities.

“I think Artoo was just described as a small robot. I thought of him as running on a giant ball bearing — just a sphere, a circle, wheel-like. He had gyros so he could go in any direction on this ball.”

Although this design for R2 was abandoned due to technological limitations at the time, with the advancements made in special effects since McQuarrie’s original vision can finally be realized.

Desert Architecture

Originally designed as part of the exterior of Jabba’s Palace on Tatooine, this distinctive archway made an appearance at the entrance of Rey’s village on the planet Jakku in the first trailer for The Force Awakens.

First Order Snowtroopers

 The Replica Prop Forum uncovered another reference when Lucasfilm revealed a collection of costumes and props in a special exhibit. This Snowtrooper costume borrows heavily from McQuarrie’s Hoth concept art, from the design of the backpack to the unique insignia.

Rey’s Costume and Goggles

Many fans have pointed out the similarities between these early Luke Skywalker/Starkiller designs and the final look of Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey.

Stormtroopers with lightsabers

Just like our new hero Finn, McQuarrie’s original artwork showcased Stormtroopers wielding blue lightsabers.

Note that the artwork above also features a very early concept of Chewbacca, which later went on to become Zeb in Star Wars: Rebels.

New X-Wings

The Force Awakens also sees the introduction of a brand new X-Wing class, which bears a striking resemblance to one of McQuarrie’s earliest pieces, depicting an X-Wing evading a pair of TIE Fighters.

So, did we miss anything McQuarrie fans? Leave us a comment below with your observations, and be sure to check out our Ralph McQuarrie Concept Artist Series collection.

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