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Archive for March 10th, 2012

By Bob Clark

The story is an old one, known to just about any fan of science-fiction films, or the genre in general, one of those behind-the-scenes cinema stories as easy to memorize, tell and embellish as Fritz Lang’s own tall tales about fleeing from the Nazis after being offered ultimate power over the German filmmaking industry. Ralph McQuarrie hadn’t had much background in the movies before being tapped to do concept paintings for what was then being pitched and turned down around Hollywood as The Star Wars. Oh, he’d done some art for a film that Matthew Robbins never got off the ground, but beyond that he was just something of a technical artist journeyman, having previously done work for a dental firm, Boeing and CBS’ coverage of the Apollo Space Program. It was Robbins who got the man in touch with George Lucas (Robbins having collaborated with Lucas on the original THX 1138 short), who was then having disastrous troubles communicating his vision for an epic space-opera to the heads of studios like Universal (where he’d just done American Graffiti) and United Artists. It’s hardly surprising, even when looking back at the monumental success that the films would become, how hard the filmmaker must’ve had it to get his ideas across to executives, with nothing but an elevator pitch and the script off his back to sell it with– Lord knows that words were never his strong suit. His has always been a primarily, even primordially visual imagination, and so as he prepared to mount another attempt to find a home for his passion project, he decided that he needed to bring a visual pitch, as well as a verbal one. And that’s where Ralph McQuarrie steps in.

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