In December of 1998, I interviewed Ralph McQuarrie in his Bay Area home. We both agreed an in-person discussion would be best because we’d be looking at the same material. While most of our interview appeared in Filmfax (issues 72 and 73), some significant findings and observations were not included for space reasons. Here, then, is more from that meeting.
I flew to Oakland Airport and reached his home via BART train and various (very reliable and convenient) buses. Despite his great renown and my shyness, I felt comfortable around him. During the visit, I discovered for the first time his sweet and humble nature. In ensuing months and years, I would learn more, from others, about this aspect of him.
We sat down in McQuarrie’s study. His desk had odds and ends on it, including his Oscar (for Cocoon), which was situated next to a toy X-wing. On one piece of paper was wondrous and surreal doodles, which I could’ve spent more time studying. (In the course of our conversation, he’d tell me he no longer draws because he has Parkinson’s Disease. Apparently he at least still doodled.)
I brought with me a bag full of Star Wars books for us to look at. Much of our time was spent going through the then-recent Illustrated Star Wars Universe (with text by Kevin J. Anderson). Although I had specific questions in mind, some information came up unexpectedly. For example, when I asked, “Did you ever wonder what [Dagobah] might be like under water?” he replied, “Well, yeah, but I didn’t get into it too much.” However, he pointed to a few creatures he had in mind to swallow R2-D2 in The Empire Strikes Back (of course, in the movie, only a creature’s back is seen).
Other items he identified included what he considered his “perfect Ewok”. He said that after doing it, he stopped participating in the Ewok design process; he felt he had nothing further to contribute.*
Also, one of his space-based views of Coruscant was originally done in pre-production for Return of the Jedi, even though it first appeared years later in Illustrated Universe.
Some of my questions could not be answered. Hoping to learn about the stone hallway on Dagobah where Luke confronts “Vader,” I pointed to his sketches of it and asked, “Is that a remnant of a mysterious civilization?” “It must be,” he answered. “Somebody lives there, Yoda lives there. I don’t know very much about Dagobah.“ I replied, “In an early script Yoda tells Luke that Dagobah had been used as a training ground for Jedi in the past, so maybe this structure was part of the academy.” “Could be,” he said. “There must be some barracks or something left there. [Laughs] I don’t know; I didn’t get into it with George.”
He showed me artwork of his that had never been published before, including unhooded Jawas and a female Luke being examined by a giant insect. (The latter was for an early script of Episode IV and set on Yavin. For The Empire Strikes Back, McQuarrie revised this concept in a color rendering but with a male Luke on Dagobah.) I asked if he’d be willing to make copies of them for publication, and I’d reimburse him for costs and provide SASE. He provided copies (some of which he touched up); however, he never accepted compensation for reproductions and told me not to bother with SASE.
When we were done with the interview, he offered to drive me to the nearest BART station, even though I had access to impressive bus service. He and his wife Joan even waited in the station until my train arrived and I was aboard.
*Although, he expressed no disagreement with the final design.