Most Star Wars fans are aware that Ralph McQuarrie painted the cover for the first printing of the movie tie-in issued in the fall of 1976, six months before the film’s release. And that he also painted the cover for the first Expanded Universe novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. But few know that he developed an unused cover for the novelization to The Empire Strikes Back, that one of his paintings was used on an early mock-up for the Return of the Jedi novelization, or that he did preliminary design work for the first of the Lando Calrissian adventures. This three-part series (check out part one in case you missed it) explores both the published and unpublished Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars artwork for Del Rey books from 1976-1983.
Part II – The Empire Strikes Back Era (1979-1982)
The Empire Strikes Back
These behind-the-scenes photos from 1979 show McQuarrie working on a variety of concepts for the cover to the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back.
Most of his designs originated from his production paintings; recomposing the widescreen images to fit a portrait orientation of a book cover.
These included a cloud car following the Millennium Falcon into cloud city, and several variations of Luke and Vader’s climactic confrontation on the weather vane (along with the original production paintings, above).
One thumbnail (above) appears to show snowspeeders approaching AT-ATs on the horizon.
The thumbnail with the grey marker wash (above) remains a mystery. McQuarrie could not recall which scene from the film he would have been depicting. Although the concept had been abandoned early on, it’s possible that the structures in the distance are the tops of buildings buried deep in the snowy surface of Hoth, with the ship in the foreground delivering the AT-ATs and troops for the ground assault. We’ll never know for sure.
An incomplete thumbnail shows an AT-AT in the distance (from McQuarrie’s painting of Luke emerging from his downed snowspeeder).
McQuarrie reproduced his production painting of the snowspeeders flying past the AT-AT in color (above, along with the original production painting).
One final thumbnail shows Vader and Luke in front of the observation window in Cloud City (also taken from one of McQuarrie’s paintings), and the remainder feature Luke escaping from his downed snowspeeder, which McQuarrie would eventually choose to develop as his cover concept (above, along with production paintings).
The drawing above is likely the first step in what would have been McQuarrie’s final painting for the cover to The Empire Strikes Back. The book was ultimately released using Roger Kastel’s Gone With The Wind-style poster art (solicitation cover below), and so it appeared that McQuarrie stopped working on the book cover before finalizing a painting.
At least that was the belief until earlier this year, when an extremely rare solicitation cover for The Empire Strikes Back popped up on eBay featuring what appeared to be a previously unpublished McQuarrie painting (below). It is clear from the solicitation text that Ballantine was planning to use the final movie poster artwork on the published book, but with the lead time required for orders, the final poster art was either not yet ready for publication, or was being withheld for release at a later date.
We can now appreciate this previously lost piece of McQuarrie art thanks to archaeologist extraordinaire Peter Vilmur (head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm), who spotted the original eBay auction and managed to track down McQuarrie’s original painting used for the solicitation cover in the Lucasfilm archives (below).
The artwork is clearly an early color composition, as McQuarrie’s final painting would have been much tighter, and yet it was deemed good enough for use on the Del Rey solicitation cover flat.
A few months after the film’s release, Del Rey issued an illustrated trade paperback edition of The Empire Strikes Back, which included a number of McQuarrie’s sketches and featured his production painting of Luke on the tauntaun on the cover (below).
The Jedi Master’s Quizbook
Following the release of The Empire Strikes Back, McQuarrie was approached to provide the cover art for a children’s book about Yoda. He created his famous painting of Yoda in the Dagobah swamp, surrounded by a variety of colorful creatures. Unfortunately, the piece was deemed “too scary” by the book’s editor, and the project was shelved.
The artwork was ultimately used, initially as a sticker in the membership kit of the Official Star Wars Fan Club before finding its way onto the cover of The Jedi Master’s Quizbook in November of 1982. It later appeared on the Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama poster.
Coming in Part III—Ralph McQuarrie’s Del Rey art for Return of the Jedi and beyond!
John Scoleri is the author of The Art of Ralph McQuarrie: ARCHIVES, available from dreamsandvisionspress.com.