See How 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Was Inspired By Ralph McQuarrie's Unused Concept Art

Many fans credit much of the visual genius of the original Star Wars trilogy to concept artist Ralph McQuarrie. His beautiful concept paintings and early sketches inspired much of what we love about the galaxy far, far away. In fact, the current Lucasfilm creative team are using parts of McQuarrie's original unused concept art as inspiration for the new Star Wars films and movies.

We've talked about how they have repurposed the original Chewbacca design for Zeb in Star Wars Rebels (among other things). Now I want to look at how much the late Ralph McQuarrie's original unused Star Wars concept designs have influenced Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Hit the jump to check out our Ralph McQuarrie Force Awakens comparison guide.

Ralph McQuarrie Force Awakens Comparison Guide

Warning: While this article doesn't contain any known spoilers, it does make some observations based on the first Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer and how it was visually inspired by Ralph McQuarrie's early unused concept art. Some of these comparisons could possibly suggest specific planets and creatures we may end up seeing in the film. That said, I consider this article to be pretty safe for those of you wanting to avoid spoilers.Ralph Mcquarrie R2-D2 concept design inspired the Force Awakens ball droid

R2-D2's Original Design

I know, the above concept art doesn't look like an exact match, but you'll want to read this interview excerpt from Ralph McQuarrie talking about how his initial design for our favorite droid, R2-D2 was very different than the one we eventually saw on screen:

"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."


Sounds like an exact description of the ball droid we see in The Force Awakens right? The above concept art, which looks a bit different but still uses the core idea, is the only publicly-available versions of McQuarrie's original R2-D2 ball droid concepts.

Jabba's Palace Gate in Force Awakens

Jabba's Palace Gate

Early TMZ photos revealed this familiar gate as part of The Force Awakens' Abu Dhabi set. The gate/arch was originally designed by Ralph McQuarrie for the exterior of Jabba's Palace. The large castle-like complex was located at the fringes of the Northern Dune Sea on the planet of Tatooine, adding more to the theory that the sand planet we see in the trailer is in fact Tatooine.

Does this mean that Jabba the Hutt or Jabba's palace will appear in The Force Awakens? Jabba the Hutt won't appear in the new film as the gangster was infamously strangled to death by Princess Leia in one of the most iconic moments from the original trilogy. And since the arch wasn't used in the exterior of the palace in the final film, JJ Abrams might just be repurposing the design for something else. But it is possible that other members of Jabba's criminal family took over the castle and are now running things in the new film.

Daisy Ridley's Glasses

Daisy Ridley's Glasses and Speeder Bike

Above you can see Ralph McQuarrie's early work on Luke Skywalker, previously Luke Starkiller, but here at a point when the character was going to be a woman. After Lucas finished writing the second draft of A New Hope, he realized it had no major female characters and tried reworking the plot to change Luke's sex to female. He asked Ralph McQuarrie to incorporate the idea in his next illustrations.

Many fans think that the googles from the early Starkiller designs have influenced the look of Daisy Ridley's costume in The Force Awakens. Its worth noting that her coat is inspired by other works within Star Wars history, notably the costume design of Starkiller from the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game. (Yes, the character shares the same name as the early Lucas/McQuarrie character above.) You can see that here.

Star Wars concept art Phantom Menace inspires Force Awakens

A reader also tweeted my the above concept art from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. From "The Art of Star Wars Episode I : The Phantom Menace". Concept artists Doug Chiang (above left) and Iain McCaig (above right) were both inspired by McQuarrie's designs when designing these concept sketches that didnt make it into the first prequel. Both artists are also working on The Force Awakens.

Daisy Ridley Stormtrooper glasses

Ridley's character appears to be scavenger, and other fans have noted that her goggles may have been repurposed from a Stormtrooper helmet she may have recovered in the sand dunes.

star wars the force awakens x-wing ralph mcquarrie


This isn't the first time we've pointed out that the Star Wars: The Force Awakens X-Wing design (above upper right) looks more like Ralph McQuarrie's early X-wing concept art based on Joe Johnston's early design than the ships seen in the original trilogy. Notably, look at how Ralph's X-Wing's (above, left) featured only one engine on each side, which split in two. The X-Wings from the original trilogy (above, lower right) had two cylinders on each side, one for each wing.

force awakens xwings

JJ Abrams' new X-Wing does something clever that McQuarrie's original concepts didn't feature: the wings interlock to combine to form one wing on either side. You can see what I'm talking about in the above screenshot from the trailer.

mcquarrie tent village the force awakens

The Jawa Tent Village

A variation on the Jawa tent village concept art McQuarrie designed for one sequence also seems to appear in The Force Awakens. We have seen this tent village in the first JJ Abrams Force For a Change behind the scenes video as well as more extensively in the early TMZ leaked Abu Dhabi set photos.

Again, this doesn't mean the Jawas appear in the movie, but if it does start on Tatooine as some suspect, why not? The Jawa tent village was a place where they stored and sold their scavenged goods, so its possible that this idea has been turned into more of a market place in The Force Awakens.

force awakens lightsaber maybe inspired by ralph mcquarrie

Fiery Lightsabers

I'm including this one, but its more of a stretch if you ask me.  Some fans believe the new villain's lightsaber is partially influenced by the early Ralph McQuarrie concept art. No, McQuarrie did not create a laser cross-sword like the one wielded by a Sith(?) baddie in The Force Awakens, but his early saber designs had a much more fiery appearance than the glowing pole-shaped lightsabers seen in the final 1977 film.

If you look at the lightsaber seen in The Force Awakens trailer, you'll notice the blade is more erratic, having a fire or electricity like quality to it, than what we've seen in past films. You'll even see embers coming off or the lightsaber. Above and to the left you can see one of the early Ralph McQuarrie concept images showing a Stormtrooper with a lightsaber — yes, this was a very different period of early development. The early sabers in McQuarrie's designs had a more powerful look to them, like a blast, almost like you see in a torch lighter.

Empire logo

The Empire Strikes Back Logo

Okay so this one isn't an unused Ralph McQuarrie concept but just an unused Star Wars concept.

Many Star Wars fans have expressed disappointment in The Force Awakens logo. Not only does it ditch the Episode number subtitle (which was a logo convention added with the prequel trilogy) but it squeezes the film's subtitle like thin sandwich meat between the words of the Star Wars brand logo. It looks very different, and maybe thats why some fans don't like it.

When planning for the release of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas hired a couple marketing firms to come up with some logo concepts. The concept on the above right was one of the finalists and might have ended up as The Empire Strikes Back logo if it weren't for concept artist Ralph McQuarrie who was also working on some designs of the sequel logo.


Empire Strikes Back poster

The image on the above left is the final logo that Ralph McQuarrie created and George Lucas approved for the release of the film. It was later surrounded in a enclosure, but the concept remained virtually the same.

ralph mcquarrie star wars concept art

The End... For Now

I'm sure as more trailers are released, fans will notice more of Ralph McQuarrie's influence on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and we may end up someday updating this post with more. But until then, if you noticed anything we missed, leave it in the comments below!