In the three months following its release in May 1977 interest in Star Wars, George Lucas’ space fantasy, reached almost unprecedented proportions. Upon its release the film had quickly became a global phenomenon, setting off a seismic cultural shockwave rarely experienced before. Everyone it seemed had Star Wars fever and many were quick to capitalise on the film’s success. Merchandising based on the film exploded, from toys to bubblegum, fake light sabres to comic books. In September of that year Ballantine Books jumped on the bandwagon and released a portfolio of high quality prints featuring production paintings by the film’s concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie.
McQuarrie began working on the film over two years before its release and is credited with designing some of the film’s most distinctive characters, including C-3PO, R2D2, Chewbacca and Darth Vadar (it was McQuarrie’s idea that Vadar wear breathing apparatus). So impressed was Lucas with McQuarrie’s illustrations that the director used them to convince 20th Century Fox to bankroll the film.
The Star Wars Portfolio contained 21 glossy plates measuring 14 x 11 inches, and shipped in a fold-out cardboard envelope with a slot on the back to hold the set together. Included with the prints was a fold-out title card and introduction by Carol Wikarska, the film’s Director of Publications. The quality of the prints was very high giving the set a prestigious, collectors feel.
Each print was accompanied by an extended caption explaining McQuarrie’s thoughts and motivations when creating the image. These plates give an interesting insight into the film-making process, and although many of his concepts where used in the final film, my eye is automatically drawn to the elements that were changed. For example the design of C-3PO (Plate 1) was tweaked making him look a little less like the robot from Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis (it’s also a beautiful image in its own right). And in Plate 5 – the Mos Eisley Cantina scene – the early design of Luke’s outfit bears more resemblance to that worn by Han Solo.