Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Star Wars, Ralph McQuarrie and the Battlestar Galactica that Never Was

Some Sunday goodness.

A link to Aint it Cool News is de rigeur on this one. Apparently, Star Wars artist and legend of the graphic arts, Ralph McQuarrie was tasked with "imagining" Battlestar Galactica in the late 1970's. Isn't history full of lots of fun twists and turns as the artist most responsible for Star Wars was also tapped to do some conceptual drawings for its knockoff rival, the 1970's Battlestar Galactica?

I don't generally do photo essays, but this wonderful bit of random geek trivia, along with the New York Times piece on the new Battlestar Galactica Series--to be named "New Caprica"--demanded a departure from the norm.

Some classic McQuarrie:

Star Wars

I love this photo. The original Luke Skywalker, "Luke Starkiller" in action against the prototype Darth Vader. Also pay attention to (what would eventually become) some combination of Bespin and/or the interior of the Rebel blockade runner. Another important but minor detail--Luke is using the red lightsaber while Vader is using the blue lightsaber. This is an inversion of the color and light symbolism of the final films (blue and green represent the Jedi through life, growth, and learning; while red represents the Sith).

Classic: longing and destiny. Tatooine and a young man looking to his future and undeniable destiny. Simply a beautiful piece of work that truly conveys the scale of Lucas's vision.

One of my favorite aspects of McQuarrie's work, and of the book the Making of Star Wars: the Definitive Story Behind the Original Film, is how Star Wars evolved and grew from concept to final product. From Flash Gordon revisited we arrived at a grand space opera mixed with Saturday morning serial sensibilities. We can love, loathe, worship, or hate Lucas for his prequels, but there is no denying his wondrous creativity (and pragmatic mind). The Metropolis inspired, earlier renditions of the droids are another signaling to the science fiction, fantasy, and classic mythologies which are a rich source material for the Star Wars films.

Simply iconic. World War 2 dog fighting meets the space age.

This Galactica concept is very interesting. The early cylons certainly resemble the archetypal man meets machine model common to classic science fiction. Another clear carryover to the 1970s's series is the command center/elevated throne (?) that Baltar and the "Imperious Leader" would occupy in the original series.

McQuarrie was undoubtedly trying to satisfy his client's desire to be new, yet simultaneously evocative of the juggernaut that was Star Wars. But, this drawing could easily fit into both the Star Wars universe as well as Galactica's--moreover, this drawing almost looks like it could have found itself in the Star Wars prequels. Ultimately, the Viper is a great design in Battlestar Galactica, because like the X-Wing, it is familiar yet exotic. And most importantly, both designs suggest raw, brutal, speed.

McQuarrie is a master of scale. I imagine this comes from his background as an industrial and commercial concept/graphic artist. The prototype BaseStar pictured here is so ominous and powerful that is does not merely suggest raw power. Rather, it screams it. Here, I see the Death Star, and I know this suggestion is sacrilegious, I also see hints of the the Borg Cube. These designs "work" because they represent the perfection of function over style and aesthetics.

A Battlestar Galactica bookend:


Anonymous said...

And don't forget that Dykstra, they guy that invented the motion control camera rig used on Star Wars left ILM to head up the special effects production crew for Batllestar Galactica.

He was burning through piles of cash on the original series, one of the reasons it was pulled (i.e. it was REALLY expensive to produce).

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

Great point. On the special effects, it was such a small world back then and cross-pollination was quite high. To that point, I do also think the parts of the Star Wars documentary on ILM and all of the technical innovation were the most compelling. The level of creativity and productivity was simply amazing. Ohh the good old days of practical special effects.