Nearly 30 years ago, "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi" lit up the screen and concluded one of the most successful science fiction movie trilogies ever created. As geeks around the world celebrate May the Fourth (Star Wars Day) on May 4, we thought it would be fitting to look back at a collection of Ralph McQuarrie's original "Return of the Jedi" concept art from a portfolio released by Ballantine Books in 1983.
In the beginning scenes of "Return of the Jedi," C-3PO and R2-D2 return to Tatooine to deliver a holographic message from Luke Skywalker to the crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Within the halls of the palace lie a vast assortment of scum and villainy -- and Han Solo frozen in carbonite.
After entering the Palace, C-3PO and R2-D2 meet Jabba the Hutt's majordomo, Bib Fortuna, a Twi'lek male with a pair of tentacles dangling off his head. As the conversation passes, shadowy figures move about in the background while the entrance to the Palace slides shut.
Artist Ralph McQuarrie primarily used opaque gouache and acrylic on illustration board to create genre-defining artwork that influenced the look of many of the iconic scenes, characters, and vehicles seen throughout the original "Star Wars" trilogy.
Jabba the Hutt's opulence (and obesity) greatly stands out in this concept drawing of the main throne room. As the mysterious bounty hunter Boba Fett stands near Jabba's side, Luke Skywalker attempts to bargain with the crime lord for the release of Han Solo. Ralph McQuarrie's imagination runs wild with the various aliens seen in this picture.
Shortly after McQuarrie's passing in March 2012, director George Lucas issued a sentimental statement about the legendary artist on the official "Star Wars" Web site. "Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision Star Wars," Lucas said. "His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, 'Do it like this.'"
It's not all doom and gloom at Jabba's Palace. In fact, the Max Rebo Band -- consisting of Max Rebo, Droopy McCool, and Sy Snootles -- routinely perform jazzy songs for the collection of misfits and criminals who occupy the Palace. In the distance, a disguised Lando Calrissian, posing as the guard Tamtel Skreej, observes the band.
After Luke Skywalker barters his faithful droids, Jabba sends the robots down to droid supervisor EV-9D9, who assigns the duo new jobs at the Palace. Ralph McQuarrie's color schemes for the Jabba's Palace scenes really emphasize the gloominess of the environment.
Jabba tricks Luke Skywalker into standing on a false door, which ends up dropping the Jedi into a cell containing a carnivorous Rancor. While Jabba and his minions observe from 25 feet above, Luke must think quickly before he meets the fate of the freshly killed guard held by the colossal beast.
In just the blink of an eye, what was once an execution becomes a liberation as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian fight off their captors aboard the skiff. Jabba and his barge full of onlookers can only watch as the madness unfolds, while guards atop the vehicle scramble to lay down suppressive fire.
The heroes make an escape just as Jabba's Sail Barge explodes nearby. Ralph McQuarrie's incredible attention to detail seen in the barge and the eye-catching explosion really stand out here.
Aside from his legendary artistic influence on "Star Wars," McQuarrie was also responsible for concept drawings that influenced the "Battlestar Galactica" TV series, "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," and "Cocoon" (which netted him an Academy Award).
After reaching the forest moon of Endor to deactivate the shield that protects the Death Star II, Luke Skywalker digs up trouble with some Imperial Scout Troopers who ride a very fast vehicle called a speeder bike. Ralph McQuarrie's blurred lines and nearly missed laser beam really deliver a sense of the adrenaline rush intended for this scene.
With construction of the second Death Star falling behind schedule, Darth Vader makes a visit to inform Moff Jerjerrod, the manager of the massive killing machine, that the Emperor will arrive soon to oversee the final stage of construction. The Emperor's guards, clad in red, overlook the arrival of the Sith Lord and his master’s dignitaries.
Aboard the Death Star II, a father and son clash sabers to determine their respective fates. Like many of the other drawings seen in this gallery, the movie set used for this epic "Return of the Jedi" scene only slightly differed from Ralph McQuarrie's conceptual drawing.
The fate of the Rebellion rests upon ships such as this A-Wing, which must face an endless barrage of Imperial Star Destroyers, TIE Fighters, and other deadly spaceships in the Empire's arsenal -- including the Death Star II. Allow yourself a moment to marvel at Ralph McQuarrie's penchant and incredible ability to draw sensational spaceships.
An explosion ripples through a Rebel cruiser as the momentous space battle commences near the second Death Star. The rounded shape of the Mon Calamari cruisers, inspired by their aqueous world of origin, also appeared in the film -– some of the first ships in the movie to feature such curvy aesthetics. Admiral Ackbar, who led the Rebel attack, would famously utter, "It's a trap!" as the Rebels realize that fleets of deadly Star Destroyers await the Rebellion.
The B-Wing fighter, a ship making its first appearance (along with the A-Wing) in the saga, flees after taking down a Star Destroyer. The reflection of the mega explosion off the ships looks truly amazing.
Aboard the Millennium Falcon, Lando Calrissian and Nien Numb join ace X-Wing pilot Wedge Antilles to destroy the second Death Star. Calrissian and Antilles successfully fire off missiles and destroy the reactors contained within the hallowed core of the superweapon. We'll find out what happens next when "Star Wars: Episode VII" hits theaters in 2015. "Star Wars" fans can get even more behind-the-scenes action in the upcoming J.W. Rinzler megabook "The Making of The Return of the Jedi," which arrives at stores in October.