Ralph McQuarrie’s Stunning Return of the Jedi Concept Art

By on July 8, 2013

When Return of the Jedi premiered 30 years ago this summer, it lived up to some fans’ expectations and fell short of others. Naturally, any sequel to a beloved movie is going to disappoint in some way.

For fans of Ralph McQuarrie’s art, however, it’s fun to see what could’ve been. McQuarrie, who passed away last year at the age of 82, was the conceptual artist of the original Star Wars trilogy, and his work is beloved by fans for shaping the world of Star Wars, perhaps more than anyone else. While a lot of what we saw on screen was designed by McQuarrie, he also created many designs and characters that didn’t quite make it to celluloid in their originally conceived shape or form.

Let’s take a look at 10 12 pieces of McQuarrie’s art for Return of the Jedi that create an alternate view of what the movie could’ve looked like, from Ewoks living on the water to the Emperor’s throne room in a devilish lava-filled cave.

Ewok Village on Water

Ewok Village on Water

Return of the Jedi Luke Entering Jabba's Palace Gate

Luke Entering Jabba’s Palace Gate

Early Pre-Production Art for Grassy Planet in ROTJ

Early Pre-Production Art for Grassy Planet in ROTJ

Return of the Jedi  Coruscant, which was semi-realized in the Special Edition

Coruscant, which was semi-realized in the Special Edition

Early Rancor Concept

Early Rancor Monster Concept

Two Sail Barges

Two Sail Barges

Inside Jabba's Palace

Inside Jabba’s Palace

The Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace

The Emperor's Lava Throne Room

The Emperor’s Lava Throne Room

Update [7/9/13]

Here are three more Ralph McQuarrie pieces for Return of the Jedi:

Giant Gorax Attacks the Ewoks (used in Caravan of Courage)

Giant Gorax Attacks the Ewoks (used in Caravan of Courage)

Vader and Luke Enter the Imperial Palace

Vader and Luke Enter the Imperial Palace

Two Death Stars

Two Death Stars

 Which illustration is your favorite?

About Joe Warner

I'm the senior editor of The CheckOut. I am an aficionado of shiny gadgets and classic Hollywood movies and can also tell you the names of the late '80s Swedish Davis Cup team members.


  1. John Scoleri

    July 9, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Always nice to see Ralph getting recognition.

    I wanted to point out that the second image from the bottom is from the Clone Wars, and while based on Ralph’s painting also displayed on this page, it’s not Ralph’s art. In fact, most of the images you’ve displayed here were created for the book The Illustrated Star Wars Universe, and completed more than 10 years after Jedi was released.

    Only three or four of the images date back to Jedi production – the Rancor color study, Vader in the Emperor’s throne, the two sail barges, and possibly the pyramid on Coruscant. Ralph did many paintings of the Imperial City for the film, although I believe he created additional renderings for the book as well. Jonathan Rinzler’s forthcoming book on the Making of Return of the Jedi should shed a little more light on which paintings Ralph did for the Jedi production, as well as those that were done after the fact for the portfolio.

    John Scoleri
    Author, The Art of Ralph McQuarrie

    • Joe Warner

      July 9, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      Hi John, thanks for dropping by and sharing your insights! Big fan of McQuarrie here.

      I removed the non-McQuarrie Coruscant image you mentioned and added a few others, but I see what you mean about the dates of the different paintings. I’m also looking forward to checking out the Making of Return of the Jedi.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.