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The Visual Design of SW

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 (Edited)

I'm bringing over another SW analysis thread that got no takers at TFN, hoping you lot will be more appreciative. :)

Here's the first post, about the visuals of the ANH first draft.

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Ralph McQuarrie is pretty justly famous for his illustrations of the SW universe; without his paintings George Lucas would never have gotten the green light to make a crazy science-fiction movie. But McQuarrie only came on board the production when Lucas was busy writing the second draft of ANH. The first draft, however, was a very different script with a lot of different ideas.

Since no artists ever worked on illustrating Lucas's 1974 first draft, we're left to imagine what he intended from his own words on the page. That's what I want to do in this post.

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A brief plot summary:

The peaceful, benevolent Galactic Empire of past millennia is no more. In the wake of the "Jedi Rebellion," the "New Galactic Empire" has outlawed the ancient order of Jedi Knights, and has created the Knights of the Sith in order to hunt down any remaining Jedi. As the story begins, the evil Emperor Cos Dashit is launching an invasion of the peaceful desert planet Aquilae, the last independent system in the Galaxy. Two fugitive Jedi, Kane Starkiller and his son Annikin, arrive on Aquilae just as the Imperial invasion begins, where they meet Kane's old friend General Luke Skywalker, warlord to Aquilae's King Kayos.

General Skywalker wants to launch a preemptive attack on the Empire, but gets authorization too late. Kayos is killed (in a nuclear blast) and a space assault on the chief Imperial battle station proves abortive, due to political treachery. Annikin Starkiller, now apprenticed to Skywalker, rescues Kayos's daughter, Princess Leia Aquilae, and captures two droids that have fled the space battle overhead. (A relationship develops between Annikin and Leia, the forerunner of Han Solo's tempestuous wooing of Senator Leia Organa.) Reuniting with General Skywalker, they make their way to a spaceport, where they are joined by the alien Han Solo. Their initial goal is to find a ship and travel to Ophuchi, to solicit the aid of "the chrome companies" in throwing off the Imperial occupation. Leia travels with her two young brothers, Biggs and Windy; Kane Starkiller, who is mostly mechanical, dies when he rips out his cyborg power unit, in order to power the cryogenic tubes keeping the young boys safe and quiet during the dangerous journey.

General Valorum, a Knight of the Sith, tries to lay a trap for the fugitives at the spaceport of Gordon, but they escape and steal a starship, heading deep into space. Taking damage in an asteroid belt, they crash-land on the jungle planet Yavin. Here Leia is kidnapped and taken back to the space fortress orbiting Aquilae. Starkiller and Skywalker meanwhile befriend the natives of the planet, the furry "Wookees," and with the aid of the Jedi, the Wookees capture the planet's Imperial outpost. Starkiller takes a starship and flies to the fortress above Aquilae, where he masquerades as a stormtrooper in an attempt to free Leia, but is captured.

Valorum, now reduced to the rank of an ordinary stormtrooper, switches sides after an impassioned appeal to his honor by Starkiller, and frees the young Jedi. Together they rescue the Princess. Meanwhile, General Skywalker has been training the Wookees to fly four-man Imperial starfighters. They lead an attack on the space fortress over Aquilae, and destroy it just as the heroes aboard escape in life-pods. Annikin and Leia kiss. The final scene of the film is Queen Leia receiving the two droids, R2D2 and C3PO, in her throne room in the Palace, commending them to the service of Annikin Starkiller, now her consort and "Lord Protector of Aquilae." General Skywalker and General Valorum also hold places of honor in her entourage.

Lucas subsequently produced a slightly tweaked version of this draft, changing virtually nothing except for most of the character names.

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But this wasn't the first version of the story.

In notes for an earlier iteration, known as the Journal of the Whills, there were two major powers in the Galaxy--the Alliance of Independent Systems and the Galactic Empire--as well as other smaller, neutral star systems. The relationship could best be described as a sort of Galactic Cold War. The Jedi-Bendu master Mace Windy and his apprentice CJ Thorpe, both in the service of the Alliance, would travel to the desert planet Aquilae, which had been invaded by a neighboring "Border System" with secret aid from the Empire. The job of the Jedi would be to protect Prince Luke Skywalker (heir to Aquilae's King Annakin Starkiller), and to end the Border System's occupation--but without overt Alliance aid, so as to avoid turning the Galactic Cold War hot.

Alongside the "Bebers" (humans) of Aquilae, there were the "Hubble people," an alien race also inhabiting the desert planet. Their leader was to be Han Solo, and the Jedi would need his help to retake Aquilae. Lucas also wanted to visit other planets during the film: Yavin, a jungle planet; Norton II, an ice planet; and Ophuchi, a gaseous cloud planet with "lovely women." We would also see Alderaan, a fully built-over city-planet, the "capital of the Border System" that invades Aquilae.

The basic plot of the outline, with its suggestion of adventures on a desert planet, and conspiratorial invasion plots, is very much taken from Frank Herbert's Dune, mirroring the invasion by House Harkonnen (with secret aid from the Padishah Emperor) of the Atreides family base on desert planet Arrakis. The Hubble aliens, however, seem drawn from the John Carter of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs--about which more below. The political situation with the Galactic Cold War is an analogy for Vietnam: America is the Evil Empire and its puppet state is a South Vietnam analogue, while the heroic defenders of Aquilae represent the North Vietnamese. (So said Lucas himself, at any rate.)

In between the Journal of the Whills and the first draft script, Lucas produced a story synopsis in 1973, which was strongly influenced by Akira Kurosawa's film The Hidden Fortress. It eliminated the JOTW characters of Mace Windy and his Jedi apprentice, and introduced instead General Skywalker and the Princess of Aquilae (replacing Prince Luke). Lucas would ultimately combine the two sets of characters in his first draft.

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The youthful hero of the first draft is "ANNIKIN STARKILLER, a tall, heavy-set boy of eighteen." We never get much description of him, but we do learn that his younger brother Deak (who dies early on) "is ten years old, with dusty blond hair." Thus it's quite possible that Annikin too has blond hair, likely along with blue eyes, just like Lucas's childhood hero Flash Gordon.

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Annikin's father Kane Starkiller wears "his long hair tied in an odd bun on the top of his head." We later see that Annikin also "wears the distinctive Kessilian hair knot." Kane explains at one point that he and Annikin have been hiding from the Empire in the Kessil star system, so it seems they've adopted the haircut of the civilization there. However, this distinctive hair bun is rather clearly borrowed from Japanese samurai hairstyles:

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Toshiro Mifune in samurai garb, complete with haircut

Note the very similar hairstyle given to Obi-Wan Kenobi in this early TPM concept painting by Doug Chiang:

So, given the samurai influence on the characters of Kane and Annikin, it's equally possible that Annikin has dark hair. (Rather like Paul Atreides from Dune and John Carter from the Barsoom novels.)

It's worth noting that the idea of Jedi with distinctive samurai-esque hairstyles probably dates from the Journal of the Whills treatment, where the only Jedi are Mace Windy and his apprentice CJ Thorpe, who work for the Alliance of Independent Systems--there is no Jedi character in service to the King of Aquilae. Lucas added General Skywalker and Princess Leia (replacing Prince Luke Skywalker, heir to Aquilae's King Annakin Starkiller in the JOTW) when he took plot elements from Akira Kurosawa's film The Hidden Fortress.

As noted above, the concept of Jedi with distinctive hairstyles would also resurface in TPM, where it evolved into the Padawan braids. In early TPM concept art Obi-Wan even has a samurai topknot:

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Also worth mentioning, though, is that in the notes for this first draft script, Lucas did not make Kane Annikin's father. Rather, "Kane Highsinger" was to be Annikin's Jedi mentor until his death midway through the film. Presumably their relationship would mirror that of Mace Windy and CJ Thorpe.

We're told that Annikin's other Jedi mentor, General Luke Skywalker, "is a large man, apparently in his early sixties, but actually much older. Everyone senses the aura of power that radiates from this great warrior. Here is a leader: a JEDI general. He looks weary, but is still a magnificent looking warrior. His face, cracked and weathered by exotic climates, is set off by a close silver beard, and dark, penetrating eyes." ("Early sixties" was changed to "early forties" in a revised version of this draft.) A similar description was used for Ben Kenobi in Draft 3 of ANH, and for Draft 2 hero Luke Starkiller's father, the aged Jedi warrior known only as The Starkiller. The Starkiller, however, has "penetrating gray-blue eyes" instead of General Skywalker's and Ben Kenobi's dark eyes, which suggests that the young Annikin/Luke character has blue eyes as well.

(Incidentally, Lucas really likes blue-eyed heroes; his TPM shooting script specified this about both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and his early notes on the young Anakin's personality for the prequels also state that Anakin should have blue eyes.)

Leia, who is fourteen years old in this early version, has "long auburn hair tied in braids" and blue eyes. Her hair color is probably derived from that of Princess Aura in Flash Gordon, specifically as described in the FG tie-in novel The Lion Men of Mongo (written by Ron Goulart under the pseudonym Con Steffenson). Also notice the mention of braids--was this the first indication of Leia's famous cinnamon-bun hairdo?

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Flash Gordon and Queen Fria of Frigia, from Alex Raymond's Sunday comic strip

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Flash and Queen Desira of Tropica. Combine Fria and Desira--do you get Leia Aquilae?

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In this early draft C3PO is described as "chrome" in color, instead of "bronze" as he would be in later drafts. This probably reflects the influence of the Maria robot from Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

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The Robot Maria

In the first draft C3PO has the silver color Robot Maria possessed on screen. In fact, the Metropolis robot costume was actually painted bronze on set; Lucas probably learned this and adjusted his description of C3PO accordingly.

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Monochrome concept art of C3PO by Ralph McQuarrie

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The spaceships of Aquilae that fight against the Imperial space fortress are described as "six silver spacecraft" with two men in each (a pilot and a gunner). This concept would be reused in the designs of Naboo fighters for TPM; in fact, the first draft script of TPM had Padme and Anakin together flying a sleek two-person spacecraft in the orbital battle.

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Silver Naboo starfighters seen in early TPM production paintings by Doug Chiang

The captured Imperial spaceships flown by the Wookees in the final battle, on the other hand, are rather different. They carry a crew of four (including a "tail gunner"), and nine of them (in three squads of three) go up against the Imperial space fortress. The ships have been customized, though, so as to be easily distinguished from their opponents' craft: "Nine gleaming starships sit in a row along the edge of the vast jungle runway. Bizarre and colorful Wookee designs have been painted across the large deflector fins of the spacecraft. Some designs transform the ships into huge and grotesque animals, while others create unique mosaic patterns."

This last description reminds me very much of the work of British SF artist Chris Foss, whose designs feature brightly colored spaceships painted with World War I "dazzle camouflage" patterns:

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Imagine that in a Star Wars movie!

The imperial space fortress itself is never described in great detail, but it doesn't have the world-shattering power of a Death Star. It must have been more akin to the Trade Federation battle droid control ship in TPM.

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Han Solo, an alien friend of General Skywalker, is described as "a huge, green-skinned monster with no nose and large gills." His character was carried over from the Journal of the Whills treatment, in which he was the leader of an alien race on Aquilae (obviously the forerunner of the Gungans).

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Jar Jar Binks with green skin in an early Doug Chiang painting

However, the description of Solo and "the Hubble people" in the JOTW notes very much recalls the Green Martians of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom series.

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A Green Martian of Barsoom, AKA Mars

The Green Martians, giant four-armed sentient aliens, are warlike in nature and do not get along well with the more human-like Red Martians who also inhabit Mars. The series' hero, John Carter, must teach the Green and Red Martians to fight together against their common enemies; ultimately both Green and Red Martians unite to proclaim him Warlord of Mars.

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Aquilae, the predecessor of Tatooine, has twin suns. (Intriguingly, in the 1973 story synopsis, it is described as "blue-green" when seen from space--an idea inconsistent with its status as a desert planet.) In the revised version of the first draft, it also now has a green sky, mentioned repeatedly. This is of course based on the green sky of desert planet Altair IV in Forbidden Planet.

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Concept art for the green sky in Forbidden Planet

In the revised first draft Yavin's sky is described as "a strange light brown color."

The Journal of the Whills described Alderaan, the capital of the "Border System," as a city-planet in the vein of Trantor from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. But in the first draft, where Alderaan is the capital of the Empire, it is a cloud city on a gaseous world, similar to Bespin in ESB--an idea ultimately taken from the "Sky City of the Hawkmen" in Flash Gordon. (This idea would be retained through the third draft of ANH, in which Alderaan became an Imperial prison planet.)

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Kane Starkiller wears "the distinctive robes of a Jedi." In the script's opening we see a seven-foot-tall Sith warrior "in black robes and a face mask." (The face mask is necessary to breathe on this particular world, the barren Fourth Moon of Utapau. Annikin also wears one when he ventures outside.)

When Annikin "ignites his lasersword," it "creates an eerie red glow." There is never any other blade color described--presumably all lightsabers glow red.

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Howard Chaykin's poster art for ANH, with all lightsabers glowing red

The uniforms of Aquilae are white: we see, for instance, "the flowing white robes of the Aquilaean military." Later on, Annikin Starkiller "is now dressed in the white uniform of the Aquilaean starforce" (though still with samurai topknot). Likewise, the pilots of Aquilae's starfighters wear a "distinctive circle and cross medallion on their white space suits."

However, the Empire of course has "gleaming black uniforms" and its generals wear a "black and grey uniform." As a Sith Knight, Valorum wears "the fascist black and chrome uniform of the legendary Sith One Hundred." So we can clearly tell who the good guys and bad guys are. :P

“That Darth Vader, man. Sure does love eating Jedi.”

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^Those lightsabers are clearly pink, not red =P

I kind of like how Lucas handled the Sith in his early drafts. They aren't the purely evil one dimensional cartoon supervillains of the prequels, just a rival warrior society who were used as pawns by the Empire against the Jedi.

I can no longer call myself a Star Wars fan. I’m sick of the same played-out aesthetics/tropes being remixed/regurgitated time-&-time again; I’m sick of the deteriorating characterization/worldbuilding which have been in play since 1983; I’m sick of the toxic fanboys from all ideological camps; I’m sick of the capitalist pigs who refuse to allow this IP into the public domain where it rightly belongs. So while I may still admire the first two films for their technical achievements and characters, I’m no longer capable of enjoying Star Wars in any capacity due to the reasons delineated above.

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 (Edited)

Here's a look at the pre-production artwork done for ANH (from Draft 2 onward, naturally).

Ralph McQuarrie's work (may he rest well in the Force) is stunning as always, but I've always wondered about something in his ANH art: namely, he draws Luke and Leia as looking almost exactly alike. They both have shaggy blonde hair, cut more or less like Mark Hamill's in the final film (which is admittedly a short haircut for Leia).

Now, JW Rinzler claims this could be because Lucas secretly told McQuarrie (and no one else) that Luke and Leia were siblings, but that's frankly preposterous. Nobody knew this, not even Lucas himself, until after ESB came out. It's not like he cast Luke and Leia with a family resemblance in mind, after all...

The real answer lies in the history of McQuarrie's production art. He was first hired to do drawings in late 1974, for the second draft script of ANH. His earliest paintings include a rendering of the Mos Eisley cantina scene, featuring a version of Luke with very short blond hair. No doubt this was because Lucas wanted Luke Starkiller to look like his childhood hero Flash Gordon.

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Ralph McQuarrie painting of Luke Skywalker in the cantina, second draft

Not long after Lucas had finished writing the second draft, though, he realized it had no major female characters, and considered reworking the plot to make the hero Luke a girl. He told Ralph McQuarrie to incorporate this idea in his next illustrations. McQuarrie duly created several paintings featuring this "female Luke," who (like the male version she replaced) was blonde, though with a shaggy pixie haircut.

It's worth noting that McQuarrie's drawings of Han Solo from the second draft period seem to give him blond hair and a red beard.

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Ralph McQuarrie images of Han and female Luke, c. April 1975

When Lucas finally sat down to write his next draft, Luke stayed male, but now Princess Leia (virtually absent in draft two) returned as a major character. What I'd argue happened next is that, faced with the sudden challenge of designing a new character, McQuarrie simply cribbed from his earlier designs. His later drawings of Luke Starkiller have the blond hair seen in his earliest concepts for Luke, albeit now at a shaggier length. But McQuarrie's Princess Leia was also a pixie-cut blonde, because her design was taken from the now-abandoned character of "female Luke."

Additionally, according to ANH costume designer John Mollo, Lucas wanted Leia to resemble Jean Harlow, the platinum blonde Thirties starlet famous for wearing white dresses. Thus, Lucas may have explicitly instructed McQuarrie to draw Leia as blonde, at the same time he decided that she should wear a white gown. (McQuarrie's design notes from one of his meetings with Lucas refer to Leia's dress as a "Madonna outfit.")

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Ralph McQuarrie sketches of Luke and Leia, third draft or later. Especially notable are Leia's white gown and blonde hair in the second image.

Jean Harlow, the Blonde Bombshell of Thirties cinema

Of course, these character designs were little more than placeholders, since real physical actors would eventually have to be cast. But Lucas seems to have stuck to his mental image of Luke in particular. In fact, Mark Hamill probably got the nod over runner-up Will Seltzer because, with his blond locks, he looked "more like Luke" than the ethnically-Jewish Seltzer did with his curly dark brown hair.


Speaking of blond protagonists in SW, costume designer John Mollo's art is also interesting in this regard. Mollo's earliest work on ANH seems to have been based on the third-draft script. (One of his drawings features a humanoid Jabba the Hutt and a character named Montross, two space pirates who appear together on-screen only in that draft.)

Mollo's third-draft work includes notable sketches of Luke, Leia, and Ben Kenobi. An early Mollo drawing of Luke dresses him in a costume from one of Ralph McQuarrie's earliest second-draft production paintings (the cantina scene mentioned above, in fact--which was made before "female Luke" had even been conceived). Luke of course here has the short haircut derived from McQuarrie's painting.

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John Mollo's early drawing of Luke Skywalker, based on McQuarrie's second-draft production painting

Mollo's drawings of Leia show her as blonde like in McQuarrie's work, but Mollo's Leia has longer hair than McQuarrie's Princess does in most of his sketches. The major exception is McQuarrie's December 1975 painting of the award ceremony on Yavin, in which he gave Leia long flowing blonde locks. Mollo seems to have copied his Leia's hairstyle from this particular concept image.

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Ralph McQuarrie's painting of the throne room ceremony at the end of ANH; note Leia's long blonde hair

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John Mollo's drawing of Princess Leia with long blonde hair


As for Ben Kenobi, Mollo's earliest design features him in dark pants and a white Japanese-style shirt, with a brown vest (with utility pockets etc.) worn over the shirt. This is in fact essentially the same outfit Luke wears in McQuarrie's cantina painting and in Mollo's early sketches. It might be considered "Tatooine garb," and is notably different from the Jedi-esque robes Obi-Wan wears throughout the final film.

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John Mollo's early costume concept for Ben Kenobi


After Mollo had received the fourth-draft script in January 1976, however, he embarked on a new round of costume drawings, thoroughly revising his earlier work. Luke received shaggier hair, and his clothing now became all-white, a style borrowed from McQuarrie's concept art. And Ben Kenobi now was clothed in white Jedi robes, kimono-style, beneath a voluminous brown desert cloak--the look he would sport in the film as ultimately shot.

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Mollo's revised costume design for Luke Skywalker

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Mollo's January 1976 drawing of Ben Kenobi, now in white Jedi robes.

Incidentally, ANH storyboard artist Alex Tavoularis seems to have bucked the trend of copying McQuarrie's Princess Leia design, and illustrated his Leia with long dark hair, like Dale Arden from the old Flash Gordon Sunday comics.

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Alex Tavoularis's Princess Leia from his third-draft storyboards.

Of course, in his work on subsequent SW films, McQuarrie had to update his Leia to look like Carrie Fisher. His Luke required little tweaking, though, given Mark Hamill's great resemblance to the preexisting concept artwork.

“That Darth Vader, man. Sure does love eating Jedi.”

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FWIW, here's a McQuarrie drawing of Luke with apparently brown hair (looking like Buck Rogers), done in June 1975 just as Lucas decided to keep Luke male:

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However, when he reused this costume design on the cover of the ANH novelization, McQuarrie made Luke blond like Mark Hamill.

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Here's another McQuarrie image which seems to show Luke with brown hair--his version of the "Lash LaRue" swing over the Death Star chasm, added to the script between the third and fourth drafts. Leia's still blonde, though (much like Wilma Deering, Buck Rogers' girlfriend).

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Interestingly, McQuarrie's images of Luke with brown hair also put him in Buck Rogers-esque space-pilot costumes, similarly to his second-draft painting of Luke with short yellow hair. Conversely, both McQuarrie's and Mollo's drawings of Luke with Mark Hamill's shaggy blond haircut invariably show Luke in the white Tatooine-farmboy outfit we see on screen. (Even in the drawings made before Hamill was cast! I guess that was the design that really stuck with Lucas.)

“That Darth Vader, man. Sure does love eating Jedi.”

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I thought it might be good to post a few images that touch on the visual development of the Sith Lords.

The basic story of how Ralph McQuarrie created the iconic look of Darth Vader is pretty well-known. (In brief: Lucas wanted Vader to enter a depressurized ship cabin in his first scene of the film; so, realizing that Vader needed some sort of breathing mask, McQuarrie designed an armored spacesuit, which looked so awesome that Lucas just had Vader wear the suit all the time.)

Most of McQuarrie's concept art for Vader is widely available enough that I don't think I need to post it here. That said, I do want to highlight a few interesting yet little-seen drawings, which shed a bit of extra light on the design process of Vader and the other Sith Lords (who were ultimately dropped from ANH). Several of these drawings are by costume designer John Mollo--McQuarrie's pretty widely (and justly) acclaimed, but I don't think Mollo's work on SW gets enough attention.

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A John Mollo drawing of Darth Vader, based of course on McQuarrie's "armored spacesuit" design. This concept by Mollo depicts Vader's armor like that of a medieval Black Knight; it doesn't seem to have any obvious life-support functions, though.

The Imperial insignias seen here on Vader's chestplate, helmet and cape are very reminiscent of the armor of black-clad and helmeted villain The Lightning in the 1938 Republic serial The Fighting Devil Dogs. The Lightning's all-black, face-concealing costume had his white lightning-bolt insignia marked on his cape and chest and helmet. (His minions sometimes wore all-white radiation suits... in the fashion of Stormtroopers.)

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(The Lightning is the figure on the far right.)

I also might mention a little detail in the above Mollo drawing of Vader-- in the lower right corner he's sketched a three-pronged triskelion (basically a swastika with three arms). It's probably a doodle of a potential Imperial insignia, and it bears rather a good resemblance to the three-armed lightning bolt insignia of The Lightning.

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Another Mollo drawing of Vader. This one dates to January 15, 1976, so it was influenced by Lucas's January 1 fourth-draft script, which made Vader the sole Sith Lord in the film. Here Vader, not Obi-Wan Kenobi, is the major cyborg character.

Mollo's take on the chest plate is interesting and rather different from McQuarrie's chest plate design (which was closer to the final film version). I understand the motif here was reworked and used for the white CZ-3 droid in the Jawa sandcrawler.

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A third Mollo drawing of Vader, from the same point in production as the one just above. It clearly shows another variant of Mollo's chest plate design. (The placement of the cyborg life-support tubing is slightly different than in the other drawing.)

Also, the hood on Vader's cape is interesting--Mollo seems to have imagined that Vader could wear a hood over his helmet.

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A circa-1975 drawing by Ralph McQuarrie of a "dark knight," presumably a Sith Lord. This concept design later wound up influencing the armor of Boba Fett in ESB.

Here's another version of Ralph McQuarrie's armored Sith Lord concept drawing for ANH, in which the armor color was white like Stormtrooper armor:
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Although Lucas's earliest notes for Draft 2 of ANH describe the Sith knights as "look[ing] like Linda Blair in The Exorcist," similar to how the Emperor ultimately looked in ROTJ, the subsequent ANH Draft 3 mentions that the Sith Lords (besides Vader) wear helmets. "The first Sith Lord puts his hand to his ear as a message comes through on his helmet intercom."

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A John Mollo drawing showing at left, a TIE fighter pilot, and on the right, a Sith Lord. It appears the other Sith were envisioned as being very similar to Vader in the design of their armor. (McQuarrie's version is a little less similar and more like a stormtrooper.)

Note the two small horns on the sides of the Sith Lord's helmet; at one point Mollo experimented with drawing similar horns on Vader's own helmet.

“That Darth Vader, man. Sure does love eating Jedi.”

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ATMachine said:
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A circa-1975 drawing by Ralph McQuarrie of a "dark knight," presumably a Sith Lord. This concept design later wound up influencing the armor of Boba Fett in ESB.

 

Ooo! I quite like that design. Pretty neat looking.

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