Colin Cantwell, Designer Of The X-Wing & TIE Fighter, Has Died

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Cantwell at an auction of his works in 2014

Cantwell at an auction of his works in 2014
photo: Jerod Harris (Getty Images)

While the great Ralph McQuarrie is rightly remembered as the primary visionary behind the look of the Star Wars universe, he wasn’t the only artist playing a major role in the creation of the original trilogy. there was also Colin Cantwell.

Boronn in 1932, Cantwell had an incredible career that ventured well beyond artistic pursuits. From working at NASA on the Apollo 11 mission (he was responsible for passing information on the mission directly to TV presenter Walter Cronkite) to helping Hewlett Packard design computers, he also wrote two sci-fi novels and helped Stanley Kubrick map out the opening scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Cantwell showing some of his model designs—in this case a Y-Wing—to George Lucas during the development of the first Star Wars

it’s for his early work on Star Wars, though, that he has become best known. Employed early in the original film’s development, in 1974-75, Cantwell is the originator of many of the series’ most iconic and memorable ships, including the X-Wing, Y-Wing, TIE Fighter, Star Destroyer, Landspeeder, Sandcrawler and Corellian Corvette (which was originally supposed to be the Millennium Falcon). He was also the original designer of the Death Star.

While other artists like McQuarrie and special effects guru Joe Johnston would later tweak those designstheir original vision—from the X-Wing’s crossed, folding wings to the TIE Fighter’s bowtie silhouette—was all Cantwell, as you can see in the images below:

A very early design model of the X-Wing

Cantwell's Star Destroyer design has both its wedge shape and bustling towers already well-established

An even earlier design idea for a Star Destroyer

A model of Cantwell's Death Star design

The original Y-Wing, another design that (mostly) made it into the movie

His TIE Fighter design is also instantly-recognisable

While every single one of the designs you can see above were modified in some way by McQuarrie and Johnston, there’s one Cantwell creation that made it into Star Wars without anyone making any changes whatsoever. In one of the scenes just after Luke first meets C-3PO and R2-D2, he’s seen kicking back playing with a model of a T-16 Skyhopper, which is a model built entirely from Cantwell’s sketches.

Luke's T-16 model was another of Cantwell's designs

Luke’s T-16 model was another of Cantwell’s designs
screenshot: Star Wars

Cantwell was 90, and had reportedly been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years. He is survived by his partner Sierra Dal.

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