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Colin Cantwell, designer of "Star Wars" spaceships and Death Star, dies at 90

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The artist’s concept sketches and prototype models for the X-Wing, TIE fighters and the Star Destroyer, as well as the Empire’s « ultimate weapon, » helped set the aesthetic for George Lucas’ space epic.
The entertainment auction house Julien’s Auctions once described Colin Cantwell as the « missing link » of history. Even the longtime partner of the concept artist, who died Saturday at age 90, didn’t know of his attachment to the design of « Stars Wars », as well as of other classic films like « 2001: A Space Odyssey », « Close Encounters of the Third Kind » and « WarGames », until the landlord of their Boulder, Colorado, apartment forced them to empty out the basement, which had been packed with drawings, slides, models and scripts — a treasure trove of sci-fi movie lore. In 1974 George Lucas asked Cantwell — a UCLA film school graduate who had created animated graphics for « 2001 » — to sketch designs based on his draft screenplay of a war in a galaxy far, far away. Cantwell produced drawings for spacecraft and vehicles, including X-Wing and Y-Wing fighters, TIE fighters, the Imperial Star Destroyer, the Death Star, Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder, the T-16 Skyhopper, the Jawas’ sandcrawler, and the original Millennium Falcon (which would eventually become the rebels’ blockade runner). Artist would riff off of these designs when he created lush paintings that convinced 20th Century Fox to pony up funding for Lucas’ space epic. Cantwell also constructed prototypes of the spacecraft by kit bashing plastic models, including parts of drag racing cars. (Luke Skywalker can be seen playing with one of Cantwell’s models at his Tattooine homestead.)
In fact, a problem arising while working on the mold of his Death Star prototype gave Cantwell the idea that led to the film’s dramatic climax, as he explained in a 2016 Reddit posting: « I noticed the two halves had shrunk at the point where they met across the middle.

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