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Colin Cantwell, the behind-the-scenes designer who dreamt up several of the famous spacecraft that rocketed through the Star Wars franchise, died on Saturday. He was 90.
His long-time partner, Sierra Dall, confirmed the news to The Hollywood Reporter.
From a young age, Cantwell was interested in both space and design, according to a biography on his website. He graduated from UCLA with a degree in animation and was personally invited to study architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright, though the architect died before Cantwell could study with him. Cantwell went on to work for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA.
Eventually he brought his interests to the big screen.
Cantwell worked on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
He notably designed several of the well-known ships in the 1977 space opera Star Wars, including the TIE fighter and the X-wing.
Cantwell also helped created the Death Star, the imposing spherical base for some of the film’s villains.
He told the website Westword in 2019 that the trench encircling the ship actually came about by accident. While he was making a model of the ship for director George Lucas, Cantwell discovered that the two halves of the styrene globe wouldn’t fit together, something that would have been nearly impossible to hide on camera.
“So I thought about a solution and contacted George for approval: have a trench in the Death Star where the opposing sides would be shooting at each other in dramatic fight scenes. The result would be sending a missile into a tiny hole in the Death Star,” Cantwell said. “George said ‘yes’ to the changes, and the iconic Death Star fight scene was born.”
Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic said in an Instagram post that their staff members were “saddened” to learn of Cantwell’s death.
“Colin was a trailblazing artist and designer, and a close collaborator of George Lucas,” the post read. “Colin’s contributions to the @StarWars legacy are felt to this day, having influenced the design language of many of our favorite ships.”
Cantwell worked on other films including WarGames and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.