Colin Cantwell, the designer of such iconic Star Wars ships as the X-Wing and the TIE Fighter, and the original Death Stars base, has died. His partner, Sierra Dall, confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the 90-year-old artist died on Saturday at his home in Colorado. In addition to his work on Star Wars, Cantwell's film work includes special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey, dialogue in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and consulting on the computer graphics effects in WarGames. Cantwell was a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, with a degree in animation. He then received a personal invitation to attend Frank Lloyd Wright's School of Architecture from its namesake.
Prior to finding work in Hollywood, Cantwell had worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA, creating educational programs to study their flights. Cantwell was a source for Walter Cronkite during the moon landing's broadcast in 1969, feeding information on the flight's progress to the anchor.
"Halfway through the final descent, I alerted Walter to my detection of an orbit change that would consume more fuel, but allow coasting a little further than the planned target," Cantwell revealed during a Reddit AMA in 2016. "When the other TV stations had the ships landed according to their NASA manual, I determined that the the Apollo had not yet landed. This was later confirmed that I had the accurate version of landing."
But Cantwell remains best known among sci-fi fans for his work on Star Wars. He discussed the Death Star's design during that same AMA.
"I didn't originally plan for the Death Star to have a trench, but when I was working with the mold, I noticed the two halves had shrunk at the point where they met across the middle," Cantwell said. "It would have taken a week of work just to fill and sand and re-fill this depression. So, to save me the labor, I went to George and suggested a trench."
However, Cantwell's contributions to Star Wars were long undercelebrated. Dall shared a story of this speaking to The Denver Post in 2017.
"When we started at Galaxy Fest in Colorado Springs, we had all these banners that people would come in and completely ignore," she said. "They're so focused on where they're going they don't pay any attention. So then I started standing there and saying, 'Are you a Star Wars fan? Here's Colin who designed the Death Star.' And they'd go, 'Oh, wow!' We've heard from people who say he changed their lives, and he had no clue."
(Source: The Hollywood Reporter, The Wrap)