All these pictures but the first three were found on Google images. They belong to Lucasfilm, Colin Cantwell, and others. Only the first three are mine.
Welcome back to part 3 of my Pensacon blog. This afternoon it is my pleasure to talk to you about a panel I saw with Colin Cantwell. Cantwell was the designer of the ships in the original Star Wars series. He also did visual effects for the movies Wargames, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Cantwell does a form of design known as kitbashing. Kitbashing is when you take pieces from several model kits and add them all to create a new model. So, a piece could look Steam Punk in a way. George Lucas was impressed with the work Cantwell did for Space Odyssey and believed he was the man to design the ships in A New Hope. Cantwell designed the X-wing fighters, Tie fighters, Star destroyers (Imperial Cruiser), the Millennium Falcon, the Y-wing, and the Death Star.
Cantwell explains the design behind the Tie fighter and how sinister the design appeared. This was his aim since these were the villain ships. You can’t see the pilot inside the ship and you can’t really guess how to re-create one yourself. During the panel, he had video discussion of each ship. The Tie-fighter was also imposing because you could never know how quickly it would appear. All you knew was that it was bad when you could hear the roar of their engines while sitting in the dark theater. Now in another video, Cantwell discusses how designed the X-wing. He discusses how at first, he designed it like a normal jet with a triangle front and wheels, so it could gain speed then altitude to take off. Lucas nixed the idea immediately and told Cantwell to take off the wheels. Lucas explained how it didn’t need to gain altitude just speed. Cantwell popped the wheels off his design and thought how he would make this ship fly. He thought of a kite and how the wings of the ship could open like a box kite, thus causing the X-shape of the wings. He also put the guns on the wings as well.
You may not know this but, the Millennium Falcon used to be called the “Pirate Ship” that had a design that made it appear like a giant metal lizard. This would have been the Falcon, but Lucas noticed how it was too similar to another spacecraft in a different series. You guys remember that iconic scene in episode four when the Imperial ship is kind of just floating in space with a planet behind it and then how it moves across the screen showing how big the ship is? That was all Cantwell’s idea. Originally during design, Cantwell asked how big an Imperial ship was and Lucas only said really big. After that vague answer, Cantwell asked if they were bigger than Burbank, California, which Lucas replied yes that’s exactly it. Cantwell also had the idea of scrolling the prequel information at the beginning of the film after the title appeared.
Now the most important ship Cantwell designed was the Death Star. Cantwell knew it was supposed to be a big and powerful ship. He had a lot of material for the ship to make it look highly armored and mincing. He had ordered two separate spheres that he was going to combine to make the shape of the ship but when the parts arrived the two halves didn’t fit together. Apparently, two parts had managed to shrink or break causing the two sides to not fit together. This was definitely a problem, so Cantwell began to brainstorm. He got the idea that the separation in the Death Star could be like a canon or trench. The trench would be armored and have guns inside it. He came up with the mission idea of sending X-wing fighters down inside the trench and have them manage to fire their weapons at a very small opening in order to destroy it. He called Lucas with his idea which he responded to with, “Call you back.” In about twenty minutes Lucas called him back and told him they would do it, if Cantwell would put in the extra work for the trench idea; Cantwell agreed. That’s how we had that amazing scene in the film all because of an accidental design flaw. The panel was so cool. I hope you guys enjoyed my Pensacon blog posts and I’ll see you next time!