Concept artist Colin Cantwell reveals images of earliest Star Wars ship models from 1975

Known for providing George Lucas with the original designs for several spaceships for the original Star Wars, concept artist Colin Cantwell has revealed photographs of his actual model ships created for Lucas in 1975.  Cantwell, who we discussed here at borg back in 2017, has only in the past few years entered the pop culture convention circuit.  For thirty years Cantwell left the movie design business, working at a computer engineering firm in Colorado.  Now 87, Cantwell has embraced fans of his early work, traveling the country, signing prints of his original Star Wars concept art from 1974-75.

At the same time noted artist Ralph McQuarrie was designing characters and environments in his concept art for Lucas, Cantwell designed the first concept artwork for the X-Wing and Y-Wing Fighters, the TIE Fighter, Star Destroyer, Death Star, T-16 Skyhopper, and the original Millennium Falcon, which was rejected and repurposed as Princess Leia’s ship, the Tantive IV Blockade Runner–the first ship seen in the film.  He designed two other ships that were not used in the film, his Landspeeder and Sandcrawler.  Cantwell has been selling prints of his concept art for the past two years, but this month he began to release images on his Facebook page and website of the actual, original models he made–based on his own designs–that he presented to Lucas in 1975.  He’s selling autographed prints of these images now on his website here.

His models were “kitbashed”–he used existing plastic model kit parts and re-purposed them to make a real-world feel for his ships (and without the time, effort, and cost required for molding his own parts).  Industrial Light and Magic would use this concept to create the Star Wars aesthetic, and set decorator Roger Christian used the idea with real world tech to make the future look lived-in, earning an Oscar for doing so (Lucas offered Cantwell the opportunity to create and lead ILM, but he declined).  Cantwell used the body of a dragster kit, painted pill bottles, plastic Easter eggs, and a WWII bomber turret among other model kit parts.

Cantwell’s original designs were substantially used for the final production models, but Cantwell’s actual T-16 Skyhopper model was used by Mark Hamill as Luke’s own ship model in an early Tatooine scene.  Most recently, Cantwell was recognized by Disney and Hot Wheels with a series of replicas, including his Millennium Falcon/Tantive IV, TIE Fighter, X-Wing Fighter, Star Destroyer, and the unused Landspeeder design.

In addition to being nominated for a BAFTA for the earliest computer color display images on WarGames, Cantwell designed concept art for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  Working for NASA for years, Cantwell assisted Walter Cronkite on the telecast of the Apollo XI moon landing as the conduit between NASA and CBS, recounting the steps of the mission to Cronkite in real-time for his broadcast.

More photographs of Cantwell’s work can be found on his website,  Many of the images were taken by Cantwell in his backyard.  Prints of both his concept art and model images can be purchased from him there.  Even more information can be found in the definitive book on model production for Star Wars, Sculpting a Galaxy

C.J. Bunce

One comment

  1. I worked next to ILM on Valgene when it was set up for the first Star Wars film. I was invited in by Lorn Peterson to see the shop. I saw Colin Cantwell’s models there in a small showroom in that shop. Amazing things!

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