Colin Cantwell isn’t a name that immediately springs to mind when you think “Star Wars,” but he’s behind some of the most iconic images in the franchise. He created the Death Star and its trench, the Millennium Falcon, the X-Wing, and the TIE Fighter, and somehow, in the course of his Reddit AMA, you discover that’s literally the least interesting thing about him.
Cantwell admits, at the top of his AMA, that he avoids the spotlight, but among the achievements he discusses include inventing the first color monitor, being accepted to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural school (and Wright dying before they could meet), feeding Walter Cronkite scientific data live as astronauts landed on the moon, and convincing Stanley Kubrick to use classical music on 2001: A Space Odyssey. His AMA is absolutely packed with tidbits, but here are just a few highlights.
He figured out the exact landing point of Apollo 11 on the fly:
I was deeply involved in Apollo 11 both before and during the mission. I sat a few feet from Walter Cronkite and functioned as the “Hal 9000” computer that fed information to Walter as he was broadcasting live online. 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. 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.
The Death Star’s trench came about because of an accident in the model shop:
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. 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.
I used to go to [Kubrick’s] house at midnight and discuss events related to the film over turkey sandwiches. This evolved into a discussion after he had fired his fourth composer. At that time I suggested that he use many of the pieces of music that became part of the movie 2001 Space Odyssey. This includes the now well-known theme song.
The X-Wing was inspired by a night of drinking:
…it had to be Alien and fit in with the rest of the story. . A dart being thrown at a target in a British pub gave me the original concept and then it went from there.
Be sure to check out the full AMA; Cantwell has some excellent jokes and gets into some real detail about his film history, among other things. Maybe we could bring him in for Episode VIII, just for old times’ sake?