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Star Wars fans: The creator of the original 'Death Star' design lives in Boulder

Posted at 4:45 PM, Dec 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-13 21:12:18-05

BOULDER, Colo. – Star Wars fans are getting ready to immerse themselves in a galaxy far, far away this weekend with the release of the latest installment of the franchise. But in Boulder, one of the movie’s original designers is living a quiet life.

Colin Cantwell came up with the designs for some of the franchise’s most iconic space ships including the Death Star, the Millennium Falcon, the X-wing fighter and the Landspeeder, among others.

However, his partner of 19 years had no idea old relics from the movie were packed away in boxes in their basement. When the couple moved in 2014 and cleaned out the basement, Sierra Dall found a treasure trove of Star Wars memorabilia including some of the original concept designs.

“It was a big surprise to me when I found out exactly what was down in the basement,” Dall said.

Before, all Cantwell would tell her was that there were important things stored there. The couple also never really discussed his movie days.

“He would hardly ever talk about his background for most the time that I knew him. We kind of live in the present and not so much in the past,” Dall said.

Star Wars was not Cantwell’s first stint in space. He worked for NASA for a number of years designing graphics that helped explain various missions the agency was working on. One of those was a mission to Mars.

Cantwell also worked on movies such as "2001: A Space Odyssey."

However, his idea for the original design of the Star Wars spaceships was accidental.

“I had decided to scrap all of my unfinished models. I wasn't going to do that anymore. So, when I got the scraps going into a big cardboard box I got inspired,” Cantwell said.

At first, he considered the concept of these fantastic spaceships to be humorous fantasy.

Not too long after that, though, he came up with an idea to change the way fantasy movies are made.

“I had a possible way of doing miniatures that would be suitable for filming and they could be done and special-effects [filming could be done] for a feature film, a fantasy feature film,” Cantwell said.

His designs eventually caught the attention of George Lucas.

“He spent about 45 minutes lost in the things that he was viewing and he was viewing them as camera shots for a fantasy movie,” Cantwell said. "He said, 'don’t go anywhere; don’t talk to anyone about this.'”

The rest was galactic history.

Cantwell said he designed the spaceships knowing that they would be modified down the line but he likes the fact that they are constantly transforming.

“I was proud of the way it was alive,” Cantwell said.

While Cantwell no longer works on designs for Star Wars, his designs will be part of cinematic history forever.

“It makes us both happy. I often tell people about Colin’s background and they’re like, ‘Oh man I can’t believe I just met this guy,’” Dall said.

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" hits theaters Thursday night.