Shropshire Star

Challenge Dan: Star Wars model making with Archive X

Not a long time ago, in a model shop not very far, far away...


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In my ongoing challenge to meet some of those troubadours of the region who run the most wonderful and fascinating businesses, this week I was lucky to visit a man who has created nothing less than a temple to 'nerdvana'.

Based at Maws Craft Centre in Jackfield, former guitar tech Guy Cowen has built a company from a boyhood passion that has stayed with him into adulthood, and will be the envy of Padawan learners throughout the land. A gifted painter and model maker with an incredible eye for detail, the force is strong with this one and his creative midi-chlorian count is off the chart. That's right, my loyal Stormtroopers; Guy makes Star Wars models... for a living!

Blown away by the fact that this was even a possibility on our doorstep (and, I have to say, quickly questioning a few of my own life choices along the way), when entering the workshop of Guy's company, Archive X, this week, I was walking into a world that was my idea of heaven. Store cupboards were stocked with Mandalorian helmets, Imperial walkers adorned shelves, and workbenches were laden with the Rebel Alliance's finest in starfighter technology. These certainly were the droids I was looking for, and I was fascinated to find out how Guy had made his successful business a reality.

"Archive X is my paint brand which came about due to my love of replicating Star Wars models," he said. "But not just going to Hobbycraft, buying a model and building it. We 'scratch build' replicas of the original filming models using the same parts, the same details, the same materials, and then replicate every scratch, paint splodge – everything. It's almost what you would call the closest we can get to a 'forgery' of the original models used in the films."

George Lucas's ground-breaking space opera saga had clearly left a lasting impression on Guy, as it has done with millions across the world over at least three generations.

"In the 70s and 80s when they made the original Star Wars trilogy, everything was handmade models," he said. "Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) were innovators and they did things which were never done before. Obviously being seven or eight years old when Star Wars came out, you see these things and they're the most incredible things you've ever seen in your life.

A TIE bomber in progress

"I was at that age where it never left me – they were always the best things I'd ever seen. As I got into adulthood, my career was in rock and roll, so I used to have a lot of time at home in between tours. So I just started teaching myself scratch model building – studying and going online. Jump to 2017, the obsession with getting the models correct then became an obsession with getting the paint colours correct. It's quite an artwork to get the colours right from just a photograph [of the original filming models], but one thing we always knew was there was a particular brand of paint that had been used. So what I ended up doing was taking that brand and the samples from the 70s which are very specific to the period when Star Wars was made, and copying the hues of the colours, and introducing it to the Star Wars modelling community for the first time ever, almost as a tool set. So you've now got the same tool set that ILM had.

"As the paint brand has grown considerably from 2017 to now, it's now sold on behalf of me through people like Element Games. It's allowed me to have the free time again now to concentrate on the model building, which is what my passion is, and has led to things like the Y-Wing project that I'm doing with my friend Lee Ralph."

Gazing across the workshop, a large steel bench was stacked with facsimiles of this fan-favourite Star Wars craft, each at a different stage of construction. The level of detail involved was incredible, and I was eager to learn more. As Guy explained, these particular Y-Wings were very special indeed – a tribute to the model that secured the employment of one of the ILM gods.

Guy with one of the in-progress 'Bill George Y-Wing' models

"There was a guy called Bill George who was the chief model builder for Return of the Jedi. He built one of these and he took it to George Lucas in the early 80s to ask for work – 'this is what I can do; I've made a Y-Wing, this is my resume'. Amazingly for him, they gave him a job. He worked on a Star Trek film and then he came back and worked on Return of the Jedi. So he's one of my heroes.

"These are made to be sold. We're doing it as commission-based, so we kind of know the customers before we start doing it. These take a lot of time – it will take us 12 months to finish nine."

Through painstaking research into the parts used by George to construct his original Y-Wing, and support from the man himself, Guy and Lee have managed to create the first true copies of this cult-favourite prop that saw actual screen time in the original Star Wars trilogy's closing chapter.

"Bill very kindly sent us his own personal photographs of his build from when it started to when it finished, so we got to see things that no one in the general public had seen before.

"We use a technique called 'kitbashing'. Nearly all original Star Wars filming models were detailed with bits of Tamiya model tanks, warships – anything you can think of that was on the shelves back then. They used bits of model Ferrari engines mixed with a bit of a Panzer tank to make it look like a space engine, etc.

A Rebel Alliance Snowspeeder model

"There's an art to getting the right kit parts together – you can't just glue any old thing! And no one's ever been better than ILM at doing that.

"So me and Lee studied the photographs over a two-year period, and we managed to find all the parts that Bill had used. We've even left glue joins where he left a glue join."

Though these incredible replicas set to leave buyers absolutely starstruck, Guy and Lee are much more excited about the approval of a certain individual who is in for a treat.

"For me and Lee, the best thing is, Bill's never owned his own Y-Wing, and I'm hand-delivering a Y-Wing back to him in California when these are finished," said Guy. "It's going to be an absolute 'tear moment' for me, standing at his front door saying 'here's your 'Bill George Y-Wing', Bill George!'.

"He gets updates from us every week and he's helped us with information towards building them. So it's what goes around, comes around – he should have one."

An Imperial speeder bike

With Guy having been able to turn his passion and talent into a lucrative business with a client base spanning the globe, he is delighted to be based in a place that helps inspire his creativity.

"I've been at Maws Craft Centre for just over a year-and-a-half," he said. "I moved from Warrington and moved in with my partner. All of this used to be in my house. Obviously I'm not in my house anymore so there had to be somewhere for all this, and no woman in her right mind is going to go 'yes, put all that in my house'! I always wanted my own workshop with Archive X, and we came down here one day and just struck gold. The day we arrived to check, there was a woman leaving this unit and it was the perfect size. It's such a beautiful area as well – I'm so privileged to be able to come here everyday and do this."

For every budding lightsaber-wielder out there, a visit to Archive X is well recommended. Guy's workshop can be found at Unit D3 Maws Craft Centre, Jackfield, Telford, TF8 7LS. You will never want to leave, and I will certainly be returning. May the force be with you all.

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