Starting next year, the force will be with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. An original “X-wing Starfighter,” the iconic 37-foot-wingspan jet featured in the Star Wars saga will be displayed in the museum’s newly renovated building on the National Mall, on a long-term loan from the production company Lucasfilm.
The fighter vehicles known as “X-wings” were first designed for Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), the film that kicked off the classic trilogy. According to the official Star Wars Databank, the X-wing boasts four laser cannons and two proton torpedo launchers, and “can take on anything the Empire throws at it.” The orange and gray T-70 model at the Smithsonian made its debut in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019), when it was piloted by Commander Poe Dameron in the war between the First Order and the Resistance.
While evidently fictional, says Margaret Weitekamp, curator and chair of the Space History Department at the museum, the vehicle has a captivating aura of authenticity that appeals to both Star Wars fans and aircraft aficionados.
“Putting it in dialogue with these other artifacts of actual aviation accomplishment and real achievement in space flight creates a good conversation about inspiration, imagination, and how much of what you see in a so obviously imagined vehicle exists just as much behind these real engineering triumphs,” Weitekamp told Hyperallergic.
She notes that one of the most popular exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum was Star Wars: The Magic of Myth in 1997, a sprawling presentation of models, costumes, props, and artwork that plumbed the epic saga’s mythological and literary symbolism. The X-Wing Starfighter will be the first Star Wars film prop to go on long-term display at museum since that show.
What’s striking about Lucasfilm’s work on the Starfighters, Weitekamp says, is the attention paid to the evolution in design over the decades — how the model has changed not just in comparison to modern aircraft, but by the standards of Star Wars‘s own world.
“People will notice this is a T-70 X-Wing, which is a next-generation vehicle. If you grew up watching Luke Skywalker, he flew a T-65B, and there are distinct design differences in how the strike foils are put together, how the engines are put on,” Weitekamp added.
In many ways, that evolution parallels the cross-generational experience of the Star Wars films. “Parents might have watched them in the 1970s and ’80s when the films were coming out, now they’re enjoying it with their children, and we have a new generation following it Star Wars in a different way,” Weitekamp said.
Dameron’s X-wing is currently undergoing conservation in the museum’s Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Fairfax County, Virginia, sharing space with a Martin B-26 Marauder used in World War II. The public can get a sneak peek of the jet by visiting the hangar before it goes on long-term view outside the Albert Einstein Planetarium in 2022.