The Columbia team discusses giving Bubba Wallace’s racer an X-wing makeover.
Racing and cars have always been part of Star Wars’ DNA. George Lucas famously loved both, and you can see that appreciation reflected in the series’ warmly worn fighters, its sense of speed, and of course, the epic podrace sequence. “She doesn’t look like much, but she’s got it where it counts,” says Han Solo of the Millennium Falcon, and he sounds like anyone who’s ever had a beat-up car they still loved.
Columbia, a longtime Lucasfilm collaborator, has released Star Wars-themed collections every year since 2016, bringing in-universe looks to its famous outerwear. The company landed on Luke Skywalker’s X-wing flight suit as the inspiration for 2023’s range (launching December 1), which unexpectedly led to another collaboration — and one that hearkens back to the saga’s racing roots, as it's with NASCAR. “We've had a relationship with Bubba Wallace, who races for [team] 23XI since 2020, and Columbia is one of the primary sponsors of the team,” Matt Merriman, VP of Columbia brand development tells StarWars.com. “But this year, creating the orange Star Wars flight suit collection, we were thinking, Luke and his orange pilot suit getting into his X-wing was very similar to Bubba in his race suit climbing into his rocket ship of a car. We thought, how fun would it be if we used that similarity as a way to promote the Star Wars collaboration?”
When it comes to car sponsorships, that often results in nothing more than a logo on a car. But Columbia felt they could go deeper. “We wanted to take a different approach to not wanting to necessarily put a poster on the NASCAR, so it wasn't going to be a billboard or an advertisement,” says Columbia designer Chris Araujo. “We wanted Bubba to feel like he was in an X-wing and flying around the track.” The question was, how do you take the elongated, angular X-wing and transfer it to a boxcar? “I decided that, ‘Hey, what if we translated all the elements of an X-wing to a NASCAR, almost as if the NASCAR was built out of X-wing parts?” says Araujo.
Araujo decided that all the core elements of an X-wing had to come over to the car. The paneling, the scoring, the red stripe, the patina, even the thrusters. Columbia was able to get access to original physical models from the Star Wars films as well as 3D renders for reference. “I had to take lots of detailed photos — taking into mind where the proportions of the car were, where the door was hitting, where the windows were hitting, where the driver would sit — and translate all those paneling details to the side of the vehicle,” he says. Wallace’s racing suit and helmet, made to look like Luke Skywalker’s, also had to meet certain regulations. “There's a lot of standards, as you can imagine,” Araujo says. “So we partnered very closely with Alpinestars, who's the builder of Bubba's suits, and we tried to figure out, ‘Okay, how do we translate some of those details?’ We had to be very mindful of the elements we were going to extract and then translate to the driver's suit.”
But this being Star Wars, there’s always a light and dark side. So Columbia pushed to make another car wrap — one that fans of the Empire will no doubt appreciate. “We thought, ‘What would be better than an X-wing going around the track, but that X-wing being chased or in a battle with a TIE fighter?” Araujo says. “So we were able to secure the other teammate on the 23XI team, which is Tyler Reddick in the 45 car, to be in a TIE fighter-based vehicle design.” Look for the TIE fighter car and driving suit to be revealed trackside.
The entire initiative has received a stamp of approval from a Star Wars legend who knows a thing or two about flying X-wings: Columbia brought Mark Hamill and Bubba Wallace together for a special meeting at the actor’s home, where both got to see the finished work in person. Hamill seemed to enjoy one aspect in particular. “He got to interact a little bit with Bubba's orange suit and the helmet, which he got a kick out of, especially when Bubba was in the full setup,” Araujo says.
And of course, there’s the limited-edition collection that inspired the whole NASCAR project. Taking Luke’s X-wing flight gear as a starting point, Columbia is offering a full ski suit, as well as a ski jacket and a lightweight insulated jacket based on the original pilot look. Plus, there are tee shirts, pullovers, and accessories, including goggles and a crossbody bag that look like items you’d be issued when joining the Rebel Alliance. And as usual, there are plenty of Easter eggs and surprises for fans to discover on every item. “It's always about trying to dive in with the Lucasfilm team to find something with an interesting story and also that might be a little bit unexpected. It’s great when Columbia can advance that story and tell a different side of it,” says Merriman. “And we're really excited about where we ended up this year and where we're going next year, which we can't talk about yet.”
While the wrap and suit had their challenges, they were welcome ones for Araujo. A Star Wars fan himself, he relished the project, which took six months start to finish, and combined Star Wars and automotive design. “One of the things that drew me to Star Wars as a young designer was their vehicle design,” he says. “So I've always appreciated that level of detail with the carbon scoring on say, the Millennium Falcon or the X-wing, where they look like they've been lived in, used, and in battle. I thought that directly translated very well to NASCAR, or the racing world. Getting to interact and work on both of those worlds together, was a dream come true.”