The X-wings in The Force Awakens are new models donated to the Resistance.
The X-wing fighters used in the first Star Wars films were the T-65B model. The ones we see in The Force Awakens are the T-70 model. One can assume that since the events in The Force Awakens happens 30+ years after the events in the first Star Wars, this was simply an equipment/armament upgrade. According to Wookieepedia:
The craft were donated by sympathetic members of the New Republic, and
the Resistance operated a fleet of the X-wings out of their base on
D'Qar. Blue Squadron had their X-wings stationed in a hangar at the
And further confirmed on the official Star Wars website with more details on the T-70’s improved strike capability as well as reiterating the fact the Resistance had finance issues:
Faster than the Alliance-era T-65s, Resistance X-wings are
maneuverable enough to engage TIE fighters in dogfights, but powerful
enough to take down capital ships. The credit-strapped Resistance
relies on X-wings donated or lent by sympathetic New Republic senators
and local security forces.
So if you are a military Resistance force—who might have finance and resource supply issues—and are offered a small fleet of new-model fighters for free all you can really say is: “Thank you!”
And comparing the stats between the T-65B model and the T-70 model show a few subtle difference in armament capabilities:
- The T-70 model has an underslung blaster cannon, mag-pulse launcher (EMP weapon) and can operate as a fighter as well as a bomber. The S-foil wings on a T-70 model interlock.
- The T-65B model was just a fighter. The S-foil wings on the T-65B model don’t interlock; they just fold down on top of each other.
Out-of-universe development of the new X-wing fighter design.
And out-of-universe, Joe Johnston—the special effects guy who actually designed and built many of the Star Wars spacecraft—is quoted as saying the following in an interview with Yahoo! Movies; bold emphasis is mine:
Q: Have you had any involvement in the new Star Wars? Has J.J. Abrams asked you to consult on any designs?
A: None whatsoever, but I did notice that he’s gone back to the original twin-nacelle X-wing design, much sleeker and aeronautic than
the four-engine. Smart.
Note that Joe Johnston is the one whose original sketches (left side of image below) were the basis of the production images Ralph McQuarrie (right side of image below) created of scenes and items such as the X-wing fighter. So this “new” X-wing design is what the original production designer back in the 1970s always wanted.
But the similarities between the new X-wings and those 1970s Johnston/McQuarrie ideas are seemingly coincidental as explained by The Force Awakens production designer Darren Gilford in this WIRED magazine article:
“When we were updating the X-wing we put two engines on either side
and split them in the middle,” says Gilford. “Then something in the
back of my mind said, ‘I’ve seen that before.’ Sure enough, I went
back to one of Ralph’s classic paintings, and he had done a version
like that. I pulled that image out in the next meeting with J.J., and
he said, ‘That’s it. If Ralph had that idea, it’s good enough for us.”
Poe Dameron’s “Black One” fighter looks cool and is technically feasible with modern special effects.
As far as color schemes go, while the one we prominently see flown by Poe Dameron has a black-base paint scheme with orange highlights, most of the standard T-70 models simply use a white-base paint scheme with blue highlights. Here are two pictures of the white/blue T-70 X-wing model displayed at the Star Wars Celebration 2015 in Anaheim, California:
I see no deep in-universe meaning for Poe’s X-wing to be all black past him wanting it to “look cool.” This “it looks/sounds cool” idea is confirmed via the entry for Black One on Wookieepedia; bold emphasis is mine:
Black One was a T-70 X-wing fighter that was used by Resistance pilot
Poe Dameron. Dameron’s call sign of Black Leader was derived from this
X-wing; he was not the leader of a Black Squadron.
But out of universe it makes sense: One thing we see consistently in The Force Awakens that we didn’t see in any of the original trilogy films were dogfights within a planet’s atmosphere.
Outside of the “Battle on Hoth” in The Empire Strikes Back—which was mostly a ground battle between Snowspeeders (T-47 airspeeder) and Imperial Walkers—the X-wings, TIE fighters and other light colored space craft in the original Star Wars trilogy engaged in battle primarily in the dark depths of space. This was a natural limitation caused by the film-based/analog film making and optical special effects techniques used by film makers the 1970s and 1980s; it was just easier to photograph, process and manage primarily white space ships on a primarily black starfield background.
Since compositing and imaging techniques nowadays are more flexible thanks to the use of computers and CGI, pretty much all of the flying combat action we see in The Force Awakens happens within a planet’s atmosphere. Knowing that, Poe’s X-wing simply exists because it couldn’t before: Nowadays you can have a black X-wing in a space background since the digital imaging technology exists to make it happen.
Also a white X-wing in the relatively white background of a planet’s atmosphere is just too hard to visually parse for a whole sequence. Not to mention Poe is a “hero” and his black X-wing is easier to spot/differentiate simply because it’s black.
Some production artwork exploring the idea of space craft being used within a planet’s atmosphere.
The focus on scenes with X-wings within a planet’s atmosphere—again, something new to the film series—can be seen in these illustrations created Lucasfilm and Disney illustrator Robert Bailey. Note that while the first image and third image is of the new T-70 model, the second image clearly shows the T-65B model. I don’t recall seeing the T-65B model shown in action in The Force Awakens so this could just be a production drawing comparing and contrasting the two different designs.