(first posted Stardate 12/17/2015)
… I found a book in a second-hand shop called ‘Architecture Without Architects’ (Bernard Rudovsky, pub. MOMA, New York, 1964). It’s a superb compendium of buildings and structures from history designed by ‘non-pedigreed’ architects. About halfway through I came across this desert fortress in Southern Morocco. Was I seeing things?
I first heard of this craft in a Melbourne schoolyard as the ‘Aluminium Falcon’ in 1977. Probably from the same kid who would later tell me of ‘Injunary Jones’. I got to see the movie during its first run, and was enthralled. How could I not love this amazing-looking and fully-kinetic adventure?
The best spaceship in the whole movie was this ‘piece of junk’.
The Millennium Falcon was originally planned to look like the above. It was, after all, a smuggling ship so it seemed logical to give it a lengthy cargo configuration like most freighters of the 19th and 20th centuries. Things got as far as the construction of the shooting model, which would ultimately be used instead as a background spacecraft.
George Lucas had been alerted to the fact that it bore some resemblance to the Eagle Transporter from television’s ‘Space: 1999’. Legend has it he looked at a half-eaten hamburger and decided to base his new shape on that.
Joe Johnson, who designed the replacement Millennium Falcon for the film, doesn’t mention the burger. ‘George insisted on a different look entirely, something that wouldn’t look like it had been inspired by anything we’d ever seen.’
‘He may have said at some point that it could have the essence of flying saucer. I’m not sure about the conversation that happened almost forty years ago, but I do remember that it was a situation of “anything goes!” I started with identical upper and lower dish shapes that looked like they had been cut away around the edges to enclose components that had been hot-rodded together. Landing gear bays on the bottom and the com dish on the top helped to break up the symmetry and give it a distinct top and bottom.’
A similar treatment was used by Paolo Martin on the 1970 Pininfarina Ferrari 512S Modulo.
‘I did several sketches with the cockpit centered, just above the loading arms, but I really liked the offset cockpit. It also let me add another asymmetrical tube shape that looked like it housed the corridor to the cockpit. Even though the ship is supposed to be a “spice freighter” I didn’t want the shape to give any indication of its purpose. It’s a big hot rod pure and simple.’
None of Johnson’s original concept sketches of the Falcon have seen the light, but these storyboard frames and Ralph McQuarrie’s unfinished keyframe show how the ship evolved; firstly without the side-mounted cockpit, then with a vestigial version, towards something that broke out of the fuselage more convincingly.
According to Wookieepedia (yep), the YT-1300 light freighter was built by the Corellian Engineering Corporation. It was first owned by the Corell Industries Limited shipping firm, who had the ship for twelve years and utilised it as a shipping vessel in the Corellian system. ‘Millennium Falcon’ was not actually the model’s name, but rather one of a number of titles bestowed upon the craft by its various owners.
Length – 34.37 meters
Width – 25.61 meters
Height/depth – 8.27 meters (including lower cannon and upper sensor array)
Maximum speed (atmos) – 1,050 km/h
Engine unit(s) – 2 Girodyne SRB42 sublight engines (heavily modified)
Hyperdrive rating – Class 0.5; Backup class 10
Avatar-10 hyperdrive (original)
Isu-Sim SSP05 hyperdrive generator (heavily modified),
Later upgraded to a Series 401 hyperdrive motivator
Quadex power core
Incom N2I-4 power converter
Konesayr TLB power converter
CEC emergency power generator
Cryogenic reserve power cells
Lando Calrissian won it in a game of sabaac, but lost the ship in another game of sabaac to Han Solo years later. Han’s personal enhancements included upgrading the armour plating, weapons, engines, sensors, and sensor jammers.
When we first met the Millennium Falcon, Han had just shot first and now he was taking Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, C-3PO and R2-D2 off Luke’s home planet of Tatooine in search of a woman bearing a peculiar bun hair-do.
And the shenanigans commenced.
As of this week it has appeared in five of the Star Wars movies. George Lucas gave it a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in ‘Revenge of the Sith’, and it featured in all three middle films; ‘A New Name’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Return of the Jedi’.
The appearance of Millennium Falcon was the goosebump moment of the first trailer for ‘The Force Awakens’.
It also made an appearance in 1982’s ‘Blade Runner’. This science fiction film starring Harrison Ford had nothing to do with Han Solo or Star Wars. It was a difficult shoot with a very limited budget for special effects, but the crew knew they were working on something special. Some of the model makers brought in their own creations to help populate the visual environment. Bill George provided his scratch-built Millennium Falcon and Jon Roennau his Dark Star ship.
The Millennium Falcon was converted to a building, sitting upright on its rear with its distinctive maw filled in. It sits at the centre of the above shot.
And, thanks to furiousfanboys, here’s where it appears in the film. I don’t think the Disney lawyers could make a case. It’s also apparently hidden somewhere within ‘Star Trek: First Contact’.
I’m not sure George Lucas, as prescient as he was at that time, suspected that the Millennium Falcon would become so singular. Most of these are the theatrical posters from the first US release of the film. Also shown is the production poster (top left) and the poster that came with the soundtrack (bottom right). As you can see, there is more emphasis on the X-wing fighter and Luke’s landspeeder – which gets a nice Drew Struzan (with Charles White III) interpretation.
The Millennium Falcon only makes an appearance on the soundtrack poster, hidden somewhere near the middle.
There were just as many (if not more) alternative poster artworks for 1979’s ’The Empire Strikes Back’, one of which included the Millennium Falcon quite prominently.
By 1982, the Japanese theatrical re-release of the first two films makes it clear who was really becoming the star of the series.
The Millennium Falcon had become a character in its own right.
Quietly handsome and passively moody, it was the George Harrison of the group dynamic. Han was sardonic John, Chewy was the band’s cuddly teddybear Paul, and the droids combined in light comic relief and crucial percussive noise to match Ringo.
And just like George with his songwriting, the Millennium Falcon was capable of stratospheric (if intermittent) brilliance.
It stands as the single most iconic spaceship in fiction. 2001’s cartwheel space station, Star Trek’s Enterprise configuration and Thunderbird 2 also come to mind, and there is a whole universe of great spacecraft shapes out there, but none have the endurance and broad recognition of the Millennium Falcon. It’s also likely to outlast the memory of the Apollo needle rocket and the space shuttle in the minds of non-enthusiasts.
It represents its kind with the simplest of silhouettes.
Of course, its endurance was not insignificantly enabled by George Lucas’ gamble on merchandising. That first large toy at top left was a unicorn even amongst my more privileged friends. Today Lego have an influential franchise and it’s a natural fit for gaming.
It wasn’t just about fanbois, either. Kayla Kromer of Lounge Geeks fashioned this bespoke creation in 2009, although I’m not sure how many were made.
Ultimately, I wonder whether it’s something deeper inside us – a collective psyche or pan-generational remembrance of visitors past – that feeds into the Millennium Falcon’s popularity.
Or maybe I’m just seeing things.