Monday 6 January 2014

The Millennium Falcon (A New Hope version)

Following on from my post about “Star Wars” opening in England in late 1977 (which you can read here), I didn’t actually get to see the film until early 1978.  And when I did, one of the things I fell in love with was the Millennium Falcon (I really wanted to be Han Solo), since the ship was so cool.
Ralph McQuarrie’s original design was deemed too much like an Eagle Transporter (from “Space: 1999”), so that was re-worked into the Tantive 4 (the blockade runner at the start of the film) and a new design for the Falcon was created - Lucas later said that its appearance was inspired by a hamburger (some reports add ‘half eaten’ to that, or that the ‘cockpit was an olive on the side’).
The Eagle (left) and Ralph McQuarrie's original concept painting (right)

Most of the time you see it in the film, the Falcon is a model and several were made for the production - the smallest being the size of a silver dollar - with the key one over 5 feet long (which was detailed with parts ‘kit-bashed’ from existing commercial models).
Modelmaker Lorne Peterson builds the core of the 5ft model, prior to kit-bashing and detailing.

There was also a full-size version built except that, in reality, only the starboard half of the ship existed.  Reports vary as to why this was, though it seems likely that the partial construction was due to space limitations at Elstree Studios and also financial considerations (“A New Hope” went considerably over budget).
The exterior was built into the studio as part of the set for Docking Bay 94 (you never see a full view of the ship until the Special Edition in 1997, in which a digital model is shown lifting off).  This version of the Falcon doesn’t have the forward landing pads and instead has a weight-bearing support (disguised as a fuel hose) descending from the underside to the ground.  It was also missing the radar dish.
The original "Jabba" sequence, on Docking Bay 94 (a great behind-the-scenes shot showing the height of the partial mock-up.  Note Peter Mayhew with his mask off, as Harrison Ford and Declan Mulholland (the pre-CGI Jabba) rehearse)
Seeing the Falcon for the first time, on the Docking Bay 94 set

After filming finished on the Docking Bay 94 set, it was transformed into the Death Star Docking Bay 327, since the set of the Millennium Falcon did not fit out the stage doors.  Since this location was shown in wide shots, the Falcon was completed by a Harrison Ellenshaw matte painting.
 Docking Bay 327, as seen in the finished film

Harrison Ellenshaw with his matte painting of Docking Bay 327 (the masked out area will be filled with the live action shoot later).

Putting the Falcon in place on stage.

Preparing to shoot

For “The Empire Strikes Back”, a full size version of the ship was built by Marcon Fabrications (in the old Sunderland Bomber hangers) in the former Royal Navy shipyards at Pembroke Dock, on the Milford Haven waterway in West Wales.  It weighed over 25 tons and used compressed air hover pads for movement around the set and was shipped to the studio on 16 low-loaders.
No new models or sets were created for “Return Of The Jedi” and the only use of the full size version was in the sandstorm sequence (which was never used).  The shot where Han and Lando stand across from the ship was filmed using a matte painting.  The full-size version was scrapped after filming ended.


  1. Great write up, and shots used were perfect!

    The last line however...

    "The full-size version was scrapped after filming ended"

    Made me want to vomit....

    1. Thanks very much - and yes, I know exactly what you mean!