|Colin Cantwell (left) & George Lucas. A Y-Wing model is on the bench|
|George Lucas' sketch|
Both Ralph McQuarrie and Johnston worked on the ship - adding an engine cluster, the radar dish and a rounded cockpit - before the design was signed off and blueprints made, for both the set construction team at Elstree Studios in England and the modelmaking department at ILM, led by Grant McCune.
In late 1975, the Gerry Anderson TV show Space: 1999 appeared on British television, featuring a ship called The Eagle Transporter. When Lucas, working in England at the time, saw it, he realised the pirate ship design looked very similar and, not wanting to appear to have lifted the idea from TV, immediately insisted the pirate ship should look very different.
|left - the Eagle Transporter - right - Ralph McQuarrie's production painting featuring the original pirate ship|
“They were all very upset that I changed the design because they had just finished building the other pirate starship,” Lucas says. “They had spent an enormous amount of money and time building that other ship, and I threw it out. It’s one of those decisions that was very costly, but I felt that we really needed the individuality and personality of a better ship.”
Grant McCune was quoted as saying the model cost upwards of $25,000 because “it got billed for everything, it was seven feet long and had four hundred cycles of electronics going through it.” Rather than scrap it altogether, it was redesigned into the Blockade Runner, with one of the key changes being the hammerhead-style cockpit.
Lucas sat down with Joe Johnston and John Dykstra at ILM to come up with new ideas for the pirate ship. Their final decision was described by Grant McCune as “the round Porkburger” (a nickname that stuck in the modelshop for a while) and there is a popular urban myth that George Lucas himself came up with it, basing the design on his favourite lunch - as a half-eaten hamburger with an olive on a toothpick. Johnston told Starlog magazine, “it was the quickest [design] we’ve ever done. The Falcon was designed in one day. We took some components from the blockade runner, like the cockpit, and stuck it on the side of a big dish with some mandibles out in front.” There is a suggestion that since the full-size version had already started construction - with extremely tight costs - the new design apparently had to use the existing cockpit, another reason for the change to the Blockade Runner.
|one of Joe Johnston's original drawings|
The shooting schedule at ILM meant McCune and his team didn’t have a lot of time to construct the new model, so Johnston had to work fast. “I spent about a day doing a series of very rough sketches,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “that soon evolved toward a disk-shaped hull with a long horizontal slot-shaped engine at the back instead of the traditional round nacelles seen on almost every other ship.” He showed Lucas his sketches and they “agreed on the general direction, with the offset cockpit and the raised ‘waistline’ hexagonal structures, opposing gun ports and asymmetric details like the radar dish. Because of the time crunch there weren’t a lot of drawings done after this point, as the construction needed to get under way [and] I worked with the model builders to monitor the design as the ship began to take shape. 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.”
|George Lucas looks over the shell of the pirate ship with Bill Welch|
|from left - George Lucas, Bill Welch, Jamie Shourt|
The key model of the Millennium Falcon was 5 feet long. Lorne Peterson, in his book Sculpting A Galaxy, wrote that it was made of a “four-foot ‘clamshell’ with two shallow hemispheres of wood and steel covered by two clear acrylic domes. Because the form was so heavy, lightening holes were cut into the inner structure to help shed weight. “Although two people could move it,” he wrote, “four were needed to best avoid any disastrous - and costly - crashes.”
|from left - Steve Gawley, Lorne Peterson and Joe Johnston work on the underside of the Falcon|
|Paul Huston (left) and Dave Grell 'kit bashing' the Falcon. Look at all those Tamiya boxes!|
The Industrial Light & Magic building at the time was in Van Nuys, California and located close to a model-kit distributor. The team bought lots of packs from them, filling the shelves of their model shop with kits made by Revell, Tamiya and Monogram. “We had a relationship,” said modelmaker Steve Gawley, “where we bought ‘returns’ that maybe had a part missing - chances are we wouldn’t need that part anyway. We’d get tremendous discounts on that kind of thing.”
It was quickly discovered that the best kits to use were those of World War Two vehicles because they were less recognisable, unlike car parts which most people see every day. The hull of the Falcon is detailed with pieces of Panther and Tiger tanks, Messerschmitt 109 fighters, the Krupp K5 rail cannon and many more.
|powered by Cummins!|
|Lifting the model ready for filming (from left) John Dykstra, Joe Johnston, Richard Edlund, uknown, Steve Gawley (back to camera)|
|Grant McCune adjusts the model as it's mounted ready for filming. Richard Edlund (far left) programmes the Dykstraflex, Steve Gawley (centre) looks worried the model might fall off|
|Using the Dykstraflex system to shoot the Falcon against blue screen|
|Mark Hamill takes a close look at the model|
The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film, by J.W. Rinzler
Sculpting a Galaxy: Inside the "Star Wars" Model Shop, by Lorne Peterson
Joe Johnston Sketchbook on Facebook
2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London). I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.
To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.
May The Force Be With You!
Find all the entries in the thread here
Find all the entries in the thread here