Advertisement

How I built the Millennium Falcon: Creating the galaxy’s fastest hunk of junk

Advertisement

Story highlights

Set decorator Roger Christian won an Academy Award for his work on "Star Wars"

With a tiny budget he built the Millennium Falcon and some of the most iconic props

CNN —  

How do you make a spaceship that can fly the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs? Simple: fit it with 20 jet engines.

That’s what set decorator Roger Christian did when crafting the legendary Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s unreliable but much-loved hunk of junk from the “Star Wars” saga.

Christian was responsible for dressing the sets on the original film and won an Academy Award for his efforts. He’s also the brains behind many of the series’ most iconic settings and props, among them Luke’s lightsaber and Han’s blaster. His ingenious approach was integral to the look and feel of “Star Wars,” and his stories from the shoot have passed into fan folklore.

As the release of “The Force Awakens” approaches, we sit down with the Academy Award winner and member of George Lucas’ inner circle to discuss the evolution of the series, where Lucas went wrong and the fate of Luke Skywalker.

’You’re mad, boy, you know that?’

It was always Christian’s intention for the Millennium Falcon to “look like an old car that had been repaired many times, rugged and dripping with oil.” And in creating Solo’s second-hand smuggling vessel, he took a very literal approach.

The move was one born out of necessity. Christian and young director Lucas were trying to find a way to make their ambitious indie flick with a meager budget of $4 million.

“I was sent off in a light aircraft to airfields around the south of England to source scrap metal,” Christian recalls. “No one wanted it, and it was sold by weight. Luckily, because they were from planes all the materials were light … I could buy half a plane for $75.”

The Millennium Falcon in the Death Star docking bay, filmed at Leavesden studios.
Lucasfilm
The Millennium Falcon in the Death Star docking bay, filmed at Leavesden studios.

Weeks later, Christian’s haul arrived at Leavseden Studios, outside London, on a 16-wheel truck. Legendary prop master Frank Bruton was aghast.

Christian remembers the moment clearly: “Without even looking at me, Frank said, ‘You’re mad, boy, you know that?’ I was crossing my fingers. I had no idea whether any of this would actually work.”

Work began breaking down jet engines and fuselages and installing the components on what became the cockpit, hold and corridors of the Millennium Falcon.

“The cockpit was the first set we ever build,” says Christian. “I just kept having to buy more and more junk. It was eating it up. … Then I gave the set a spray to make it look grimy. Suddenly, it just looked real.”

Return of the Dice

The interior of the Millennium Falcon in a shot from Episode IV. Notice Christian's dice, hanging from the ceiling of the cockpit.
courtesy Lucasfilm
The interior of the Millennium Falcon in a shot from Episode IV. Notice Christian's dice, hanging from the ceiling of the cockpit.

The Millennium Falcon was still incomplete, however.

“I said to George, ‘You know in ‘American Graffiti,’ you hung dice in Ron Howard’s car? That film was a success; I think we should hang a pair in the cockpit for good luck.’

“I gave him six choices,” remembers Christian, “including big furry ones, but he went for a little chrome pair.”

Eagle-eyed Star Wars viewers will notice the dice in the Millennium Falcon, but they mysteriously disappear after three shots. “The dice were removed by the art director whilst I was working on a different set,” Christian says. “They never made it back on-screen after then.”

Until now, that is.

Christian says a Redditor informed him that the dice were spotted hanging from the cockpit ceiling in Annie Leibowitz’s “The Force Awakens” Vanity Fair cover in May.

“J.J. Abrams had seen the dice,” Christian explains. “He got an assistant to search eBay for weeks and weeks until they found the exact same ones that I’d put in. Pretty amazing, right?”

New faces