She’s got it where it counts

I’ve always had two favorite spaceship designs. Both hail from the sci-fi flicks I watched most as a kid, but I’m sure that’s a coincidence.

First, I love the U.S.S. Enterprise (particularly the film era version) for its luminosity and swan-like grace. Secondly, I love the Millennium Falcon for its being the exact opposite. Both ships are designed around the classic “flying saucer” form, but they take it in wildly different directions. The Enterprise bonds the saucer to the classic needle-nose rocket shape and augments the pairing with impossibly delicate sweeping “wings” that suspend its engines above and apart from the ship’s body. The Falcon, on the other hand, basically sticks a couple of prongs to the saucer form along with an awkward, asymmetrical nub of a cockpit, then plays up the gracelessness even further by being the first-ever movie spaceship to be slathered with big patches of dark red Bondo that the owner didn’t bother to paint over. It’s basically a broken-down space pickup running on the equivalent of an F1 engine.

Anyway, since these ships have held such fascination for me for the past 30 years or so, I always find myself scrutinizing their on-screen appearances to try and get a sense of scale and relation between the interior sets and the shooting models. The Falcon‘s cockpit has always been particularly interesting, since it’s roughly the size of a semi cab, glassed in, and should ostensibly show off the ship’s crew. When I’ve seen Star Wars in theaters (and more recently on Blu-ray), I’ve paid very close attention to its exterior cockpit shots to see how the inner details look from outside. Like, can I see Han and Chewie? How about the fuzzy dice? What’s in the cockpit?

Well, now I know.

The answer is… a trio of old-school LEDs mounted to the pilot’s console. One green, one orange, and a smaller dark red one. When powered up, I would predict these create something similar to white light, obscuring the details of the cockpit interior for the camera. It’s almost a disappointing bit of fakery, except that I’m so in love with the chipped and pitted paint they added to the shooting prop exterior that I can’t really complain about learning the inglorious truth of what’s inside.

5 thoughts on “She’s got it where it counts

  1. This looks like one of the bigger models of the Falcon, which means it may’ve just been used in the first Star Wars movie – ILM built smaller, more lightweight/more maneuverable models of the Falcon for all the acrobatic stunts the ship had to pull off in Empire and Jedi. It’s likely that whoever put this together in had *no* idea just how scrutinized the model would be and just slapped those tweakers on the dash without giving much thought about how the cockpit would look close up.

    (These same guys also put a tiny Playboy poster in the cockpit of Leia’s blockade runner.)

    Holy crap, it just occurred to me – how does Han even fly that thing? Looking at that model, I just realized we never see how the hell he even pilots the Falcon (a flight yoke? A steering wheel? A Wii-mote?), which is especially crazy given the millions of kids who grew up wishing they could fly the Falcon without thinking about how the damned ship even controls!

  2. Another thing the Enterprise and M. Falcon have in common is the assumption that artificial gravity will be a cheap commodity or gadget you can buy at every Wal-Mart. Of course, they have to make that concession for a show that’s shot on the ground, but it still hurts believability.

    One of the biggest opportunities for sci-fi that animation and video games have over live action is the ability to easily portray zero G. Imagine a game like Nights into Dreams, but with a sci-fi theme. Or a music/rhythm game in which the dance moves are an endless series of diving twists and somersaults. It’ll look more dreamy and fantastic than either Star Wars or Star Trek, yet be more realistic.

    Are there any outer-space cartoons or video games that spend most of their time in zero G?

    • You could try Gundam. All of the characters float around and have to rely on handrails and whatnot for most of the time when they’re in space.

    • Shattered Horizon is the only game that comes to mind. I’ve never played it myself — I’ve been frightened off by the system requirements — but by all appearances it’s Deathmatch IN SPACE!!! but informed more by reality than by sci-fi.

      Or, rather, informed more by hard sci-fi than the squishy space opera stuff.

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