Ship out on Boba Fett's Slave 1 spacecraft

Contributed by
Jan 20, 2018

Welcome back to SYFY WIRE's Flight Deck, where we present for your inspection some of the best-known, most desirable TV and movie spaceships that ever soared the starlit expanses of the geek galaxy.

Credit: Doug Chiang

This week we're turning our attention to the unconventionally shaped outlaw craft of the notorious Star Wars bounty hunter Boba Fett. The Slave 1 might not be the sexiest, sleekest starship in the universe, but its "steam-iron" silhouette and unusual flight position make it an intriguing, disintegration-free choice to check out.

Boba Fett's Slave 1 nearly made its first appearance in the most unlikeliest of places, the infamously bad Star Wars Holiday Special from December of 1978 that aired on the CBS network. Fett was introduced during a nine-minute animated sequence that was arguably the best part of that atrocious show. Instead of jockeying a sinister spaceship, he rode astride a ginormous purple dinosaur creature that would have been a bit impractical as space-bound transportation outside an actual atmosphere.

Searching into the ownership records of the strange-looking ship, the Slave I is a modified Firespray-31-class patrol and attack vessel that was initially piloted by the Mandalorian bounty hunter Jango Fett prior to the Clone Wars. It was produced in limited quantities by Kuat Systems Manufacturing on the industrial planet Kuat.

Jango cleverly equipped his craft with a variety of wicked weapons, including a rotating blaster cannon, proton torpedo tubes, laser cannons, a concussion missile launcher, a tractor beam projector, concealed projectile launchers, and a sound-splitting complement of multiple seismic charges for good measure.

After Jango's demise during the Battle of Geonosis in Attack of the Clones at the hands of Mace Winduthe deadly craft came into the possession of his precocious young son, Boba Fett, who used it exclusively throughout his own legendary bounty-hunting career for the next three decades.

Its most recognizable mission originally came in The Empire Strikes Back and involved Boba loading Han Solo frozen in carbonite into the Slave I to transport him off Cloud City and deliver him to Jabba the Hutt on Luke's home planet of Tatooine.

The notion that the character of Boba Fett, who didn't show up until the second screenplay draft of The Empire Strikes Back, when it became apparent he would need a spaceship to perform his dark deeds. Famed concept artists Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston were assigned to come up with sketches and designs for the mysterious craft, but ultimately the refinement and final product were designed by Nilo Rodis-Jamero.

Credit: Nilo Rodis-Jamero

Some of the earliest concepts by Rodis-Jamero were influenced by an oblong radar dish he'd seen, with a curvy, spherical shape. An elliptical version that would rotate from horizontal to vertical upon takeoff and landing was further altered into the familiar "steam iron" shape we know today.

One urban legend states that the Slave 1 was inspired by the ball-shaped street lamps that lined the lanes outside Industrial Light & Magic's Marin County, California, headquarters.

Credit: Nilo Rodis-Jamero

During the preproduction process for The Empire Strikes Back, model building for Boba's badass spy cruiser was assigned to ILM's Lorne Peterson and his effects team. Ease Owyeung (standing to the right of Peterson below) was responsible for much of the miniature's fine detailing, including the unusual cockpit arrangement.

Credit: Lucasfilm

The effect of Han in carbonite being stowed in the cargo hold of the Slave 1 on the east landing platform of administrator Lando Calrissian's Cloud City used a matte painting by Harrison Ellenshaw.  This illusion was combined with a photo of the ship model, then matched with live-action footage of Jeremy Bulloch, an Imperial officer, a stormtrooper guard, and the entombed smuggler. Ken Ralston's visual effects crew handled the actual filming of Slave 1.

Credit: Lucasfilm

To conjure up the distinctive sound for the Slave I, Star Wars' Academy Award-winning sound wizard Ben Burtt was careful to analyze the purpose, design, and capabilities of the fictitious bounty hunter craft. The unique noise was created by combining a trumpet’s whine with the blaring horn of his 1971 Dodge Duster cruising on a desert road.

Though the Slave 1 never made an encore performance in Return of the Jedi, its resurrection in Attack of the Clones gave audiences a chill of pure nostalgia, especially while chasing Obi-Wan through an asteroid belt and lobbing seismic charges and crimson lasers at his Jedi enemy.

Now one of the most loved starships in the Star Wars Saga, the Fett family's striking spaceship has found new life in the toy market as a scale model kit, deluxe LEGO release, and numerous posters, playsets, action figure combos, and die-cast replicas.

Where do you think the Slave 1 ranks in the pantheon of outer-space vehicles from a galaxy far, far away?