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The timeless majesty of the Millennium Falcon

Contributed by
May 14, 2018

Welcome back to SYFY WIRE's Flight Deck, where we purposely park a classic spaceship from the hallowed halls of geekdom and examine its merits and design in dry dock, before releasing her back into the sterling sanctity of the stars.

In honor of Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story, headed for theaters on May 25, we're kicking the landing skids and peeking under the cowl of the most iconic starship ever to soar the spaceways of a galaxy far, far away -- the Millennium Falcon.

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When you first got a glimpse of "The Falcon" -- whether it was in Mos Eisley's Docking Bay 94 on Tatooine in A New Hope, barely escaping a space slug in The Empire Strikes Back, delivering the killer blow to the Death Star 2 in Return of the Jedi, or sitting sadly neglected in Unkar Plutt's mothballed graveyard on Jakku in The Force Awakens -- it was likely true love at first sight.

With its battered, paint-peeled surface, iconic saucer-shaped hull, radar dish, and jutting starboard-mounted cockpit, this Corellian YT-1300 light freighter holds the distinction of being the most recognized and feared vessel in the Star Wars Universe.

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Over the ages,The Falcon has been upgraded and retrofitted with a number of high-performance enhancements. Built by Corellian Engineering Systems, the grand 100-year-old lady is capably powered by modified Girodyne SRB42 sublight engines supplemented with a SLAM overdrive to rerout energy for quick acceleration bursts when under attack. The bone-stock hyperdrive was smartly replaced with a monkey-rigged Isu-Sim SSP05 unit that allowed her to rate twice the speed of nearly any warship in the entire Galactic Empire fleet.

The smooth criminal Lando Calrissian was the pirate ship's first private owner before Han Solo won her fair and square in a historic game of "Corellian Spike" Sabaac. Long before she was the coveted prize of that epic card game wager, she looked a bit different without her twin mandibles for freight-pushing as a mundane commercial tug. We'll soon see her in her younger years in the upcoming Solo prequel, where no doubt more secrets of her storied past will be revealed, including how Chewbacca became the hairy howling co-pilot.

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From its dirty white exterior, extensive repair roster, buckled armor plating, and special modifications, there's a reason why this Star Wars treasure is so beloved by fans and aficionados around the world. Besides its appearances in five Star Wars Saga installments, this scrappy hunk of junk with its own Dejarik holochess deck and banshee-like scream has become a global cinematic touchstone and pop culture phenomenon that far exceeds its notoriety in the films.

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Legions of followers have embraced this cosmic bird as an inextricable component of their associations with the movies. Her Highness has catapulted herself into the real world with an infinite constellation of Millennium Falcon toys, comics, newspaper strips, YA books, plastic models, card games, LEGO sets, novelty beds, collectible miniatures, video games, nerdy clothing, and tie-in novels like Smuggler's Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure and the recent Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel.

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For one of the finest examples of the Millennium Falcon doing what she does best, leap into the pages of Marvel's Star Wars: Han Solo spinoff miniseries from 2016. Written by Marjorie Liu and matched with breathtaking art by Mark Brooks, it centers around Han and Chewie competing in the legendary galactic race the Dragon Void. George Lucas was so smitten by the absorbing Star Wars title and its sweeping spectacle that he purchased every piece of original art from the first two issues for his personal collection!

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At just 114 feet long, her complement of defensive weapons consists of a pair of CEC AG-2G quadlaser cannon turrets installed in the Falcon's topside and belly for fighting off pesky TIE fighters and stray asteroids.

A single BlasTech Ax-108 "Ground Buzzer" blaster cannon juts out from beside the boarding ramp for mowing down annoying stormtrooper squads attempting to prevent it from blasting its way out of remote outpost spaceports. Two Arakyd ST2 concussion missile tubes round out the effective arsenal.

Oh, and did we mention that she's fast?

Captain Solo's legendary smuggling vessel evolved though several variations in the lengthy preproduction process of George Lucas' old-fashioned, sprawling space opera. Princess Leia's Rebel Blockade Runner named Tantive IV, seen in A New Hope's thunderous opening sequence being pursued by the massive Imperial Star Destroyer, was actually the original design for Han's interstellar hot rod, but it was changed at the 11th hour due to it being too similar to the lunar-white Eagle transport spaceships on TV's Space:1999.

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Rumor has it that the Falcon's rounded shape was partially inspired by a munched-on hamburger at a London restaurant. However, there is also a striking similarity to Valerian's spaceship, the XB982, in the vintage Valerian and Laureline strips and graphic novels by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières.

Check it out and tell us if you think it bears some slight resemblance, with the aft-facing view port likened to the Falcon's blinding horizontal rear thrusters:

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Special effects artist and future director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger) was the chief modelmaker on the Millennium Falcon, and he and his Van Nuys crew kit-bashed the main filming miniature in less than two weeks. Aided by 2001's Colin Cantwell, parts were cannibalized from a stash of plastic models made by Monogram, Revell, Tamiya, and MPC, including detailed kits for race cars, battleships, warbirds, and tanks.

“It was the quickest ship we’ve ever done," Johnston said in an old Starlog interview. "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.”

Screen-used models for A New Hope ranged from palm-sized miniatures to a close-up version measuring over 4 feet in diameter. When Irvin Kershner's The Empire Strikes Back was entering production, a colossal 60-foot exterior replica was built on the cavernous London soundstages.

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Famed concept artist Ralph McQuarrie provided some striking illustrations to guide the filmmakers once the updated design elements of the "flying hamburger" were agreed upon. Many of these memorable paintings are etched indelibly into our brains as the genesis of the project and for some were the earliest images of the Star Wars franchise we ever saw in sci-fi magazines and conventions.

This fresher, pincer-less iteration of the Falcon is close to what we'll be seeing in Solo: A Star Wars Story, before the ravages of time and hard living wore her down. No matter how many times she's gotten our intrepid heroes out of tough scrapes with death, she remains a graceful, resourceful emblem of boundless hope and fierce survival.

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For 41 years, the Millennium Falcon has thrilled theatergoers and sci-fi fans around the planet, inspiring future pilots, engineers, and creative types in every medium. Through dozens of comic book titles, novelizations, video games, expanded universe books, animated specials, newspaper comic strips, sci-fi fanzines, and a supernova of merchandising, this scrappy ship has earned a prominent place in our geeky hearts.

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She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts! What are your favorite Falcon moments? And would this be your go-to ship of choice in the Star Wars Galaxy?