Star Wars set dec­o­ra­tor Roger Chris­tian tells Oliver Pfeif­fer how he helped cre­ate a sci- fi clas­sic

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We chat to one of the cre­ators of sci- fi’s most iconic space­ship.

If ever a space­ship be­came syn­ony­mous with a screen char­ac­ter it’s the Mil­len­nium Fal­con. Just as vet­eran Star Wars space pi­rate Han Solo will make an ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated re­turn in The Force Awak­ens, so too will the ship that fa­mously made the Kes­sel Run in less than 12 par­secs. But the iconic bucket- of- bolts may have lost some of that es­sen­tial ap­peal had its orig­i­nal, far more con­ven­tional de­sign been brought to the screen back in 1977...

“The first con­cept was felt to look very sim­i­lar to another ship seen on the TV se­ries Space: 1999,” says Roger Chris­tian, the Os­car- win­ning set dec­o­ra­tor be­hind Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, who was tasked with the con­struc­tion of the Fal­con. “I think Ge­orge [ Lu­cas] ac­ci­den­tally said ‘ make it like a ham­burger!’ which was his favourite food at the time.”

Pro­duc­tion il­lus­tra­tor Ralph McQuar­rie’s orig­i­nally lin­ear Fal­con de­sign was in­stead mod­i­fied into the Rebels’ Block­ade Run­ner, Tan­tive IV, the first ship seen en­ter­ing the Star Wars uni­verse in A New Hope. In fact the only no­tice­able de­sign as­pect that was utilised from McQuar­rie’s orig­i­nal con­cept was the cock­pit, which de­rived from the Boe­ing B- 29 Su­per­fortress – a fighter plane used in World War Two. Sig­nif­i­cantly, McQuar­rie’s Fal­con re­aligned that cock­pit from a con­ven­tional front po­si­tion­ing to the rather ir­reg­u­lar side of that “half- eaten ham­burger” de­sign. “I think that was great – it cre­ated a ship that had never been seen be­fore or since and that round shape has be­come a very iconic kind of im­age,” re­flects Chris­tian.

From McQuar­rie’s paint­ing, minia­ture ef­fects il­lus­tra­tor and de­signer Joe John­ston drew fur­ther sketches and made a minia­ture model, en­abling the de­sign process to evolve fur­ther. “He laughs about it now be­cause it was lit­er­ally mak­ing a ham­burger into a ship!” says Chris­tian. “We never met be­cause we were on two dif­fer­ent sides of the At­lantic and there wasn’t email. We’d just get a pack­age once a week and we’d look and go, ‘ Oh my god this is what we gotta build!’ and we’d send back draw­ings. That’s how it was done in those early days.”

And it was from John­ston’s model that the set dec­o­ra­tor in­her­ited an ap­par­ent de­fect that was nev­er­the­less built into the ship. “Joe was

con­struct­ing the model and he saw a piece he didn’t like and knocked it off but we in­her­ited that and it got built full size,” he re­veals. “There’s a piece of the Fal­con that’s ac­tu­ally like bad glue, although you wouldn’t be able to tell now. Joe now says, ‘ You built our mis­take into the full sized ship!’”

a new, old ship

Es­sen­tial to the dis­tinc­tive de­sign and feel of the Fal­con was achiev­ing a lived- in look that was light years away from the clean- cut aes­thet­ics of space­ships seen in count­less films and TV shows. “Ge­orge said the Fal­con had been re­paired and re­paired and bro­ken down nu­mer­ous times, and that Han had no money so he con­stantly stuck bits onto it and bought sec­ond- hand parts to some­how keep it go­ing,” re­veals Chris­tian. “It was like hav­ing an old race­car that’s still re­ally fast and could do ev­ery­thing but it was on faith and string. We were never given the age of the Fal­con but we knew it was older than Han and that it had been through the wars – so that was our take on it. It was the first thing in the film that looked re­ally aged and set the tone for ev­ery­thing.”

Os­car- nom­i­nated art di­rec­tor Harry Lange, who was be­hind the in­te­ri­ors on Stan­ley Kubrick’s 1968 epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, was ap­pointed to work on the Fal­con’s cock­pit. “He cre­ated the pan­els and switches slightly like 2001 was done and then I came along and


own to

Con­cept art for the fastest hunk of junk in the gal­axy. Build­ing the smaller ver­sion – although it was still pretty big!

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