How scrap metal became cinematic gold
Production designer John Barry didn’t have the stage size to build the entire ship so only half of the Falcon was actually constructed. Matte painting was used to realise the other half of the ship.
To construct the Millennium Falcon, scaffolding was first assembled, then a wooden frame was built before plywood panels with actual scrap metal parts were screwed on. These were cast in plaster to replicate the design. The scrap was all sourced from discarded aircraft carrier parts.
Set decorator Roger Christian also used scrapped undercarriage from eight massive RAF aircraft transport carriers to help dress the exterior of the Falcon.
Christian carefully observed how aircraft were fuelled and as a result hung similar pipes and oil drips from the Falcon’s exterior to further enhance its raw and realistic look.
PVC piping and a mixture of prebuilt switch panels were used to make up the interior of the Main Hold control section. The remainder of the interior walls was built up layer upon layer with pipes and selected pieces of airplane scrap. Oil and rust was used to give the Falcon that unmistakable lived- in aged look.
Jet fighter seats were sourced and adapted for the Falcon’s cockpit. The lever Han uses to enter hyperspace was also scoured from scrap aeroplane parts.
Due to budget restrictions, instead of building an expensive gimbal to twist and turn the cockpit set during combat scenes, the camera was tilted accordingly to mimic movement.
Upon completion of production the Falcon was dismantled to make room for Stanley Kubrick’s work on The Shining. An entirely new Falcon was built for subsequent Star Wars films.
Roger Christian won an Oscar for his Star Wars set decoration and has fittingly titled his forthcoming memoir Cinema Alchemist, ( about his work on the set decoration in Star Wars and Alien) because he says he managed to turn scrap metal into gold!