Geek Trivia: Eagles over (Millennium) Falcons

What other famous science-fiction spaceship forced a redesign of the original Millennium Falcon model for the original <i>Star Wars</i> film?

This week's edition of Geek Trivia includes a special shout-out to CNET engineer extraordinaire Bryan Peabody, who put me on the scent of some of this week's magnificent minutiae.

When a full-scale model of a certain world-famous fictional spacecraft was under construction in a decommissioned Welsh aircraft hangar in 1979, locals referred to it only as the Magic Roundabout. Today, geeks the world over know this craft by sight, by name, by its pilot, and by virtue of the uber-popular science-fantasy franchise it helped launch. We speak, of course, of the Millennium Falcon.

Piloted by Han Solo, maintained by Chewbacca, originally owned and nearly destroyed by Lando Calrissian, and lifesaving transport of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia, R2-D2, C-3P0, and Luke Skywalker, the Millennium Falcon is the preferred star-freighter for fans of the George Lucas Star Wars franchise. But you knew that already—otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this column.

In fact, even money says you also knew that the Millennium Falcon was a heavily customized version of the a standard YT-1300 Corellian Transport that—thanks to some "special modifications"—can achieve the vaunted hyperspace velocities of "point-five past lightspeed," which in turn enabled Han Solo to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. This is all padawan-level stuff for the average Star Wars fan.

(Yes, we all know that a parsec is measure of distance, rather than of time, but if you start quibbling with those details, you have to ask what "point-five past lightspeed" means, why relativistic time dilation never applies for the Falcon's trans-luminal travels, and why any technological civilization that can solve such problems can't make a targeting computer that would bulls-eye a two-meter thermal exhaust port. It's just best not to go there.)

Slightly higher up the Jedi geek-o-meter is the knowledge that George Lucas' inspiration for the Falcon's counterintuitive quasi-flying saucer design came from staring at a half-eaten hamburger. To kick it up another dorkish notch, you probably know that the inspiration for the Falcon's bizarre outrigger cockpit came from an olive used to garnish said half-eaten hamburger.

Your knowledge of the Force must be truly great, however, if you're aware that the famous design for the Falcon was a last-minute change during the original Star Wars production—one caused by the original Falcon model's uncomfortable similarity to another famous science-fiction spaceship.


What other semi-famous science-fiction spaceship bore an uncomfortable similarity to the original design for the Millennium Falcon, forcing George Lucas to revamp the legendary craft into the now familiar saucer-and-outrigger-cockpit shape it sported during the original Star Wars film trilogy?

The Eagle shuttle used by the Moonbase Alpha crew in the British sci-fi television series Space: 1999 looked remarkably close to George Lucas' original conception of Millennium Falcon. When compared side-by-side, the Space: 1999 Eagle transporter and the original Millennium Falcon model aren't exactly identical twins, but they were still too close for Lucas' comfort, considering the filmmaker was trying to carve out a bold new vision of space opera while consciously avoiding any direct homage to then-contemporary sci-fi movies or television.

And make no mistake, when Space: 1999 ran between 1975 and 1978, it was arguably the most ambitious sci-fi show on television, sharing some direct production ties—notably effects director Brian Johnson—with Stanley Kubrick's groundbreaking 1968 film version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Thus, any sci-fi film planning to debut on Memorial Day in 1977 had best take the Space: 1999 factor into account.

Thankfully, Lucas' revised design was not only viable, but beloved. As for the original Falcon model, it not only didn't get cut from the production—it garnered one of the most portentous and visible spots in the entire original Star Wars film.

Since the effects team had already developed the original Falcon as a hyper-detailed model—the better for use in close-ups—it seemed a waste not to use it. So Lucas had its cockpit modified—insisting on preserving the original spider-web-windowed cockpit for use in the new Falcon, if only to make the exteriors match the already-shot interior sequences—and dropped it into another role where visual first impressions were paramount.

The modified original Millennium Falcon became the first spacecraft ever shown in a Star Wars film, reborn as the Tantive IV, Princess Leia's Corellian Corvette blockade runner that booms overhead in Star Wars' first scene, relentlessly pursued by Darth Vader's Imperial Star Destroyer.

The same ship (though, obviously, not the same production model) appeared again in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, used by Leia's adopted father, Senator Bail Organa, who presumably later bequeathed the vessel to his daughter. That's not just artistic closure, my friends, that's great Geek Trivia.

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The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes from the March 8 edition of Geek Trivia, "Life, the universe, and Easter eggs." TechRepublic member Iguanasrule called me out for forgetting another more 'prominent'—and we're talking about an Apple product, so I use this term loosely—bit of software that contains a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-themed 42-based Easter egg.

"Those of you who use Apple OS X will also see it on the scientific calculator. It's on the start-up screen and can be found under Ultimate Answer in the Constants menu."

Shocking as it may seem, I don't have any more than a passing knowledge of Mac OS X, but thanks for letting us know that even Apple developers have a taste for decent science-fiction comedy. Keep up the good work, and keep those quibbles coming!

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The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

By Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...