Han Solo's iconic ship, the Millennium Falcon, looks a little different in Solo: A Star Wars Story, but concept art for the movie shows that the design changes could have been even more radical. Fans picked up on the new design features from Solo's trailers and images, but technically speaking these features aren't new; they're old. Solo is set ten years before the start of A New Hope, and reveals the story of how exactly the Millennium Falcon transferred ownership from Lando Calrissian to Han Solo.
As we find out in Solo, the Millennium Falcon is the reason behind Lando and Han's first meeting, as Han needs a ship fast enough to transfer a stolen shipment of highly-volative hyperfuel to a refinery before the shipment blows up. It's love at first sight for Han and the Falcon, and by the end of the movie he succeeds in making the ship his own.
The original Millennium Falcon was designed by the late, great Ralph McQuarrie, who passed away in 2012. Lucasfilm's Design Supervisor, James Clyne, spoke to StarWars.com about the process of designing the younger version of the ship. The most obvious departure, of course, is the addition of an escape pod between the two mandibles at the front of the Millennium Falcon. Indeed, many of the changes to the ship are additions - things that are stripped away over the course of the movie, and in the interim ten years between Solo and A New Hope. Clyne explains:
"The way I saw it, it’s like ripping a tablecloth off, you know those magicians that rip a tablecloth off and everything is still there? All the things that we know and love about Han Solo’s ship is underneath that. That was kind of the starting off point."
Clyne and his team actually designed about 60 different versions of the Millennium Falcon for Solo (you can see a few of them above), and used McQuarrie's original designs for the ship as inspiration. "A lot of the early designs were pretty clean, were pretty slick," Clyne explains. The team knew that they needed to find a way to incorporate an escape pod into the ship, since the script called for one, and Clyne ultimately settled on a pod that was integrated into the front of the ship:
“It always had that funny little gap in the front — the mandibles — and even as a kid, I remember getting the Millennium Falcon toy and I always wondered, why is it shaped this way? Was there something that was supposed to go there? Was there more to it? It was always kind of a mystery to me and here I am 40 years later actually having to solve that problem.”
In addition to the bigger changes, Lando's Falcon also has a number of cosmetic embellishments both inside and out, including racing stripes on the hull of the ship. The design team played around with lots of different possible paint jobs, with muscle cars serving as the inspiration (designs included a Millennium Falcon with flames, and one with a Pontiac Trans Am decal). But while Clyne sifted through many different possible details, the ultimate design was fairly sleep and simple. "We dealt in very simple shapes," he explains. "Those shapes become iconic and then it just becomes, I think, Star Wars."
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019