Update: this article has been expanded and clarified with additional information thanks to reveals made on The Star Wars Show.
The first trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story is finally here, offering looks at a lot of familiar Star Wars elements along with a number of fresh additions. But one reveal straddled the line between new and familiar, and that's the Millennium Falcon bursting onto the scene with a familiar crew and the same general shape, but this is clearly not the same version of this ship fans know and love from the Star Wars original trilogy and sequel trilogy. This ship looks newer, sleeker, has a pointed nose, flat sensor dish, and a fresh coat of paint.
We've already gotten a few glimpses of this new design through some leaked promo material and LEGO sets, but the trailer gives us our first glimpse of this new (or old) design in action. Han was always proud about the "special modifications" he'd made to the Falcon, and Lando, the ship's former owner, immediately exclaimed "what have you done to my ship" upon seeing her in The Empire Strikes Back. She's spent her cinematic history in various states of disrepair, so the notion that she's evolved a bit over the years is far from crazy, but the true extent of that evolution may be a bit of a surprise.
Nevertheless, while more cynical fans will dismiss the redesign as a merchandising cash grab, the basic differences are fairly clear and could give us an idea of exactly what the rogueish smuggler changed about his prized vessel over the years.
A New Sensor Dish
The first time we saw the Millennium Falcon, it was sporting a circular sensor dish on top, but it had been destroyed by the end of Return of the Jedi when Lando knocks it off during the escape from the innards of the second Death Star. When the falcon shows up again in The Force Awakens, it has a rectangular dish. So, this isn't the first time we've seen that particular part of the iconic ship change, but the dish seen on top of the old Corellian freighter in Solo: A Star Wars Story is a little different.
This new Falcon has what resembles a circular dish on top, but it lays flat against the surface of the vessel, making it more of a small dome than the upright dishes we've seen before. While a relatively minor change, it drastically changes the ship's profile, giving it a much sleeker look than in the past, also, presumably, allowing the ship to fit through tighter spaces without knocking it off.
The Fresh Paint Job
The characters in Star Wars have never hesitated to call the Falcon a "hunk of junk" or "garbage," and - while the ship was constantly seeing mechanical issues - the paint job (or lack thereof) could be seen as a big factor. The Falcon's color was a dingy gray with rust red (or just plain rust) spots breaking up the various shades of greasy gray.
In Solo: A Star Wars Stor, presumably thanks to the likes of the much more stylish Lando Calrissian (played by Donald Glover in the prequel), the Millennium Falcon is much more freshly painted, with a stark white undercoat with blue highlights. Combined with the flat sensor package and pointed nose (which we'll get to momentarily), this gives the ship a much sportier appearance, making her look fresher and faster than ever before.
The Falcon's famous quad laser cannon turrets are missing in favor of a much smaller single gun on top, again, more in line with early designs by Ralph Mcquarrie. The single gun appears to still be a turret, but obviously is much less firepower than the ship packs in the original trilogy, a very understandable (and handy) upgrade.
It's not clear if this version also has a ventral gun turret, but old expanded universe designs for the stock YT-1300 light freighter depict it with a sole dorsal quad laser cannon, with the Falcon's ventral turret being one of Han's many upgrades. The pointed nose and single gun instead of a quad cannon are already a departure from this original design, though, so there's no reason to adhere to that, it's merely the most complete original design we have to compare it to at this time.
No More Forward Mandibles
The biggest difference most people will spot right away is the longer and more pointed nose. This change isn't only cosmetic but possibly structural, also changing decades of commonly held Star Wars knowledge about the appearance of a "stock" YT-1300. As a light freighter, the Falcon's mandibles have always been assumed to have a cargo storage and transport purpose, and some fans have even drawn up concepts of how the pointed tip could just be a cargo attachment, but the design isn't simply a classic Falcon with the space between the mandibles filled in, there was actually a significantly longer tip, essentially chopped in half to become the mandibles we know.
So what was changed and why? We have diagrams of the modified Falcon and know what that section is comprised of, so while we don't know why the changes were made, it is possible to do a little reverse engineering to figure it out. The most notable equipment located in this area from the modified version is the concussion missile launchers. It's hard to imagine that those are stock equipment on a YT-1300, but it's also hard to imagine that a weapons upgrade alone would lead them to tear the ship apart. There's a loading bay and cargo area also nearby, but the vehicle would presumably have more space with the original design.
A much more simple answer is that the changes weren't due to a voluntary modification, but a patch job on some major damage. The mandibles of the latter timeline falcon look very structural and could merely be what's left after the front of the ship was blown off and instead of repairing it back to its original condition, Han and Chewie merely did what they could, never having the proper funds to get the ship back into tip-top shape again.
Finally, it's worth considering the possibility that the sleeker pointed bow is not the original design at all, and merely an aesthetic upgrade installed by Lando, who would far more concerned with how the ship looked than its core function as a freighter as opposed to Han, who was a little more utilitarian.
Whatever the origin of these differences or, or how it ends up looking the way we're familiar with, Solo appears to have just as many tricks up its sleeve as its namesake character, and the appearance of the Falcon is just one such reveal about which we're excited to learn more.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019