As the gang of explorers stumbled through the woods into a clearing, they finally found what they’d been looking for. They’d heard rumors of a certain intergalactic hunk of junk hiding out in an English forest, but there was no way they could have known for sure it was there. Until, that is, they saw it for themselves. And when they did, they could hardly believe their eyes.
It was a bright spring day when a group of intrepid friends decided to make the journey to a mysterious location to track down an urban legend. And while they didn’t know it yet, great things lay ahead for them.
They grabbed all the supplies that they needed to make the journey into a fully fledged camping trip, including a barbecue and plenty of liquor. After all, explorers need sustenance, too. And with that, they headed into the woods near Longcross Studios, a film and TV production site in southern England.
Within these leafy surroundings, the crew set up camp and managed to have a few hours’ rest. They set their alarms, and when they awoke, they knew it was time to begin their quest in earnest.
Thankfully for the gang, it didn’t take long to find exactly what they were looking for. And once through the trees they quickly discovered that, yes, the rumors were indeed true. But seeing this magnificent vessel in the flesh was no doubt even more amazing than they could have imagined.
For what the explorers had located was something rather remarkable indeed: the legendary Millennium Falcon. This is the most iconic hunk of junk in a galaxy far, far away. And now, there it was, complete and real – the very ship famed for making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. The group couldn’t believe their eyes.
Unfortunately, they hadn’t quite caught Han Solo making a quick cross-galactic pit stop. But they had found something almost as exciting – the set of Star Wars: Episode VIII. The sci-fi sequel won’t arrive in cinemas until December 15, 2017, but filming has already wrapped. And back in May 2016, part of the movie was being made at Longcross.
The Falcon sat at the bottom of a series of stone steps, which led up to a rather peculiar-looking tree. Die-hard Star Wars fans might find this tree familiar from the comic books. Plus, it could prove crucial to the plot of the new movie.
Indeed, the “planet” onto which the gang had stumbled was actually Ahch-To, the island world glimpsed at the end of 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And it’s also precisely where Episode VIII is said to pick up from the last movie.
Meanwhile, the Millennium Falcon isn’t just the most iconic ship in the Star Wars saga, of course. It’s perhaps the most recognizable spacecraft in all of cinema, too. It first appeared on the silver screen in 1977’s A New Hope, when Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi made a daring escape from the Empire on Tatooine.
Of course, throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, the Millennium Falcon was piloted by the infamous smuggler Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford. And in the 1980 sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, it was revealed that he actually came to own the ship after beating his friend Lando Calrissian at a game of cards.
More recently, while we saw Han Solo return to the cockpit of the Falcon in The Force Awakens, the character’s tragic demise means the spacecraft now has a new pilot: Rey. However, we may yet see Captain Solo at the helm again, as he’s getting his own spin-off prequel in 2018.
Of course, although the Falcon may no longer have Han piloting it for the time being, that doesn’t mean it won’t show up in Episode VIII. And as the set photos captured by this curious crew prove, the ship may actually play a major role.
The explorers weren’t content to simply marvel at the amazing exterior of the real-life ship, however. And so it wasn’t long before they ventured to take a look inside. But while the outside might be an exact replica of what we see on screen, the interior is a bit different. Indeed, it’s actually just structural pieces of wood and scaffolding.
When it was time to build the Falcon again for The Force Awakens, the filmmakers noticed something peculiar about the original ship. Production designer Darren Gilford told Wired, “We quickly realized that there wasn’t one design of the Falcon, there were three. It was subtly different in each of the original films. For example, the cockpit’s bigger in The Empire Strikes Back – they extended it by two or three feet because they had to get so many people in it.”
Another notable change was made to the Falcon when updating it for the new movies. The original round radar dish was memorably snapped off during the attack on the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. And so for The Force Awakens, the designers decided to add a smaller, rectangular dish instead.
But according to Jon Chase, co-author of The Science of Star Wars, if the Falcon were a real vessel, that radar dish would just snap off anyway. Apparently, the craft’s top speed of 600 mph would simply be too much to handle.
Meanwhile, the original concept for the Millennium Falcon was actually totally different to the craft you see here. A long, cylindrical beast, it was abandoned for looking too much like a spaceship in a British TV show. Later, however, it became the Rebel Blockade Runner from the opening shot of A New Hope.
Back in England, even the surface underneath the Falcon turned out to be artificially constructed – proving the lengths the filmmakers are prepared to go to for perfection. That’s not much of a surprise, though, when you take into account the massive budget they’re undoubtedly working with.
And so even though the guys knew what to expect when they headed off into the woods on that mid-May morning, nothing could really have prepared them for the exhilaration of walking out of the trees and seeing the actual Millennium Falcon sitting there. It’s an experience any Star Wars fan, young or old, will treasure forever. The rest of us, meanwhile, will just have to wait for Episode VIII to see the Falcon on the big screen again.