Earlier this month I mentioned my childhood obsession with Star Wars (an epidemic among us pre-teens at the turn of the '80s), and the fabulous Millennium Falcon book one of my daughters bought me for Christmas this year. Flipping through that book reminded me that the Falcon remains my favourite fictional spaceship of all time.
A big part of that is how real the Star Wars movies made it. Not only did it fly through space in special effects shots, but there was a full-size version built for the movie soundstages, plus the interior and cockpit sets. Movie viewers got a sense of the size and arrangement of the ship. One of the key innovations in Star Wars was also how lived-in the worlds and the hardware looked, none more so than the Falcon: there are blast marks and missing panels on the outside, and scuffs and dirt around the interior. The shape is also asymmetrical and strange, yet somehow right, both messily off-kilter and sleek at the same time.
Perhaps most importantly, the Falcon is just the right size and design for an imaginative kid to dream about. Star Trek's USS Enterprise is fantastic too, but it's huge, like the Navy ships it's named after—or an ocean liner. Big, quiet, efficient, run by a crew of hundreds. (Same problem with a Star Destroyer.) Smaller vessels like the X-wing fighter or Cylon raider are too cramped: just a cockpit and nowhere else for a pilot to go.
But the Falcon is like a motor home crossed with a Ferrari. It's beat up, but hot-rodded too. There's room inside to sit at the controls, and sleep, and eat, and stash cargo—it's a working ship with the proper facilities. (The movies never show a bathroom, but you know it's there. Probably a beer fridge too.) There's space to hang out with your friends, and space to be alone. My nerdy young self could imagine a long cross-Galaxy hyperspace voyage, like a desert road trip here on Earth. With just Han Solo and Chewbacca on board, Chewie would take his turn at the controls, and maybe I—ahem, I mean Han—would walk back into the hull, climb up the ladder to one of the gun turrets, sit in the perpendicular gravity of the gunner's chair, and watch the stars whiz by overhead.
I had my own version of the Millennium Falcon in our basement, which I wrote about a year ago. It's a tribute to that ship's appeal that we could reproduce it satisfactorily with a ping pong table and some big cardboard boxes.
The Eagle Transporter from Space: 1999 is a close second on my list of favourite spacecraft for similar reasons: it's a sort of spacefaring Winnebago too, a no-nonsense, utilitarian ship. The Eagle is not quite as cool as the Falcon, though, because it's just as much a lumpy utility vehicle as it looks. There were dozens of transporters at Moonbase Alpha, but only one Falcon anywhere in the Galactic Empire. And there are no hot-rod secrets under the Eagle's hood—plus no hyperdrive or giant furry co-pilot either, of course.