'Star Wars' fans join to build Millennium Falcon
05:00 AM, Dec 26, 2012
Chris Lee’s first thought after seeing the Millennium Falcon was a bit different from Luke Skywalker’s.
“When they walk down the stairs into the docking bay and Luke looks up and goes, ‘What a piece of junk!’ as soon as he said that, I had the opposite reaction,” Lee said. “I was like, ‘It’s not a piece of junk. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve got to have me one of these!’ “
Lee’s dream, hatched when he was a 12-year-old watching the first Star Wars movie in 1977, wasn’t simply a boyhood fantasy. It just might come true one day.
The Nashville man and other fans around the world have started building a full-scale, 114-foot-long replica of the Millennium Falcon, the clunky but speedy spaceship that carried Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca and company around that famous “galaxy far, far away.” They plan to make both the exterior and interior look exactly like what’s seen in the movies, down to every last button, switch, antenna, quad gun and hidden compartment.
“This is the real thing,” said Greg Dietrich, 43, a graphic artist who has been building the ship’s cockpit at his home in Huntsville, Ala., since April.
These fans admit they’re operating at, well, a fairly high level of geekdom.
“Our great-grandkids will be rolling their eyes at us,” said Lee’s fiancee, Leah D’Andrea, who pronounces her first name the same way as the princess played by Carrie Fisher.
“It’s kind of hard to impress a woman when you’re building a spaceship,” joked Dietrich.
But, like anyone with a true passion for something, they don’t really care what anyone else thinks.
Lee, a lifelong builder and tinkerer who oversees software development for Anode Inc., said he thought for years about building a model or making a room look like the Falcon. He finally decided to go big really big.
“Now it’s looking like it might actually be possible with the help of a few thousand of my friends,” he said.
Lee, Dietrich and others, after connecting through the Internet, are operating out of their own garages and work spaces for now. Offers to help have come from far and wide, including an executive at Elstree Studios in Great Britain, where the movies were made.
Stinson Lenz, who studies art and works for a non-profit organization in Philadelphia, designed the virtual model for the entire, full-scale ship.
“One of the big pleasures of the project is finding all the little secrets of the Millennium Falcon’s construction, both inside and out,” Lenz, 26, wrote in an e-mail.
Eventually the far-flung Falcon tribe will gather in Tennessee and move the many parts to an 88-acre property Lee owns in the woods of Humphreys County, west of Dickson.
Lee is having a 400-by-400-foot area cleared for the construction site. He said the Millennium Falcon would stay there, and he’s thinking about what else the place could become: a non-profit, perhaps, or a “maker camp” that encourages all kinds of creativity and construction, with “this spaceship out in the middle of the property.”
“It’s going to be one of those tinkering, sort of garage-mechanic situations where it’s never going to be done,” he said.
This is nothing new for Lee, though the order of magnitude is much different this time.
He’s a member of the 501st Legion of Imperial Stormtroopers, a group of Star Wars costume enthusiasts. He and D’Andrea met at a Dragon Con convention in Atlanta six years ago, and he proposed to her at the Star Wars Celebration last summer in Orlando by giving her a replica of a necklace worn by Princess Leia. It was made by the same Finnish jeweler who fashioned the movie prop.
Lee has built his own R2D2. (He’s in a group for that, too.) He refers to the whole robot, a 250-pound magnet for children at parties, as “him.” There’s also a “disco stormtrooper” outfit, complete with LED panels, that he wears to some events. In the backyard sits a trailer with a picture on the side of Lee dressed as a biker scout and two friends outfitted as stormtroopers. A sign on the trailer reads: “Star Wars: Orlando or Bust.”
The Falcon project is “just an extension” of that kind of work, Lee said. “It makes real that imaginary universe.”
Lee said he expects the whole project to take at least five years and cost $200,000 to $800,000. Dietrich, who hasn’t met Lee in person yet but plans to soon, said he hasn’t kept up with his own expenses.
“It’s such a labor of love that the cost really doesn’t matter,” he said.
That labor of love started with figuring out the true dimensions of the Millennium Falcon. Lee and Lenz said the cockpit and other interior rooms were built to a larger scale than the ship’s shell on the Star Wars sets. They and other researchers came to almost the same conclusions about the space that would be needed to accommodate the interior.
“As far as I know, no concrete numbers exist, so there’s a lot of extrapolation that has to take place,” Lenz wrote. “The length of the original sets was a bit more than 86 (feet) and for our purposes, the length will be 114.”
The ship will be built with a concrete foundation and piers and a steel beam superstructure, the group’s website says. Sheet metal, plywood and other materials will be in the mix, as well. Dietrich said Canyon Wren, a man who lives in the United Kingdom, is making resin copies of the more than 400 switches on the cockpit console. Lee has parts from an old Volvo and a Rolls-Royce aircraft engine.
While Lee said the process of building the full-scale Falcon is in some ways more important than finishing it, he did take note in October when Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion and said it would restart the franchise.
“Maybe they need a set,” he said.