Why the Millennium Falcon is the biggest Star Wars star

Punch it, Chewie! Old-school fans still have faith in the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, which flies again in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
6 min read

Just as it's impossible to think of Han Solo without Wookiee pal Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), it's also tough to think of the two pilots without their ship, that scrappy modified Corellian freighter known as the Millennium Falcon, which flies again this month in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

"Every kid wanted to be Han, and every kid wanted to fly the Millennium Falcon," said Tom Berges, one of the administrators of the I Grew Up Star Wars Facebook page


"You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs." But parsecs are a... never mind.


The group caters to old-school fans who were watching the original trilogy and playing with  Star Wars   toys  from 1977 into the 1980s. Berges himself first saw the Falcon onscreen in 1977 and treasured the die-cast version of the Falcon he received in 1979.

"Han Solo is one of the most iconic characters in all of Star Wars lore, and his ship is of course just as iconic and important to the story," he says.


Hail, hail, the old gang's all here.


On Ranker.com, the Millennium Falcon easily nabbed the top spot in a poll of readers' favorite sci-fi spaceships (the U.S.S. Enterprise landed at No. 6). 

"What is there to say that hasn't been said?" the site wrote. "The most famous ship from Star Wars looks cool, it handles like a dream, and it's fast!"

Fans know the ship's backstory as well as they know their own names. Solo won the ship from Lando Calrissian in the card game sabacc sometime before the events of the first Star Wars film, used it in his work as a smuggler, and then met up with Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi at the Mos Eisley Cantina for the most famous charter agreement in galaxy history.

The Falcon reportedly inspired Joss Whedon to create Serenity, the ship on his acclaimed space drama Firefly. (Mal Reynolds takes some obvious inspiration from Han Solo, too.) SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reportedly named his company's Falcon rockets after Solo's ship. Adidas based a shoe design on the ship's proud but battered exterior.


She's the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.


"I would think the Falcon holds a special place in the hearts of all Star Wars fans," said Sean Fuller, who runs the  Facebook  page All Things R2. "It has become a character in the saga at this point."

Not all of the characters who actually rode in the Falcon loved it at first sight. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) didn't mince words in 1977's original Star Wars film, exclaiming, "What a piece of junk!" 

You can't blame the kid from Tatooine for not wanting to risk his life in the ship his twin sister Leia later dismisses as a "bucket of bolts." In the later movies, Rey calls it "garbage," and Kylo Ren echos Uncle Luke, sneering that it's a "piece of junk."

But the Falcon as seen in teasers for Solo: A Star Wars Story is a revelation. It features a circular radar dish facing upward (not forward), displays a complete front end, and features a blue-and-white color scheme, not its usual gray.

It's... new. Clean. And bright. The hallways positively sparkle. It's definitely a different look for the iconic ship, for good or for bad.


Was Lando just that much cleaner than Han? These hallways are immaculate.


"A clean version of the Millennium Falcon is sort of, in a way very jarring," Berges said. "It's clear that Han and Chewie needed to hire some help cleaning that thing. What we've seen of the clean Falcon seems to fall in line for an off-the-lot Corellian freighter, I suppose. I don't have any idea what the new nose cone does, but we shall see."


The Falcon shown in trailers for Solo: A Star Wars Story seems to have been run through a space car wash.

Video screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper/CNET

Brandon Beekman, an administrator at I Grew Up Star Wars, says change could be tough for old-school fans.

"When you've come to know something for 40-plus years, it is a little jarring to see it represented differently," Beekman admits. "I always adored the look of the original trilogy with everything having that lived-in, used look."


The Falcon has humble origins, but Han Solo's "made a lot of special modifications" himself.


The Falcon was prominent in the first three Star Wars movies, but it's also made a resurgence in this most recent trilogy, from its discovery by Rey and Finn in Unkar Plutt's junkyard on Jakuu in The Force Awakens to its triumphant flight in the Battle of Crait in The Last Jedi.

But it's odd to see the Falcon flying without Han.

"The Millennium Falcon will always be Han Solo's ship," Berges says.


Chewie's still there, now with Rey by his side, but Han Solo is much missed.


Fuller agrees. "It's not the same without Han in the pilot seat," he said of the new trilogy. "While I'm glad (the Falcon is) still around, it really is hard to see someone else in that seat."

Part of why fans love the Millennium Falcon so much may be their personal experience with it in toy form. The fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy flew into kids' homes long before kids knew anything about video games or computers, and fought many a battle on 1970s shag carpeting. 

Famed toymaker Kenner sold over 300 million Star Wars toys from 1978 to 1985, according to StarWars.com. One of its most memorable items was the model of the Millennium Falcon, which sold for $29.99 -- an enormous amount for a toy back then. It was 20 inches long (53 cm), which, as StarWars.com points out, was almost four times too small compared to the 3-inch (10 cm) figure of Han Solo. 


Brandon Beekman, seen here in 1980, shows off his Millennium Falcon in a bedroom that's very much part of a galaxy far, far away.

Courtesy I Grew Up Star Wars Facebook page

 It's nothing like the $800 Lego version that came out in 2017 and is called Lego's biggest playset ever, but that didn't matter to kids of the 1970s and 1980s.

"Such an impressive toy for that time, and it packs a lot of fun into the package," Beekman said. "I currently have a vintage one on display in my office."  

Fuller agrees. "The original Kenner Falcon is one of my favorite toys of all time," he said. "No other versions will ever eclipse it. But my son did get the big Falcon that Hasbro made a few years ago, and it is an amazing toy for a new generation."


Sean Fuller's brother explains the nuances of slot-car controllers at Christmas 1979. A Kenner Millennium Falcon looms behind Sean, aching to be loaded with Star Wars figures. 

Courtesy I Grew Up Star Wars Facebook page

Falcon aside, Solo: A Star Wars Story poses some challenges for old-school fans.

"None of us were looking for a Han Solo backstory," Berges points out. But he allows, "the famed Kessel Run might be interesting to see."


Tom Berges, left, at Thanksgiving dinner 1980, says he wore his Millennium Falcon shirt "until it fell off my shoulders." He had it made at an iron-on T-shirt shop (youngsters, ask your nearest child of the '70s or '80s). "I can still smell the waxy smell of the iron-on transfer cooking onto the shirt," Berges says. "Good times!'

Courtesy I Grew Up Star Wars Facebook page

Says Fuller: "I hope we see how the ship changes to become the version we grew up with. And I look forward to seeing the moment when her ownership changes hands."

Fans who watch Solo: A Star Wars Story will get to turn back the clock and see the Falcon become new again. But Luke Skywalker must do the opposite in the new trilogy, when he boards the now-aged ship that saved his life so many years ago and finds himself overwhelmed with memories.


There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed.


"Seeing the Falcon in The Force Awakens was one of the best parts of the film," says Fuller. "I wish we'd have seen Han piloting her a little more -- maybe in the midst of a chase or battle. And the scenes with Luke and R2 on the Falcon in The Last Jedi are meaningful to us older fans."


She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.


The jury is still out on the new guy in the Falcon's cockpit, Alden Ehrenreich. 

Like many fans, Beekman and Berges say they thought Anthony Ingruber, well-known for his similarities to Harrison , would've been a good casting choice. Ingruber even played a younger version of Ford's character William in the 2015 drama, The Age of Adaline.


The Solo: A Star Wars Story crew aboard the cleaned-up Falcon: Alden Ehrenreich plays Han Solo, with Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, the Falcon's original owner, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the voice of the droid L3-37.


"Change, particularly with Star Wars fans, is difficult sometimes," Fuller says. "Any actor was going to have a hard time being compared to Ford. Ford is an icon and one of the leading actors of his generation. ... I'm withholding judgment at this point."

Human characters can be recast, aged, or killed off, but in a galaxy of change, the Millennium Falcon remains comfortingly consistent -- even after it's been cleaned.

"The Millennium Falcon is no doubt a major character in the Star Wars saga," says Berges. "It's like a best friend; you need it to be there."

Solo: A Star Wars story opens May 24 in the U.K. and Australia, and May 25 in the U.S.

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