Millennium Falcon exhibition opens in Welsh town where ship was built

It is perhaps the most recognisable and beloved spaceship in movie history – a battered old warrior of a vessel that got Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the rest of the Star Wars crew out of – and into – a string of sci-fi scrapes.

What is not so well known is that the Millennium Falcon, or at least a full-size model of it, was the last major craft to be built at a dockyard in south-west Wales.

A new permanent exhibition was launched at the Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre on Friday telling the story of how the Falcon was secretly put together in the late 1970s in a hangar previously used to build flying boats.

“We’re very excited,” said Mark Williams, a local Star Wars expert who has been overseeing the project for seven years. “It’s extraordinary to think the original Millennium Falcon for the Empire Strikes Back was made by shipbuilders here.”

The Falcon appeared in the 1977 film Star Wars, with Luke Skywalker initially dismissing Han Solo’s craft as a “piece of junk”. Williams explained that after the success of the film, the decision was made to build a lifesized version for the second movie, which was first screened in 1980.

George Lucas’s people looked to south-west Wales because the shipbuilders of Pembroke Dock had the expertise and the room for such an ambitious undertaking. There was also a Hollywood link: local craftspeople had previously built one of the sets used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The workers on the Falcon were sworn to secrecy as the craft took shape in the Western Sunderland hangar, referring to it by a codename, the Magic Roundabout. But whispers soon began to circulate that a “flying saucer” was being built.

Williams said: “One of the workers finally cracked under pressure when his sons heard him talking about it with his wife. He said he’d tell them but they had to promise not to discuss it with anyone. The boys dutifully promised, then told the whole school the next day. The cat was out of the bag.”

The craft was constructed out of steel and marine plywood and had a compressed air system that could lift it off the ground by a couple of inches, allowing it to be moved around more easily. When it was complete, the 23-tonne model was broken into 16 pieces and moved by lorry to Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, where it was put back together. Sadly, after filming the wood was burned and the metal sold for scrap.

The new exhibition, supported by national lottery money, uses models, photos, videos and the testimony of some of the men who worked on the ship.

Pam George, a town councillor, was among those attending the launch event on Friday, alongside a Darth Vader and stormtroopers. “I think it’s wonderful that we’re showing off a hidden bit of our town,” she said.

George’s husband, Raymond, worked at the docks at the time. “There were all these rumours going around and then this ship that had been created here was there on the big screen,” he said.

George said she hoped Star Wars fans would travel from around the world to view the exhibition. “Like everywhere, we’re feeling the pinch. We’re hoping it will provide a nice economic boost to the town. We’re very proud of our Star Wars connection.”

The exhibition, The Millennium Falcon – The Last Ship Built in the Royal Pembroke Dockyard, opens to the public on Monday.

Comments are closed.