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How Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon was hatched in Wales

The year was 1978. Inside a vast hangar that once housed World War 2 flying boats, a team of craftsmen began work on something rather more ambitious: a spaceship capable of travelling faster than the speed of light.

The giant replica of the Millennium Falcon – Han Solo’s battered galactic getabout in the Star Wars movies – was commissioned as a prop for the filming of the 1980 release The Empire Strikes Back. Improbably, the ship was not built on a Hollywood backlot, but in Pembroke Dock, a town in South West Wales.

Now, the extraordinary tale of the ‘Pembroke Dock Falcon’ is to be told by a walk-through exhibition supported with National Lottery funding. Using models, photos, videos and the testimony of some of the men who worked on the 50-metre wide ship, the exhibit is designed to appeal to both hardcore Star Wars fans and people who don’t know a lightsaber from a blaster.

Exhibition project manager and Star Wars superfan Mark Williams said, “We are really appreciative of what we’ve been able to do thanks to the National Lottery funding. This is something I’ve been working on for about 7 years and everything’s finally coming together – it’s a really exciting time.”

Why was Pembroke Dock chosen as the launch pad for the fake Millennium Falcon? Mark believes the company that built it – Marcom Fabrications – had both the space and the expertise, having previously built one of the sets used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Mark said, “Marcom’s giant hangars were the perfect place to build a flying saucer.”

The team that built the replica Millennium Falcon was sworn to secrecy and told to refer to it by a codename: The Magic Roundabout. But it wasn’t long before stories about the ‘UFO’ in the hangar were circulating in the tight-knit Welsh community.

Mark 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 story spread even further when a local newspaper ran a photograph of the spaceship inside the hangar under the headline, ‘UFO secret finally revealed’.

The ship had a steel frame skinned with plywood. When it was completed in Spring 1979, the 23-tonne structure was shipped in sections to the Elstree film studios in Hertfordshire for finishing touches and its moment in front of the cameras.

Amazingly, it could actually fly, although not to a galaxy far, far away. Mark said, “It had a compressed air system in the landing gear which could lift it off the ground a couple of inches. It was used for repositioning it when they were changing the sets.”

Sadly, the Pembroke Dock Falcon did not survive. Once filming of The Empire Strikes Back had finished it was broken up into sections. The plywood was put on a bonfire and the steel frame was sold to a scrap merchant.

Mark acknowledges the story of the spaceship is known to some older Star Wars fans, but points out there is a new generation of devotees who will be amazed to learn Han Solo’s trusty steed was built in Wales.

He said, “We’re confident this exhibition will be the definitive history of the Pembroke Dock Falcon.”

The exhibition is due to open at the Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre later this year.

9th March 2022

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