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In the first Star Wars movie—the one that spawned a multibillion-dollar franchise of sequels, prequels, games and endless toys—there’s a scene when rogue smuggler Han Solo first shows protagonist Luke Skywalker his ship, the Millennium Falcon.
“What a piece of junk!” Luke exclaims. But Nashville’s Chris Lee saw the Falcon differently: “At the exact same time when I was 12 years old and I saw that, I was like, that is not a piece of junk—That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” Lee says, “and someday I’m gonna have one of those.”
Now Lee is building his own Millennium Falcon—a life-size, three-story replica he’ll install on some land outside Nashville, near Dickson. To help make it happen, he’s soliciting help from fans who are part of a culture of “makers.”
“You’ve Never Heard of the Millennium Falcon?”
The uninitiated may be forgiven for lacking familiarity with the iconic ship; at one point in the first Star Wars movie, the Falcon’s captain bristles to a nescient client, “She’s fast enough for you, old man.”
Building a replica of the ship is, however, not quite as fast. While nothing you’d recognize as the skeleton of the hundred-foot long starship has been assembled yet, you can get a sense of what to expect from perusing Chris Lee’s basement—a place “like the inside of the chocolate factory,” he jokes.
Lee is among a group of fans known for showing up at Star Wars conventions dressed as the movies’ Imperial Storm Troopers; among his toys is a vacuum press for molding various types of Storm Trooper armor. He’s also built his own functional R2D2 droid in homage to one of the series’ signature robots.
Sporting a van-dyke goatee and blue Star Wars shoe laces on his sneakers, Lee’s day job involves installing touch-screens, say, as museum exhibits. He shares a home in East Nashville with his wife, Leah (pronounced “Leia,” also a lover of sci-fi conventions and costumes) and two cats: Edison and Tesla.
As to the ship, the original set designers gleaned parts from European junkyards in the 1970s, and Lee has friends across the Atlantic doing the same now. For his basement, this means a growing collection of “random” pieces like a “Rolls Royce Dart aircraft engine elbow” he plucked from a shelf to show me one evening.
Enter the Makers
And having collaborators scrounge for parts is only the beginning. The whole idea is recruit help from dozens, if not hundreds, of volunteers. Online, some can already be seen at work: A man in Alabama is nearly done building the cockpit. Another in Pennsylvania has labored over a detailed 3-D model of the ship, to smooth out its inconsistencies. Just to fit everything you see in the film on the inside, the outside of the ship has to be bigger than any set from the movies.
“You could definitely keep a hundred different people busy on a hundred different tasks for years,” Lee says. In a way, that’s why he’s doing it: “To know all these people, sharing the experience with them—figuring—just the figuring out of it, just how are we going to make this work? Doing things that haven’t been done before…”
This mass effort is more compelling than the idea of a finished product to Lee, for whom it exemplifies the “maker” ethic—a kind of reboot of the hallowed tradition of tinkering and building, incorporating fancy technology like 3-D printers and laser cutters. He gave a talk on makers to a crowd of around sixty this summer at Nashville’s Adventure Science Center. “I’m glad to see so many girls here,” he said, “because when you think of makers and hackers, you always think of guys.”
Lee seemed to take care to be humble in explaining the Full Scale Falcon project, perhaps to keep from stepping on the toes of other contributors or potential recruits, telling the audience it’s “sort of—I wouldn’t say the ultimate maker project. It may be the craziest maker project, but it’s become almost the mascot or the pet project for Middle Tennessee makers.”
Parts of the ship, including the cockpit and something called a “quad-gun” will be on display September 21st as part of the Nashville Mini Maker Faire at the Adventure Science Center.