How Do You Build A Life-Size ‘Star Wars’ Ship? Invite Lots Of ‘Maker’ Friends

(click above to play or here for a direct MP3 download)

The replica Millennium Falcon's 'quad-gun' laser assembly, via Greg Dietrich /

The replica Millennium Falcon’s ‘quad-gun’ laser assembly, via Greg Dietrich /

In the first Star Wars moviethe one that spawned a multibillion-dollar franchise of sequels, prequels, games and endless toysthere’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 junkThat 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 Falcona 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 basementa place “like the inside of the chocolate factory,” he jokes.

The near-finished cockpit of the replica Millennium Falcon, via Greg Dietrich /

The nearly finished cockpit of the replica Millennium Falcon, via Greg Dietrich /

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 themfiguringjust 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” ethica 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 ofI 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.

Please keep your community civil. Comments will be moderated prior to posting, and Nashville Public Radio reserves the right to approve them at its discretion. Comments containing links promoting goods, services - even noble organizations - will not be published. Your comments may include external links, but all comments with links will be delayed as they are reviewed. Comments containing profanity will be rejected.