The long-awaited seventh movie in the Star Wars saga is close to hitting theaters, and nerds everywhere are beside themselves. While most young males in North America grow up with a love of Star Wars (or Star Trek, if you have poor taste), I didn’t really find myself catching onto the movies in the same way as most of my peers did… In fact, what really lured me to Star Wars was the space battles between sleek and mean-looking X-Wing fighters and the various spaceships of the Empire (the bad guys). That interest was further cemented by something I found out about Star Wars’ connection to aviation of the Second World War, which I’m far more a fan of, if we’re being honest.
If you’ve ever seen the original trilogy (Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope), you’ve probably seen the infamous Millennium Falcon spaceship in action, piloted by the gruff, sarcastic Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford, a huge aviation buff), and co-piloted by his massive furry beer buddy, Chewbacca. The cockpit of the Falcon, if you pay close attention, actually seems to resemble another flying vehicle, though one from a very long time ago.
I’m talking about the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, one of the US Army Air Force’s strategic bomber workhorses of the Second World War, and the aircraft most famously associated with dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, decisively ending the war in the Pacific Theater.
George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, apparently developed an affection for the B-29 during the time he spent researching aerial dogfights of WWII to enhance the realism of the space battles fought between X-Wings and TIE Fighters of the Rebels and the Empire respectively. He had set engineers design the cockpit of the Falcon such that it matched the view facing forward from the cockpit of a B-29 (peering over the pilots’ shoulders). After viewing over 25 hours of combat footage and gun camera imagery, Lucas included gunner stations aboard the Millennium Falcon, similar to those you’d find on a B-29 or a B-17 Flying Fortress. A few of the characters used such gun (or laser) turrets to good effect against marauding TIE Fighters in a similar manner to how gunners aboard bombers during WWII would engage enemy interceptor fighters sent up to shoot them down.
Lucas needed his spaceships to possess unique sounds that were fitting of their futuristic nature, so he once again turned to WWII-era aviation to help with meeting his goals. As sounds couldn’t easily be synthesized in the same way that studios can today, Lucas’ sound engineers needed to record other noises and modify them to get what they were after. One engineer was sent out to the Reno Air Races in Nevada, where he was allowed to lay down near a pylon (something you most certainly cannot do today) and record the noise of P-51 Mustang racers screaming overhead. After slowing down the recorded track, they mated it to movie scenes, and thus, the Millennium Falcon was given its unique and ominous sounds.