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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 06:40 GMT 07:40 UK
Town's secret Star Wars history
By Nick Parry
BBC Wales news website

Millennium Falcon
It was 70 foot in diameter and weighed nearly 23 tonnes
A relatively long time ago, in a west Wales town not too far away... arguably the most famous spaceship in the universe was created.

In the winter of 1979 word started to spread in Pembroke Dock that a flying saucer was being built in an old giant aircraft hangar in the town.

Those involved were sworn to secrecy.

For three months they worked on the only full-scale Millennium Falcon, the spaceship from the original Star Wars trilogy, to be built for the films.

Production was gearing up for The Empire Strikes Back - the second instalment in George Lucas's epic space saga.

And much like the feverish build-up to this week's release of Revenge Of The Sith, the sixth and final movie in the series, fans were desperate for the smallest piece of news of what was to come.

Millennium Falcon
The Millennium Falcon was the famous spaceship from Star Wars

Marcon Fabrications, a company more usually associated with steel fabrications for the nearby petrochemical and oil industries, had won the contract to build the prop for the film.

One of company's main selling points was it was based in the eastern hangar of the Royal Dockyard - a Grade II listed structure that once housed the famous Sunderland flying boats based there during World War II.

Govan Davies, who owned the dockyard at the time, recalls the secrecy surrounding the project.

"No-body was allowed in and they kept it locked at all times," he said.

"It was made out of timber on the outside of a steel frame. There were 30 or 40 men working on it - it was a hell of a big thing."

It was housed in the Eastern hangar which still stands today

Bizarrely, those working on the spaceship were told they could only refer to it by the code name "Magic Roundabout".

But Mr Davies said word soon spread.

"Friends talk to friends. But they still did not allow anyone in although I saw it, of course, because I owned the hangar at the time."

Security was finally breached in March 1979 when the Pembrokeshire newspaper The Western Telegraph ran a picture and story under the headline "Security Blown On Flying Saucer Secret".

Tongue-in-cheek, it linked the spaceship to an apparent spate of UFO sightings in the sky above the county at the time.

According to Brian Johnson, special effects supervisor on the film, the spaceship could fly - but only a few millimetres off the ground.

Western Telegraph
How the Western Telegraph broke the story on 1 March 1979

"It weighed approaching 23 tonnes and was 70ft in diameter," he told the Official Making of the Empire Strikes Back book.

"We fitted compressed air hover pads on the feet to lift the thing up so it could be pushed around without any wheels.

"The whole thing was actually floating on a cushion of air, with about a sixteenth of an inch between the feet and the floor.

"To get the Falcon from Pembroke it was dismantled and brought on lorries in sections, then put together on the sound stage at Elstree."


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