I assume that everyone knows that early on in its design, the Millennium Falcon looked like this sketch by Joe Johnston:
Shortly thereafter it acquired some side flanges with escape pods, as in this Colin Cantwell concept model from A New Hope (this is actually someone else’s digital rendering of Cantwell’s model, but it gets the point across; also, Cantwell had made several other models prior to Johnston’s sketch above, but they are different enough to not enter into the evolutionary progression I am interested in):
For a long stretch of the production design of Star Wars, the Falcon was envisioned as a hybrid of the Johnston and Cantwell designs, as in this production painting by Ralph McQuarrie, which shows the Falcon docked at a prison station on the Imperial capital planet of Alderaan:
Later on what had been the design for the Falcon became the design for Princess Leia’s blockade runner, with a shedload of additional engines to support its supposedly speedy role:
At this point, about all that was left to do was add the hammerhead prow, and bang, the familiar Tantive IV we all know and love, enshired in the annals of geekery as the Corellian Engineering Corporation CR90 Corvette or Corellian Corvette for short:
Straight copies of the same ship appear in the Rebel fleet in both Empire and Return. However, astute observers will have noticed that the version of the ship that appeared in Revenge of the Sith was similar overall but rather different in proportion. Although the inside of this ship looked like a dead ringer for Princess Leia’s blockage runner in A New Hope, it has been retconned as a different model, the CR70.
That gets us through the evolution of the Corellian Corvette in the Star Wars movies. The rest of this post covers some (but not all) of the ship designs that have been spun off from the CR90’s pedigree.
Probably the earliest is the Corellian Gunship, created for the old Star Wars RPG by West End Games, and based on the Joe Johnston sketch at the top of this article. With no fewer than 14 laser turrets, this probably takes the cake for the most ridiculously overgunned ship in all of Star Wars.
Now, as a long-time WEG Star Wars RPGer, the Corellian Gunship holds a special place in my heart. It is one of the burliest ships that most player characters actually have a chance of getting their hands on and operating, and it looks freakin’ sweet. X-Wing and TIE Fighter taught the geeks of my generation that, despite its massive bank of engines, the Corellian Corvette was actually only slightly faster than a cactus. We could still imagine the Gunship actually doing what the Corvette promised: rocketing through Imperial blockades and spewing laser fire in all directions.
Fast forward to 1999 and the release of The Phantom Menace. Perhaps not an epic win overall for Star Wars fans, but it did bring us this beauty, the Republic Consular-class Cruiser:
Mike and I were just discussing Star Wars ships the other day and he pointed out that although the ship and vehicle designs seen in the prequels tend to lack the iconic quality of those from the original trilogy, they did a great job of filling in the evolutionary history of the OT machines.
I’ll go further; I personally like the Consular-class Cruiser better than either the Corellian Corvette or the gunship. I like the slender, corvette-like midsection better than the gunship’s mid-hull block, and I like the simple three-engine design better than the corvette’s bank of 11.
There was even a nice homage to Ralph McQuarrie’s production art from A New Hope when the Republic ship set down in the landing bay of the Trade Federation battleship:
However, as much as I liked the Consular-class Cruiser, I couldn’t get on board 100% with the movie version because it didn’t have any guns. Call me shallow, but this is Star Wars, not Star Get Your Pacifist Arse Shot Off By the First Thing That Comes Along With a Blaster.
Fortunately, the appalling lack of armament on the original Republic cruiser has been fixed in The Clone Wars:
The resulting armed version has been cataloged as the Consular-class Cruiser, Charger C70 retrofit, known informally as the Republic Frigate. I have no idea why this ship was given the same model number as the retconned Corellian Corvette from RotS, but I also don’t really care.
I don’t care mostly because I finally got the ship that I always wanted but never expected to see: more elegant to my eye than either the Corellian Corvette or Gunship, harkening back to both the filmed and unfilmed versions of A New Hope, and heavily–but not ridiculously–armed.
Also, happily for me, there will be a Lego version out this summer. Here’s a photo of the preliminary box art that someone leaked to the web:
Awww yeah–come to daddy! Yeah, the Lego version will not be a perfect scale model; it will be a little fatter and stockier than the TV version, and I’ll be surprised if it has as many gun turrets. But I’ll also be surprised if I’m not running around the room with this thing making “Pew-pew!” sounds five minutes after I finish building it. WANT.
There is a well-illustrated post on the history of the CR90 and Consular-class cruiser here, with lots of pictures of small toy models of both ships.
Update, Feb. 14: here’s a better photo of the upcoming Lego Republic Frigate, from StarWars.com: