Which shiny silver spaceship?

Leaving aside for a moment any deficiencies in the storytelling, the Star Wars prequels are a wonderland for fans of sci-fi tech. Each prequel movie has about as many first appearances of new ships and vehicles as any two of the classic movies. If one of Lucas’s goals for the prequel trilogy was create more toys (and you are free to take that figuratively or literally), he succeeded, in spades.

However, as I’ve noted that Mike’s noted, few if any of the ships and vehicles from the prequels have the same level of iconic design as, say, the Millennium Falcon, or a TIE fighter. In part that may be deliberate; as we saw in the last post, sometimes the ships of the prequels are deliberately more evolutionary than revolutionary. I also wonder to what extent the comparative lack of whoa-ness of the prequel designs is an effect of seeing each one so briefly, since so few are seen in more than one movie. We never get the familiarity that we have with X-Wing fighters or the Falcon. Maybe instead of hitting us over the head with dozens of new things each episode, it would have been better to have some more technological continuity.

In particular, no ship from the prequels feels like home the way the Falcon does, or carries the same freight of memories. The most obvious candidate for the good old reliable starship would be one of the silvery Naboo cruisers: there’s at least one in every movie, and they’re the only ships other than fighters that the characters ever take when they go haring off on adventures. But there are four versions in three movies! Admittedly, one gets blown up, but still, it’s excessive. Better to have one ship, or two copies of the same model, all the way through. It would give the audience a familiar touchstone through all three movies, something that might–like the Millennium Falcon–come to feel like a character in its own right.

(Quick question: if the Falcon hadn’t made it out of the second Death Star, would you have been more upset by the death of Lando or the destruction of the Falcon?)

The next question in this imaginary prequel rewrite is, which shiny sliver spaceship should the filmmakers have chosen? Let’s review the contenders.

First, the SR-71esque Naboo cruiser from TPM.

Second, the B-2esque Naboo cruiser that gets blown up at the very beginning of AotC.

Third, the retro/pulp Naboo yacht from AoTC.

Finally, the Naboo star skiff from RotS, which looks like a smaller, faster, cooler version of the B-2esque one from AotC.

So which one should it be?

It can’t be the one from TPM. It’s a pretty silver SR-71, but it’s still an SR-71, and therefore too Earthy to be a contender for the next Millennium Falcon. (I know, there will never be another Falcon. It was a figure of speech.) Ditto for the B-2 from AotC, and besides, that one hardly looks like something that would be fun to take out for a spin. Very Driving Miss Padme.

In my mind, the only serious contenders are the AotC needle and the RotS boomerang. But which?

Much to my surprise, the AotC needle is growing on me. In The Clone Wars it basically does function as Padme’s runabout, or maybe I should say “they basically do”, since Jar-Jar accidentally destroys one on Rodia and another is left behind on a doomed Separatist ship. It’s not devoid of coolness. But in the end, I just can’t get totally on board. It’s too simple. There’s no there there. And it’s a bit distracting, like a straight up 50s atomic rocketship that took a wrong turn at Mars and ended up in the used universe of Star Wars. Take your three tail fins, land vertically upon them, and your journey to the pulp side will be complete! In the final analysis, it still reminds me too much of Earth, even though that Earth is the shiny world of futures past.

That leaves the star skiff. And lest you think it only wins by default, I do have some genuinely positive things to say about it. I like the overall design. It looks fast in a way that its bigger cousin doesn’t, and it looks a bit aggressive, and most of all it looks like it would be a blast to fly (imagine banking it into the Death Star trench–and then imagine trying that with any of the other three). I like the not-entirely-shiny engines and the (small) patches of exposed machinery. It looks like a Star Wars ship that happens to be mostly smooth and shiny, not like Lucky Laser of Space Patrol blundered into the wrong universe. Slight changes and modifications to the exposed machinery from movie to movie could illustrate the decline of design aesthetics as the galaxy slides into war. Finally, although we never saw them fired in RotS, the star skiff does have guns, which I’ve already established as a prerequisite for any self-respecting Star Wars vehicle.

As shown in RotS, the star skiff is a bit too small to serve all the roles that the shiny silver ships serve in the prequels. In particular, it could not hold the retinue of handmaidens, advisors, Jedi, and assorted pathetic lifeforms that TPM requires. So I’d scale it up by a factor of maybe 1.5–big enough to hold a few more folks, not too big to be awesomely swooshable. And instead of destroying it with a bomb at the beginning of AotC, I’d have the assassin launch a missile that is heroically, fatally intercepted by one of the escort fighters. The wrecked fighter could crash on the landing platform and its pilot, Captain Panaka, could die in Padme’s arms. (Possibly I’ve given this too much thought.)

Well, that’s my vision of semi-shiny pseudo-Falcon for the prequels. What would you do?

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10 Responses to Which shiny silver spaceship?

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    Dude, what the hell are you talking about?

    There are charismatic ships in the prequels — not least the Venators, and the ships that Anakin and Obi-Wan fly in the opening battle of RotS. But the silver ships are totally lacking in charisma. All of them. Completely. They can never feel lived-in like the Falcon for the obvious reason that no-one lives in them. They are not homes, they’re the Star Wars equivalent of the pointless 4x4s that suburbanites buy for driving to the supermarket and ferrying the kids to football matches. Whereas the Falcon is a patched-up, and souped-up, VW camper-van.

    And this highlights a pervasive problem in the prequels. Everyone is rich and powerful. All the people we’d like to identify with are, well, a bit boring. Padme is a goshdarned queen, for goshsakes. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and later on Anakin, are members of a universally respected order of super-powered warriors who, however much they may have renounced wealth, own a shedload of big, powerful starships. In fact the only non-powerful hero characters are Jar-Jar (hmm, enough said) and Young Anakin — who, even when he’s a slave, is super-powered, not to mention badly acted and annoying.

    By obvious contrast, the key heroes in the original trilogy are a farm-boy and a down-at-heel trader/pirate. Obi-Wan is just a crazy old man who people don’t trust, and when we finally see him functioning as a Jedi, his powers are weak, old man. The only nominally powerful hero character is Leia, and she spends most of the first movie, and big chunks of the other two, as a prisoner. The whole vibe is completely different — we’re rooting for the underdogs all the time. Han has to live in the Falcon because he doesn’t have a handy palace to nip back to in between jaunts.

    In saying all this, I am not just saying that Lucas failed, second time around, to create compelling characters. It’s inherent to the big-picture story: at the start of the saga, all our heroes are major players on the side of a gigantic galaxy-spanning empirerepublic — of course they’re rich and powerful. And so, of course, their ships are boring.

  2. Matt Wedel says:

    You forgot to say, “F1R$T!!!11!eleventy!!

    There is much truth in what you say, and I for one will not gainsay it. Irritatingly, I had never considered the underdog angle at all. What does that make the characters in the prequels, overdogs? Or just plain dogs?

  3. Jonathan Hamm says:

    Considering all the designs that were never used by McQuarrie, Johnston and Cantwell, surely there must have been something that could have been used. I havent even touched on Knights of the OLD REPUBLIC or any of the other PRE-SW video games that have incredible designs that will only see the universe of gaming. The EBON HAWK is an incredible looking odd ship just like the Falcon. The E-Wing would have been a nice touch to see since there is no X wing in the prequels. Also, didnt the Falcon make a cameo scene? It would have cool to see some of her orgin since she played.such a vital role. There are some cool ships in the CW animated series but again, loads of toys that could easily be made. Personally, I want to see a ship playset that was made like Kenner did with the Millenium Falcon. It would just be cool as hell to see that again.

  4. Nøhrøhr says:

    I don’t know – I do find the silvery retro-ships to be delightful. And my inner 12 year old so dearly wants to fly around in any one of the four.
    My grown up self would choose the largest of the ships, because you could live in it.
    And it looks painfully cool.

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  8. Mike Taylor says:

    Having recently seen AotC again, the “B-2esque Naboo cruiser” is growing on me for one simple reason: the sound it makes clearly positions it as a World War II bomber. It doesn’t look like a Lancaster or a B-17, but it somehow smells like one.

    In fact, what it most puts me in mind of (comnbination of visuals and sound, if you can ignore the silver sheen) is the de Havilland Mosquito, a truly extraordinary British fighter/bomber that was essentially a pair of super-powerful engines set into a wooden frame just strong enough to hold them.

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