Movie spaceship of the day: The Slave I

, | Features

Before Boba Fett became a New Zealand Order of Merit member, he was a growly badass bounty hunter with a penchant for standing in the shadows with his rifle on the crook of his arm. He may have started out as an animated character in the Star Wars Christmas Special, but he became one of the most popular villains in the franchise thanks mostly to little boys’ imaginations. In his signature Mandalorian armor, Fett chased bounties, fought Jedi, and flew one of the most awesome ships to ever grace the silver screen: The Slave I. As any little boy knows, the cooler your ride, the cooler you are.

After the jump, there was a Star Wars Christmas Special?

The Slave I is exactly the kind of spaceship you’d expect the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy to fly. It’s a modified Firespray 31 attack and patrol craft that features a lot of weapons and a small cargo hold for ferrying frozen smugglers. The key to its little boy appeal is the way it flips over and flies in a configuration that seems to defy reason. The first time it happened in The Empire Strikes Back, my brain stopped for a second to try and figure out what I just saw.

When the Slave I takes off from Cloud City with a frozen Han Solo in its hold, everything seems normal. It’s backing up and away from the landing pad as it takes off due to the pursuing blaster fire. It’s going to rotate around to zoom off, right? But wait! It’s not “backing up” at all! It smoothly flips up to stand on what you thought was the tail and flies off into the sky. Did you see that? The cockpit wasn’t facing forward when the ship was on the ground like you thought. It was facing up! The bottom was the back! The top was the front! Impossible!

The popular mythology of the Slave I’s design is that the shape was inspired by street lamps near the Industrial Light & Magic complex. Later, ILM designers would claim that the ship was actually based on a radar dish seen slightly off so the base became an elongated ellipse. It’s awesome either way because the design makes the inner workings of the ship a complete enigma. Beyond the “nose” weapons rotating, no one seems to know how anything else shifts (or not) to accomodate the transition from flight mode to landing.

The mystery of the Slave I cockpit has never been explained. How does it work? The Hasbro toy features a chair that flips up from facing towards the loading ramp to the cockpit window, but the old snap together model had a cockpit that was fixed so the occupants had to sit facing up like Apollo astronauts when the ship was on the ground. Even more confusingly, the movie Attack of the Clones features a scene in which young Boba Fett sits in a chair that faces “forward” to look out of the “top” of the cockpit when the ship sat on the Kamino dock. The amazing Incredible Cross-Sections books can’t figure it out either. The book for the original movies depicts the cockpit facing one way, while the illustrations for the prequel movies shows it facing another way.

The shadowy engineering details of the Slave I fall right in line with Boba Fett’s reputation. It’s all based on the imagination of fans and that’s the best kind of spaceship because you can make up anything you want about it. The Slave I can deploy “seismic charges” that somehow work in space! The Slave I is outfitted with a “Force cage” to keep Jedi imprisoned! The Slave I can do anything – which fits a character that was resurrected by his fans despite being killed off by his creator. I’m convinced that Boba Fett lives on in various books and comics based partly on the coolness of his ship. Little boys can’t be wrong about this.