Movie spaceship of the day: Imperial Star Destroyer

, | Features

The camera just happens to be floating in space, pointing in a fixed direction that will coincide with the route of a Corellian corvette fleeing from an Imperial Star Destroyer. If that camera had been positioned a few feet higher, the corvette would have banged right into it, ruining the shot and depriving us all of an iconic moment. Instead, it glides smoothly past, close enough that we could almost reach up our hand and feel its belly, like a diver touching a whale. We can admire the detail and — more importantly — the size of the Tantive IV. Look at how long it’s taking to pass overhead.

After the jump, did you know that Leia’s blockade runner was called the Tantive IV?

Okay, you probably did. I had to look that up. But the introduction of that Corellian corvette is nothing special. It’s how movies have been introducing spaceships as long as we’ve been watching movies about spaceships. It’s how Kubrick showed us the Discovery and it probably even happened in some Buck Rogers thing from the 1930s.

If Star Wars had been made today, the camera wouldn’t have been fixed. It would have whip panned around space, adjusting itself to fix the frame on the movie ships and then zooming in and focusing, like a YouTube video of an air show, like some found footage from a nearby astronaut with nothing better to do than shoot footage in zero-G. Star Wars was, after all, 70s cinema.

But the best is yet to come. Because if you thought the Tantive IV was big, if you admired its detail, if you thought its exhaust ports were fierce, here comes the pursuing Star Destroyer, taking even longer to glide past the camera as John Williams’ score accompanies the power of a fully armed and operational Star Destroyer. Before “there’s always a bigger fish” was a dopey gag in a Star Wars prequel, it was a stunning visual introduction to the universe of Star Wars.

The Star Destroyer has been an iconic ship ever since. Like all the best evil empires, the Empire’s best ships look menacing. They’re clearly weapons even though they don’t have gratuitous guns sticking out of them. Nothing that pointy, with a superstructure that imposingly imperious, is built for peacetime. But one of my favorite things about Star Destroyers is something I probably would have vetoed if I was a dude in charge of making a badass spaceship back in the mid-70s.

“Yeah, it looks pretty groovy,” I would have told John Dykstra, “but can we lose those two little balls on top? They look like ears. They’re too cute.” I wouldn’t have learned until several videogames later that those ears are the key to destroying a Star Destroyer because they’re the shield generators, or whatever. In the Star Wars universe I would have created, Star Destroyers would have been inadvertently indestructible.