A long time ago in a galaxy far,Early March 2016 I was sat scrolling through Flickr on a day off from work. It was the usual stuff, abandoned factories, the occasional naughty track picture, rooftops. Something caught my eye however. A shot taken from in a bush offering a teasing glance of the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. I knew instantly that this had to be found, no matter where in the UK I was going to find it. A few hours and Google searches later I knew where they were filming this particular scene and texts were sent to see who was around that very night.
We barreled across the M25 towards our target for the night, the boyish excitement was unreal knowing we were soon to be face to face with the Millennium Falcon. We parked up at 2:30AM and entered the site not long after. Trekking to the Falcon would involve walking through the surrounding woodland in total darkness as we were unaware of any security that may be guarding the set, we took no risk as we imagined that a multi-billion dollar franchise would have the full works regarding intruder prevention. Frequent stops were needed to check that we were heading in the right direction, a quick glance at Google maps was all that was needed but just a second looking at a bright screen ruins any king of night vision that your eyes gets used to, meaning we were stopping for 5 minutes at a time to let our eyes adjust to the darkness.
The woodlands were full of strange noises, hoots, howls and snapping twigs all around us. I was genuinely on edge, who knows what kind of life our party of 2 would bump into, human or animal, both of which we were looking to avoid. After traipsing through the undergrowth a light could be made out in the distance, we slowly edged towards it careful not to snap any branches underfoot. We sat in the bushes and listened for any signs of life but all seemed quiet..
The set was build on the side of a steep hill, at the bottom was the Falcon, at the top was the remains of a set that had been already used and it was being demolished. We thought best to cross the area at the top and stay in the bushes that lead back down to the Falcon. On getting to the top of the hill we could see a car parked right in the middle of the top lot, not wanting to chance it we went mid-way back down the hill and opted to go inside the set as it was being supported on scaffolding.
We were trying to be as quiet as possible, and doing a good job of it but as is the inevitable when climbing scaffolding there are metallic clangs and creaking, nobody had come to investigate yet though. We pushed on down the side of the hill on the side of the Falcon, floodlights beaming across the lot.
Thats when we saw it
There it was, life size, intricately detailed, ours for the taking.We maneuvered our way up onto the set to get a better view and saw the security cabin with a few cars parked outside, the light in the cabin was on and it was fairly close, the floodlights eliminated any hope of shadow cover we might have but we thew caution to the wind and set about placing our tripods. This was too good to not fully enjoy.
placed on the high end of the set up the hill was a giant dead looking tree, we went up to inspect it to find that it had a doorway into it. We went inside the tree but it only led to the scaffolding behind the set. At the top of the hill we could look across the whole of the Falcon as the daylight was starting to smear itself across the dark sky. It was easy to forget that we were less than a mile from the M3.
We started to make our way back to the Falcon to admire the attention to detail and see if there was a way inside. The birds were starting to sing as it was now 4AM. I imagine that the set is built to resemble the planet of Ahch-To, where Star Wars: The Force Awakens left off with Rey handing Luke Skywalker's lightsaber to him. The actual filming location for the rest of Ahch-To is in the 6th century monastic settlement of UNESCO site Skellig Michael, an island located off the southern coast of Ireland. We stopped on our way down the steps to look back at the tree and take some pictures.
Standing next to the Falcon made the 1AM wake up call so much easier. The detail that went into building this ship is unmatchable, even sections that will not be seen in the filming were still looking like they had just come out of a jump to lightspeed. We could see the ramp that, in the films, leads up inside the falcon. We wandered over for a closer look and to my amazement actually led up inside the ship! I stepped onto the ramp that flexed slightly under my foot, I'm not sure how I would explain to Rian Johnson that I broke his Millennium Falcon if the ramp decided to give way...
Unfortunately at the top of the ramp the Falcon was hollow and only used for exterior shots. The whole ship creaked with each step but we carried on to the cockpit area. I was no longer expecting 2 full size pilot chairs but still was blown away by the idea that I was sitting in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Something that every boy who has ever loved Star Wars has wanted to do, I was 8 years old again. With the approaching daylight and early start times of people in the film industry we thought it best to pick up the pace before an angry guard comes up the ramp blocking our only route of escape.
We emerged from the Falcon to an almost fully lit sky, bird songs in full swing and the sound of the M3 now its usual roar. We casually walked across the lot to the base of the hill and started walking up it, if worst came to it and we were perused we could easily lose them in the woodland. Back into the undergrowth we went, not before I turned for one last look at the Millennium Falcon and the world that I had just left. And with that we entered the once pitch black woodland now lit clear as day which made navigating it that much easier and soon came to the exterior fence where we bumped into two dark figures heading in the direction that we just came from, for the same purpose that we were just there for. We said our hello's but did not hang around and we were out of the site within the next 10 minutes. I often wonder if the two we bumped into were successful as it was getting on for 5:30 at this point and I imagine that work starts there at 6.
I visited the set twice in total, each time accompanied by a different person, the story above is a combination of the two trips and the images also. Most of the story above is from the first trip, but the section about going inside the Falcon is from the second.
This trip was unreal and it will remain in my top 3 adventures probably forever just because it is Star Wars. I look foreword to sitting in the cinema at the midnight premiere and seeing which characters trace our steps.
May the Force be with you...