Empire Chronicles: Slave I

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April 30, 2010

By Pete Vilmur

With the final Season Two episodes of The Clone Wars tonight, fans will once again witness a fly-by from that iconic standard of mercenary might, Slave I.

Inspired by a satellite dish and incorporating parts from a Porsche sports car, the ship that would ultimately be driven by Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back is definitely one of the more distinctive designs to emerge from the Star Wars galaxy.

While little is known about the actual origins of Fett's ride of choice, we do know a bit about its real-world inception -- designed by ILMer Nilo Rodis-Jamero and built by Lorne Peterson and Ease Owyeung, Slave I wasn't actually inspired by the shape of a street lamp, a myth stubbornly clung to by fans for years. Also lost to the recesses of time are these little-known facts: Slave I's unusual vertical flight orientation actually changed during development, and the pig-like Ugnaughts of Cloud City were recruited at one point to act as Slave I's crew.

Whatever Slave I's in-universe history might be -- and we glean a bit more of that story from tonight's episode of The Clone Wars -- we can gather a few rare insights from those responsible for her cinematic debut in The Empire Strikes Back:

Nilo Rodis-Jamero, Assistant Art Director
"Because Boba Fett is an 'outsider,' a bounty hunter hired by Darth Vader, the design of his ship had to be distinctive enough that it would not be confused with any of the Rebel ships or those of the Imperial fleet. The original concept of the Slave I was a half-spherelike body housing the main engine parts in a fuselage attached to the ship's front. The body later evolved into the elliptical shape used in the film."
The Empire Strikes Back Sketchbook (June 1980)

Nilo Rodis-Jamero
"Joe Johnston showed me some of the ideas he had for Boba Fett, and I remember asking myself what his spaceship would look like. I remember seeing a radar dish and stopping to sketch it very quickly to see if I could get something out of it. The original design I had was round, but when you looked at it from the side, it became elliptical. For some reason, when I drew it, George thought it was elliptical, so that's what it became. When we were building the ship at ILM, somebody looked at street lamps and pointed out that they looked like Boba's ship. So everyone began to think that was where I got the idea for the design."
Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays (Sept 1997)

[Note: In a January 2005 interview with Giant Robot Magazine, Jamero identified the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park, California as the home of the Slave I radar dish]

Lorne Peterson, Chief Model Maker
"If I had to pick a model I enjoyed doing the most it would have to be Boba Fett's ship. Slave I was designed for Empire by Nilo Rodis-Jamero. What inspired his design of the ship were the light pods that hang in the street [actually, according to Jamero, this has been a stubborn myth -- see above]...When I was building it we found a Porsche model kit, a monstrous 16-inch model, which just happened to be a model of a car I have, and had a lot of parts we could use on the prototype. The rear end of Slave I has the big fender parts and the Porsche's hatches and doors all incorporated into it. It tickled me to do that ship."
Bantha Tracks #22 (Nov 1983)

Lorne Peterson
"[Model Maker] Ease Owyeung built the ship, including the inner cockpit detailing. His early iterations had a second bank of seats for Fett's underlings -- early sketches by McQuarrie had the pig-like Ugnaught guards actually working for Fett instead of being Cloud City laborers as in the finished film. As the story developed, Fett was defined as a loner and these support-crew seats disappeared."
Sculpting A Galaxy (2006)

Lorne Peterson
"Slave I also changed orientation during flight. The base of the ship on landing became its trailing edge when in flight. Accompanying this ninety-degree shift was a rotation of the ship's support wings, which weren't motorized but could be stop-motion animated into position.
Sculpting A Galaxy (2006)

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Slave I fly-by

Check out our recent Chronicles entry for Boba Fett here.

Keywords: Behind-the-Scenes, ILM, ESB 30th

Filed under: The Movies, Episode V

Databank: Slave I
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