Saturday, 1 June 2013

Haynes Millennium Falcon Owners' Workshop Manual

With a total understanding of how to fly Thunderbird 2, maintain a Klingon Bird of Prey, differentiate between incarnations of the USS Enterprise, it seemed only right to look at one of Haynes' classic sci-fi manuals. 

At the end of the year Haynes will be releasing their Death Star manual but there has already been one Star Wars manual on the iconic Millennium Falcon. In true style I have already bought the t-shirt, watched the movies and built the Lego model so reading and reviewing this seemed like the logical final chapter.

Focusing on the history and features of the Millennium Falcon from its original building by the Corellian Engineering Corporation (CEC) to its involvement in the final battle of the rebellion seen in Return of the Jedi it is probably the most detailed fictional volume in the range.

I'm not saying that this lessens the quality or impact of the Star Trek or Thunderbirds volumes but that this is a book packed to the spine and page edges with information and detail like no other. Now I'm not a hard-core star Wars fan so a lot of the detail here is new to myself outside of the three classic trilogy films. Luckily Ryder Windham, Chris Reiff and Chris Trevas have provided a detailed introduction to both CEC and the YT-series even to later models which followed the YT-1300. I didn't appreciate a lot about the design and evolution of the series but this effectively filled in a massive gap in my knowledge of the subject. What becomes very quickly evident is how much beyond those three films there is JUST in regards to this one ship which in itself is one part of one segment of the story. 

While I knew it was an old ship this manual opens up its immense backstory as well as highlighting previous owners and the range of improvements that were made through its long active service life. It was certainly eventful and through the inclusion of all the stories here you can see how the Star Wars universe takes on board all the additions that various authors have added since the 1970's.  There's even a footnote at the end indicating that there's much more to the story of the Corellian freighter following the destruction of the second Death Star over Endor.

Once we've understood this extensive timeline as well as how Han Solo, Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian fit into the story, we're into the detail and the technicalities of the ship. From piloting the freighter we're taken through a journey which covers every aspect of the operation of the Millennium Falcon with each area split into distinctive sections; Propulsion, Weapons & Defensive Systems, Engineering Systems, Sensors and Crew Facilities topped off with a handy comparison chart of the ship against both Rebel and Imperial vessels from the period of the Episodes IV to VI. What gets me is how much is crammed in. Not only is there informative text which relates each section to the incidents that we would know from the movies but also to the history of the Falcon and then to the keyed illustrations which are plentiful throughout. Some are cutaways such as the one above which is also featured on the cover of the Workshop Manual while others deal specifically with a piece of technology or a control console within the cockpit. As with the Klingon Bird of Prey, each system is broken down into components and then its function and the way in which it works explained as completely as possible.

To the casual fan such as myself it's a treasure trove of information about the Millennium Falcon that marks it as an absolutely essential purchase because of just how much has been built into its history and operation. Everything has a purpose within the story and for me one of the highlights was the historical section on the YT variants produced by CEC as well as how the YT-1300 modules meant that it was a ship that could be custom fitted. Indeed, a lot of custom-fitting took place under her future owners and it's these little additions that make the book ever so real; the throwaway lines, the aside comments and the keyed items that might seem insignificant or have never been used, but have been thought about and included when detailing the freighter. Nicely each of the sections regarding the functions aboard is opened with text "taken directly" from CEC marketing catalogues and technical manuals, communiques or books of the Imperial Fleet. This of course adds impact to the universe that the ship and her long chain of crew exist within but like previous editions of the Haynes "fictional" manuals (particularly the Klingon Bird of Prey) it balances on a point and doesn't clearly sit on one side or another. It's a fine line and I actually think a difficult one to walk if you want to be encompassing to fans of all knowledge levels and passion. To compare, the Enterprise manual was very much set from the present day and fictional universe perspective which forgave the stills used because it knew it was an informative book rather than historical and technical as here.

For example, while there are superb, detailed drawings of the ship and her features, they are accompanied by pictures from the films so it never truly sits within the fictional world of George Lucas or the "real" universe of the saga. The images in some respects play against the text and diagrams and certainly for more hard-core Star Wars fans this might be a distraction. For more casual readers it does however help put things into perspective and allow you to refer to where these items are seen within the movies - there's a lot to look out for on your next viewing I can assure you!

For those of you who are die hard fans - you probably already own this and if not, you more than likely have an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject however for the detailed drawings and keyed diagrams of the interiors of the ship, her systems and features, I would still recommend this manual.  It is nothing if comprehensive and will look very nice on your shelf alongside the Death Star Manual when it gets released.

My only real niggle with the Millennium Falcon manual is that the techie stuff can get quite heavy after a while.  One hundred and twenty-three pages might not sound a lot but when you're trying to understand the ins and outs of the hyperdrive it can get a bit hard going. To help out though, the illustrations are a big benefit and relating components to events that have happened through the ship's lifetime mean there is something for you to visualise and comprehend how the ship has evolved - it's certainly not box fresh by any standard. Getting to know what caused alterations and how the Millennium Falcon has changed under various owners really brings it to life. The book does help answer some questions about the ship and did for me personally - I now understand why she's the shape she is within the Star Wars universe (aside from the fact that the film designers made her look that way), what the dish on the top is for, what the two "prongs" at the front do and where all the sets we see within the trilogy exist within the hull. While on larger vessels this might be a problem, the small size of the Falcon allows this book to cover just about every aspect and every corner. 

While I've mentioned already the area that still leaves me a bit undecided with the use of film pictures versus diagrams and narrative as though "really" in the Star Wars universe, there were a lot of highlights and I certainly feel enlightened and a more aware of the amount of detail and attention paid to the franchise. One of those little gems is the history of the Millennium Falcon and the picture on page 30 of the vessel under the name of Staellar Convoy, docking on Coruscant. This was a much talked about shot during Revenge of the Sith and its inclusion is a nice pay-off especially for those of us who failed to spot it even though we were told the freighter made a blink-and-miss guest appearance. Clearly there is a big picture and a single story that is adhered to; each piece has its own story and somehow it all links back together. A great read for fans of all understandings from Youngling learner right through to Galactic Emperor. Not only that, but a good warm-up read ahead of the imminent Haynes Death Star release....

The Millennium Falcon Owners' Workshop Manual is available from Haynes priced £14.99. ISBN 9780857330963

Images contained above courtesy of Haynes

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