65

The films clearly demonstrated the Millennium Falcon can take on multiple TIE fighters in a dog fight and emerge victorious. Plus the Falcon can survive direct hits from Imperial Star Destroyer guns, showing its worth as an assault craft.

Given how fast, well-shielded, and well-armed the Millennium Falcon is, it seems to possess the optimal combination of qualities you'd want to see in a space superiority starfighter despite its size.

Rather than building and piloting 100 vessels such as X-wings or TIE fighters, why didn't the Empire or Rebel Alliance consider building a smaller number of "tricked up" YT-1300 light freighters?

87

The comments note the the effect of plot armor for heroes. Star Wars is many things, not least a fairy tale. Damsel in distress, young hero becomes a knight, and so on. Let's ignore this aspect because it means breaking the fourth wall. Within the universe, consider this:

  • Han is an exceptional pilot. Who knows how effective he would have been with a real starfighter instead of a freighter?
  • How much did they spend, in time and in parts, to create the perfect smuggler ship? How many fighters could they have built for that effort?
  • The Falcon breaks down a lot, and that is with Han and Chewie in the cockpit. An average Rebel crew might not even get it into space.

Once upon a time there was a Star Wars roleplaying game supplement called Tramp Freighter that allowed and encouraged players to improve their stock light freighter. The cost to get speed, armor, and firepower up at the same time was astronomical. (An old RPG supplement may not be exactly canon any more, but it shows the principle.)

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    @Kakturus It did, but Lando isn't your average pilot either. And Lando always seems to have Lady Luck on his side. Even so the Falcon only just made it out of the Deathtstar II before it went kaboom. – Tonny Aug 30 '18 at 11:40
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    @Kakturus, Lando started the conversion of the Falcon, Han carried his work on. So he presumably knew many of the "unique" features. – o.m. Aug 30 '18 at 12:02
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    I mean, you needn't even discard plot armour entirely. The in-world equivalent is the Force. Just because Han doesn't put his faith in the Force, doesn't mean the Force isn't a huge influence in why and how the Falcon pulls off some seemingly pretty unbelievable feats (in addition to all the other factors noted above of course). If the Force is striving for balance, then tipping the odds in favour of the people trying to blow up the planet-killer is a good start. – delinear Aug 30 '18 at 13:09
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    @Tonny Just throwing it out there..Lando's ship in post-ROTJ Legacy Canon was actually called the Lady Luck. – Ruadhan2300 Aug 30 '18 at 13:28
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    @Ruadhan2300 I know. I read a lot of those books. Like them much better than the re-spin. I still think the Corellian trilogy should have been episodes 7, 8 and 9. I'm also a big Talon Karde and Mara Jade fan :-) – Tonny Aug 30 '18 at 13:51
100

There are numerous examples of this very thing happening in real life. For example: modified cars.

There is a guy in UK who has modified his Vauxhall Victor into a 3000HP beast that does 1-100km/h in 1 second. It still looks reasonably similar to the original, it still carries the same registration papers, so people are still calling it "Vauxhall Victor". But asking "Why didn't Vauxhall built the Victors with same specs as this particular one?" is pretty much obvious from the very beginning.

  • it took 29 years to build this one
  • it cost over £100000
  • I can't find the source now, but I vaguely recall that the engine needs overhaul every few hours of running.

Why don't most people build such cars? Because £100k is better spent on brand-new sports car, you don't have to spend 29 years on it.

Calling it a Vauxhall Victor is technically correct, but it has almost nothing in common with all other Vauxhall Victors.

Same happens in Star Wars: Millennium Falcon is not your dad's YT-1300. It merely looks close enough to disguise as one. Quote from Wookiepedia:

Apart from the shape of its chassis, the Falcon retained very little of its off-the-dock instrumentation. Because its successive owners either upgraded or downgraded every system according to their personal specifications, the freighter ended up becoming a unique ship. These customizations, however, came at the price of reliability, and the Falcon was known to suffer frequent breakdowns in the heat of battle.*

It's pretty amazing how the exact same thing could be said about the Vauxhall mentioned above, except it only had one owner.

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    Cheap, fast, or reliable: pick two – Celestialgranturismo Aug 30 '18 at 16:47
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    @Celestialgranturismo It seems Han picked one. – Azor Ahai Aug 30 '18 at 17:24
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    "the engine needs overhaul every few hours of running." Ah, just like a MiG-25!! – RonJohn Aug 30 '18 at 19:43
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    Yeah, this question can be summed up as "why isn't everything in the world optimal?" Because the world's full of tradeoffs. – mxyzplk Aug 31 '18 at 21:56
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    @mxyzplk Agreed - but which tradeoffs? I was hoping in one of the novels, comics, or other sourcebooks there was a conversation along the lines of: Rebel officer A: "If we had another 10 Millennium Falcons we could have blown up the Death Star with half the casualties." Rebel officer B: "Nah, the maintenance would have tied up half our ground crew and left our starfighters in poor shape." – RobertF Sep 1 '18 at 20:34
37

The Falcon is powerful because it is unique.

A real world example is in World War 2 the British Royal Navy still flew obsolete swordfish bombers. These were very slow and still had fabric wings. They were very capable aircraft simply because of this, the German anti-aircraft guns did not have sights with a low enough speed to target one and explosive rounds would rip through the fabric without detonating. The only reason they were dangerous was that nobody on the enemy side thought they would be used and did not prepare for them.

The same could be true of the Falcon, a Star Destroyer's anti-fighter guns are not designed to destroy something so big, and the heavy guns are not designed to hit something so small. Meanwhile the tie pilots are not trained to fight a fighter with rotating guns. If the rebels began to mass produce them the advantage would quickly disappear and leave the rebels with a fleet of unusable armoured freighters and many wasted hours of retraining pilots.

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    It might be worth mentioning hat the Fairey Swordfish biplanes had two notable successes during WW2 the attack on Taranto in 1940 where they sank one Italian Battleship, and damaged several others and the attack on the Bismarck. – Sarriesfan Aug 30 '18 at 17:00
  • Wouldn't the explosive rounds also shred the pilots (unless they were in an armored cockpit)? I wonder if there's a middle ground, say where the Alliance trains 1 out of every 20 pilots to crew a converted YT-1300? But now we're well outside the scope of Lucas's vision for Star Wars. – RobertF Aug 30 '18 at 19:17
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    @RobertF if the round hit the pilot probably. But as I said most of the plane was not thick enough to detonate a round. The problem with building something that can be countered is you would have a short window between the rebels fielding falcons and the empire having a way to counter them. Since the empire have near unlimited resources it may be a much higher cost for the rebels to take the diversion. Also, would you actually choose to be in a swordfish? – PStag Aug 30 '18 at 19:29
19

Besides the plot armor and the things o.m. has mentioned I see a problem with the ship's crew. The Rebel Alliance is a small group of people. You will need at least a crew of four to use the Falcon's potential (pilot, co-pilot, two gunners). And this is the absolute minimum for an average (not hero-like crew). Furthermore, the Falcon needs more maintenance, both in the base and during the battle. Put some more rebel engineers on that ship and you would have a nice battleship. In my opinion a Falcon without plot armor would still be a great ship, but 4 to 6 X-Wings, Y-Wings or B-Wings are better in a fight, and better from a logistics point of view (maintenance, crew,...), than one Falcon.

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    Just to clarify is the main point of your answer: Because the crew needed to pilot a Falcon could be put to better use in more single-seater craft? – TheLethalCarrot Aug 30 '18 at 10:02
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    @TheLethalCarrot in short, yes. I'm aware of the fact that the Falcon and it's cannons are lethal, but a skilled crew of fighter pilots could take the Falcon out. And the Falcon is harder to fly for a untrained pilot because of it's asymmetric build. – Hyperion Aug 30 '18 at 10:05
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    Is asymmetric build relevant in space flight? – Mast Aug 30 '18 at 11:52
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    @Mast Yes, because you must know how wide your ship is. When you want to fly through small passages or gaps between other ships, you can say: "Great, I have about 2m to every side when I fly exactly in the middle of the gap." This is so much easier for a X-Wing, where the cockpit is located in the middle, than for the Falcon. At least if you're not well trained or don't have the experience to fly this kind of ship. – Hyperion Aug 30 '18 at 11:58
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    Cars are relatively asymmetrical as well (most drivers aren't exactly in the middle of their car, but a whole lot to either the left or the right). Since parallel parking to one or the other side of the road isn't considered equally hard by most drivers, you probably got a point there. – Mast Aug 30 '18 at 12:02
15

I would call into question the wisdom of using the Falcon as a combat ship at all.

As a light freighter modified by a smuggler, its primary purpose is to transport illegal goods past security - withstanding scrutiny from inspection crews; and outrunning, outmanoeuvring, or hiding from actively hostile ships and ground troops. For this purpose, not only will it need large amounts of space - and weight - dedicated to storage of goods; it also has secret and presumably shielded compartments as seen in Episode IV, necessitating more weight and bulk.

This size makes the Falcon a large target, and the tonnage makes it sluggish to maneuver compared to smaller combat-focused ships despite its souped-up engine, which can be seen in the movies themselves - the TIE blockade in Episode IV during the Death Star escape sequence run circles around it and set up multiple strafing runs almost unopposed by any defensive flying. The only things the Falcon has going for it are its modifications - a pair of mounted turrets to defend against more nimble enemies, powerful shields to soak up the inevitable damage, and raw engine power - and the ingenuity and skill of its pilots.

In fact, the Falcon doesn't even have a great combat record to begin with. (I will admit to my memory being a little hazy on this, corrections are welcome.) Consider the combat in the original trilogy:

Episode IV:

  • Runs from two Star Destroyers while leaving Tatooine.
  • Destroys four TIE fighters escaping the Death Star. The TIEs, as mentioned, are able to fly circles around it; and we later learn that the Imperials let the Rebels escape, so this can't even be counted as a clean victory.
  • During the attack on the Death Star, it destroys one single TIE fighter and damages/scares another into crashing. This is accomplished by taking both by surprise while they are focused on running down Luke.

Episode V:

  • Runs from a fleet of Star Destroyers and their fighters, returning only token fire and utilising an asteroid field to score some kills on the fighters and hide from the larger ships for a short time. Outmaneuvers and confuses the capital ships into thinking it has left.
  • Runs from a small force of TIE fighters from Cloud City. Turns back to pick up Luke and hightails it right back out of there.

Episode VI:

  • Participates in the attack on the Death Star II; where most enemy fire is directed at capital ships and all fighters are receiving broad orders and choosing targets of opportunity.
  • Is one of two ships to make the superstructure run to the Death Star's core and survive. Its structure is damaged by collisions due to reckless flying. Notably, the Falcon does have a unique advantage here in that its turrets could be used to return fire at rear opponents, while the superior manoeuvrability of the fighters is almost nullified by the closed-in spaces.

The Millenium Falcon may be a beautiful, iconic piece of junk, but it does not quite live up to its reputation as a dogfighter.

  • 1
    Not contradicting anything, but during the Battle of Yavin, the Falcon presumably succeeded in evading the excessive amount of defensive guns on the death-star surface in order to make those couple kills. with acknowledgement that the DS1 emplaced guns weren't really built for close-in work like this that's still an impressive achievement for a non-starfighter to do. – Ruadhan2300 Aug 31 '18 at 14:32
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    IOW it's an evasion specialist, which isn't the same as a warship. That's exactly what you'd expect of a smuggler's vessel - it isn't designed to kill, it's designed to flee. So in a military force, its role would be recon, maybe combat evac, but not the primary combat fleet. – rosuav Aug 31 '18 at 17:12
  • @rosuav - Correct. I've reworded "warship" to "dogfighter." – Christopher Vella Sep 2 '18 at 23:35
5

The Rebels had very few credits and many (but untrained or barely-trained) members. In a traditional military, when a general is given those pros/cons, she spends the asset she has: lives. The Falcon is just too tricked-out and expensive to have a fleet of them.

You might ask, why not just send a bunch of unmodded freighters in suicide attacks, then? Two words: tractor beams and force fields. Anything big enough to be a useful target has one or both of these.

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    Do you have any evidence that the modified Falcon was too expensive? Especially in comparison to X-Wings and Y-Wings? – TheLethalCarrot Aug 30 '18 at 15:12
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    All the supplementary material I can think of references the Falcon's military grade hardware and souped up hyperdrive. That definitely won't come cheap! Consider also that those changes were made canonically over 15+ years of Han's career and put together equate to a complete refit of almost every system. The unmodded YT-1300 is an old outdated light freighter with no weapons worth speaking of that would fold immediately under tie-fighter gunfire. – Ruadhan2300 Aug 30 '18 at 15:32
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    Okay, X-wing is 150k new. ( starwars.wikia.com/wiki/T-65_X-wing_starfighter ). Y-wing is 130k new. ( starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Y-wing_starfighter ) And a YT-1300 (used) is 25k. (starwars.wikia.com/wiki/YT-1300_light_freighter/Legends) . This is the most favorable setup for you I can think of. We have 105k to spend now to get a YT-1300 as good as an X-Wing. o we have The Duralloy (starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Duralloy ) was from a capital-class ship, which is several orders of magnitude more expensive than an X-wing. Let's be generous and say 100k. – Carduus Aug 30 '18 at 15:39
  • Sublight drive is tweaked standard with a SLAM overdrive from a BTL-S8 K-wing, costing 250k new, so maybe 20-50k for the overdrive? The hyperdrive bumps up the speed from the standard Class 2 to a Class 1, then heavily modified to get Class .5 . – Carduus Aug 30 '18 at 15:50
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    You should edit your answer to include all the extra justification you wrote in comments. It would make your answer much better. – Peter Cordes Aug 31 '18 at 1:13
2

Economics, but not just due to cost. Think about it: it's been established that a tricked Falcon would cost much more than a tie fighter. Due to the economics of scaling, if the Empire (lets, be honest, the Rebels probably couldn't afford it period) built a bunch of them, costs would come down, but as costs decreased, you'd also get less effective ships (budgets are budgets, and having a million meh ships likely looks better on holoscreen to an enormous military than several thousand super ships).

But then they would still cost significantly more than TIE fighters, they would require different maintenance and construction facilities, they would require three or four times the crew as a fighter, and since they would not be "disposable" in the way that TIE fighters were, they would require extensive regular maintenance. So in essence, you'd have a big, specialized, still-not-amazing ship that requires more crew, specialized maintenance and takes up more space in the hanger, and that can't be produced as fast as TIE fighters, distributed in an enormous military system run by a bureaucracy. Who gets them on their Star Destroyer? Is it worth the cost? Would most admirals get more use of the hundreds of extra fighters that might be had instead? What if they're suddenly perfect for an engagement on the other side of the galaxy, but can't get there? It would be a logistical nightmare to implement on a massive scale compared to simple TIE fleets maintained by capital ships. The Empire and the Rebels would probably have some specialized juggernaut ships, but they probably weren't standard issue on most capital ships.

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    I don't think it is true that mass production leads to a worse product. It could go the other way, as Falcons are being mass produced it is worth designing specialised components or specialist equipment being purchased for tiny jobs like welding a single difficult joint. – PStag Aug 31 '18 at 10:03
  • @PStag That's true, and individual quality would probably go up. But the producers would start to say things like "shield generator X has 90% of the power of generator Y for half the price." You might also hear "the laser cannon power supply will support a dual or a quad cannon, and the quads are only 2000 credits more than the duals, so we'll install quads." Overall, however, the pattern would likely be to cut costs while getting the most bang for your buck. The ships wouldn't be worthless, but they wouldn't be the most amazing things possible either. – CMB Aug 31 '18 at 17:05
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    that would be the choice of the consumer. If they don't want to comprise on price there will be providers that won't either. – PStag Aug 31 '18 at 17:26
  • True if you're buying one for personal use, but as a large military, you're probably more concerned with getting enough to do the job as cheaply as possible. Accountants will be accountants. – CMB Aug 31 '18 at 17:40
  • that seems like circular logic, "they don't but them because if they did they would buy cheap versions that don't work as well." If they are not effective they will pay more. A military often doesn't buy the best kit but they do normally buy very good kit. – PStag Aug 31 '18 at 19:42
2

There are several issues that surround the army use of the YT-1300(p) Corellian Freighter like the Millennium Falcon (MF), many of which have already been mentioned, but I'd like to examplify a few more. This answer will focus mainly on canon, since that's what the movies rely on too.

  1. The Millennium Falcon is, like many YT-1300 Freighters, a personally modified model. YT's were popular for their 'revolutionary' modular capabilities. It would be impossible to trace what modifications the ship has gone through over the many years to reproduce it in mass;

    • (1a) Another issue is that the MF has been completely destroyed and rebuilt at least once, making it arguable if it's even the same ship anymore.
  2. The MF is unreliable, as examplified many times by the movies. Imagine the hell rebel engineers would go through as this ship just gets introduced. Additionally, who would even be able to memorize all the upkeep to each little modified part? Simply, this ship would be near impossible to maintain for a war-waging group, especially in a fleet;

  3. The YT-1300 design is rather old and deemed outdated by the producer, Corellian Engineering Corporation (deprecated around 0 BBY). This would mean getting new parts and the desired (standard) modifications the MF has to be really hard, if not impossible. An army can't use sparsity, it simply drives up the price and makes material input unreliable. Then one still has to consider all the non-standard, possibly self-made modifications on the ship.

  4. Time. It takes time to introduce any new vehicle, tool or any other standardisation to an army. Yes, the Rebels are into guerrilla tactics, but they still standardize too, they have to, after all. You cannot lead an army of troops without instructing them, training them and letting them get familiar with their tools. The Rebel alliance simply didn't have the time (nor the credits) to standardize such a time sink of a ship, with all the factors made in prior points.

One might go now: "Well, how about a standard YT-1300p/f?". These ships were not crazy amazing when they came out. Legends details that the ship did come with great equipment when bought new, for the price, but it was still a freighter, not a fighter. Additionally, try to get a new or intact used YT-1300 after 0 BBY: production was stopped and all used YT's probably already have several modifications on them.

The gist of the whole story comes down to: Standardization. This ship simply is not fit for that as of the time of the Rebel Alliance, due to the feature that made it so desirable: its modularity. Training crew for such a bulky, odd ship (let alone maintaining it) would be hard as well, especially for a more guerrilla focused Rebel Alliance. Why not buy a few X-Wings, Y-Wings or other such ships instead, then? At least those are known by the crew, and they are all reliable enough as well, without many complications.

One last point I'd love to make is that Star Wars does lean more on the fiction side of Sci-fi. Plot armor is a recurring term used, and it is sadly present in SW, if you hate such factors. Han, like many others, simply does get out of situations with the MF when he really shouldn't, simply because the story needs him and he shouldn't die (or any characters that flew the MF later).


Information pulled from the Star Wars wikia page on the YT-1300 light freighter as well as the movies themselves.

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    Sorry for the long response, by the way. I just wanted to collect as much information for you as possible (as well as I just obsess over details like these, I love vehicles, both fiction and in real life, haha) – Toastyblast Sep 4 '18 at 9:17

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