STAR WARS
Lambda-class Shuttles:
The Dimorphism Booper

Martyn Griffiths explains:

The problems appear to ultimately be traceable to the blueprints of the ship (published in ‘Art of ROTJ’). These were drawn in Britain by Set Draughtsman Reg Bream under the direction of Production Designer Norman Reynolds, using photos of the models, for construction of the large-scale set mockup, and were fairly different from the ILM models. This wooden mockup was only a partial representation of the vessel, lacking outer wings and upper fin, and appears to have been considerably underscale (probably to save costs) in the manner of the Falcon mockup. Also, it is possible that some effort at forced-perspective was being made, since the outline differences between mockup and FX models are fairly strong.

Alternatively, it is possible that the differences simply result from a possibly inadequate number of photographs of models thousands of miles away in California. For example, it's worth noting at this point that Mike Pangrazio (the matte artist who painted the painting of the shuttle on the shield generator pad) got the proportions correct, but then being more or less an in-house ILM person he probably had the opportunity to study the models.

As an aside, the model is - barring maquettes - usually the first physical representation of a movie spacecraft, and blueprints themselves are mostly only drawn after the model is finished, if there is to be a life-size set mockup or prop, or if another model is to be built in a different scale - there’s not much point otherwise, as the modelmakers often simply work to the design artist's sketches, not to blueprints. (This may not apply where complex armatures or machinery are required, which would admittedly have been the case for the Imperial Shuttle as it is a highly mechanized model.) Anyway, IMHO, it really is the model which determines the details and parameters of the ship. ILM Star Wars models were apparently usually built to regular Imperial scales, and this establishes a theoretical 'real' set of dimensions for the ship. It should be the model which is the ultimate source of reference for each given design, and no object derived from it should be seen as having precedence over it as a reference source.

Unfortunately this is what has happened in the case of the Tydirium shuttle. The blueprints published in Art of ROTJ, or the mockup constructed from them, appear to have been used as the primary reference by the MPC company when they created their model kit, resulting in some fairly major inaccuracies. This may have been the result of unavailability of the original model for reference purposes.

It seems likely that Kenner, however, did have some access to the model. I have heard it was even lent to them for reference during the design of their large toy. This toy, despite the to-be-expected nonsensical ‘toy features’ and compromises in the complexity of the detail and mouldings which detract from scale fidelity, is easily the best commercial representation of the ship, being in size a near-replica of the FX model (1/48th scale I believe) and quite close to correct in outline. This can presumably be explained by the toy designers having had extensive access to the original model, or at least to some really excellent reference photos, drawings and measurements. Kenner had no particular imperative to be accurate, being a toy firm rather than a model kit firm, after all. For example, compare their Rebel Transport, Millennium Falcon or X-Wing toys, in which the overall proportions are massively compromised by the need to accomodate toy figures. It seems unlikely that they would have troubled to make their toy especially correct unless it was easier to do so than to change it’s shape.

Fortunately, Kenner decided to make their Tydirium toy in a scale at which no outline compromises were required for it to accept toy figures, and if it is true that they had access to the original model, it may simply have been easiest to copy it exactly. MPC, who did have a vested interest in accuracy, given their profession to be marketing accurate model kits, were presumably working from the best information they could get, or at least the best they could get within a deadline.

Anyway, the Art Of blueprints/MPC model kit, as cheap and easily-available references, have had enormous influence in later secondary materials. New sets of blueprints have been drawn from it, this version of the shuttle features in role-playing game material and novel covers, the versions in the LucasArts computer games are based on it, etc etc.

A brief rundown of the major points of inaccuracy of the kit etc: First, and most obvious, the main (vertical) fin is far too short longitudinally. That is, in side view, it does not extend far forward enough. It should overhang the cockpit much more, and this foreshortening makes the kit fin look far too squashed and it's leading edge too vertical (it should slope forward at quite an angle.) Secondly, the cockpit is entirely wrong in every set of angles. In side view, it slopes downwards at much too sharp an angle. The lower forward lip of the extreme nose should be about level with the bottom of the main hull, not drooping far below it. In front and top view, it is far too tapered. The extreme nose is too narrow, and therefore the angle of the sides of the nose is too sharp. There are problems with the overall width of the cockpit section too, and with the angled 'bat-ear' sections behind and above the cockpit. The neck is a little too short and should be beefier too.

The wings are ok at first sight though there are some problems. Obviously they are underdetailed. The main hull is the other real problem area. It's too short, too low (compared to the overly-canted, overly-tapered and vertically-exaggerated cockpit)and too narrow. The proportion of depth of the central deep part to the outer wing-attachment areas is wrong in that those shallow areas are too shallow. The aforementioned cockpit 'bat-ears' rise well above the top of the hull - yet should be closer to level with it.

The combined effect of these differences make the Tydirium kit appear rather dumpy and it can come as quite a surprise even to experienced SF modellers to be confronted with an example of the correct set of proportions after all these years. I have had some fairly vigorous arguments (ok, only with other nitpicking perfectionist geeks!) over these matters. When viewing a correct model of the Tydirium, any side perspective is immediately, obviously different. It’s no slight to Reg’s work - he had a whole different set of priorities to those of fussy modelmaking fans 18 years later - but the true shape of the shuttle is really a lot more aesthetically pleasing, being longer, lower overall, and generally sleeker, with a much 'faster' looking, less flat-faced nose.

slender version

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Corrected elevation view of the shuttle (as in the SFX model and Kenner toy & patent representations), iterim sketch by Martyn Griffths [© copyright Martyn Griffiths 2001].

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Photographs of the Lambda-class shuttle model.

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Lord Vader's shuttle landing, model version.

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The shuttle Tydirium exhibiting the longer dorsal fin of the shuttles' slender version.

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In-universe technical schematics for the shuttle Tydirium.

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Lord Vader's shuttle, on Endor. A matte painting matching the special effects model.

stumpy version

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Tydirium aboard Home One hangar set. The fatness of the head and the shortness of the body are very noticeable in this unfilmed view.

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The Emperor's shuttle, matte painting matching onto the exterior set.

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Stumpy representation of Lord Vader's shuttle aboard Executor and the Death Star II.

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Shuttle exterior set blueprints.

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Scavenger Hunt schematics, matching the exterior set.


Acknowledgements

Special thanks are due to, in alphabetic order:


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