‘Star Wars’ Used Car Parts to Great Effect in 1 Iconic Prop
In the magical world of movies, things are not always as they seem. For instance, the futuristic handheld computers soldiers carried in the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Total Recall were Casio pocket calculators, and the “psychokinetic energy meters” in Ghostbusters were shoe-polishing gadgets. But arguably the most iconic movie prop used Volvo car parts in one unforgettable Star Wars scene.
Han Solo is frozen in carbonite in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is the second film released in George Lucas’ epic sci-fi film franchise. The story opens with Luke Skywalker patrolling the ice planet of Hoth, where the Rebels maintain a secret outpost. It ends with a still-alive Han Solo frozen in a slab of carbonite. Once you learn that propmakers used Volvo car parts in the scene, you’ll never look at Empire the same way again.
As the action unfolds, Luke Skywalker travels to Dagobah, where he crash-lands his X-wing fighter in a swamp and trains with Jedi Master Yoda. The Emperor contacts Darth Vader via hologram and orders Skywalker’s death, but Vader suggests that if the feisty rebel were recruited to the Dark Side, he would make an excellent ally to the Sith Lords. Han Solo and Princess Leia share their first kiss aboard the dilapidated Millennium Falcon before all hell breaks loose.
Figuring they’d evaded bounty hunter Boba Fett, they land the Falcon on a floating gas mine, Cloud City, where Solo, Leia, C-3PO, and Chewbacca meet Solo’s friend Lando Calrissian. Suspecting their safe harbor is not as it seems, Leia pokes around and finds 3PO dismantled. Nonetheless, Solo, the princess, and the Wookiee join Calrissian for dinner, only to learn their host has betrayed them by selling out to Vader.
Intending to lure Skywalker telepathically, Vader torments Solo while Chewie puts C-3PO back together. Before Solo is flash-frozen mid-scream in a block of carbonite, he gets one more kiss from the princess, who finally professes her love to the unfortunate captain. Skywalker arrives in Cloud City just in time to see his friend’s immobilized form emerging from Fett’s vessel for delivery to Jabba the Hutt.
But look closely at the sides of the carbonite slab. You’ll see multiple Volvo 343 instrument panels installed inside-out and upside down to resemble displays and controls for the carbon-freezing device.
‘Star Wars’ propmakers didn’t settle for car parts from just any Volvo
The Volvo 343 might be one of the Swedish car company’s most unusual vehicles. For one thing, the rear-wheel-drive compact car was made in cooperation with a Dutch truck company in Belgium. It was also the first model to come with a Volvo Variomatic continuously variable transmission ( CVT). According to Volvo, the three-door hatchback featured hydraulic disk brakes in the front and drum brakes at the rear.
The relatively unpopular Volvo 343 was never officially sold in the United States, so its dash panels aren’t just lying around automotive junkyards on this side of the pond. But Star Wars enthusiasts wishing to replicate the Han Solo-frozen-in-carbonite prop at home aren’t out of luck. According to Jalopnik, examples crafted from 3-D scans of the original Volvo 343 panel can be found on Etsy.
The real reason ‘Star Wars’ froze Han Solo in carbonite
In Empire, Han Solo is forced into suspended animation for safe transport to Jabba the Hutt. In real life, the reason was different. Director George Lucas came up with the idea of leaving Solo in a not-quite-dead state in case actor Harrison Ford opted out of future Star Wars movies.