Thursday, July 23, 2015

Project NL: Millennium Falcon

millennium falcon night light
Joey, have you ever wanted split open the Millennium Falcon?
Over the years I somehow came into possession of two 1979 Kenner Millennium Falcon toys. I know one of them was given to me by my younger brother, but the other one I don't really have any recollection of acquiring. After kicking around in boxes and surviving a couple of moves, they were both in danger of being offloaded at a thrift store. Rather than see them disappear I started on a project to turn one of them into a night light because what else does one do with multiple Falcons?

I performed a once-over of each Falcon trying to decided which one would be the successful candidate. Neither one was in the best condition to start with but one was definitely in better shape.

I spent some time cleaning up one of them. Washing it, removing a few mynocks, some very light sanding, etc. The other one I would (tearfully) cannibalize for parts when needed.

millennium falcon night light
Two coats of paint were needed, mostly for all the nooks and crannies.

Step 1 already taken care of I used the remnants of a can of "Gloss White, Fusion for Plastics" Krylon spray paint to cover the yellowing plastic with a bright white finish. I had to buy a fresh can to coat everything and wound up applying two layers (three in some places) to the exterior of the craft since there are a lot of nooks and crannies on the Falcon. (Holding the spray can at the right distance and angle can make all the difference!)

Once finished, it was a brilliant white and I started fantasizing about what it would look like completed. I took the opportunity to run around the garage swooping the Falcon around obstacles, blasting imaginary asteroids and shouting, "When the hell are we going to get home, Chewie?"

millennium falcon night light
The plastic collar to keep the gun in place needed to be improvised.

I had to figure out how to mount the gun on top of the Falcon. Sometime in the past the clear plastic fitting that kept the gun in place had been lost and/or destroyed. Using a pair of garden shears I cut away some of the back panel of the "spare" Falcon to create a fitting and glued the gun into place with Liquid Nails. Since I had the Falcon split in two at this time I spent some time filling small holes in the chassis of the Falcon prevent light from spilling out unnecessarily because I had some specific exit points for the light in mind.

Also in my mind's eye, I pictured the Falcon mounted on some kind of wooded slab or some other artistic backdrop. I found a large circular piece of clear plastic that I thought would do the trick, but it was about a 1/2" thick with a diameter of about 24" plus it weighed quite a bit. I eventually nixed the plastic mounting board because the last thing I wanted to create was a night light capable of rendering little kids unconscious should it somehow be knocked off the wall. I settled on a light piece of lumber (which I sanded down) that could accommodate the landing gear, which I planned to leave extended.

Then I came to the problem of how to actually mount the Falcon's landing gear to the board. Carefully drill some holes and bolt each leg to the board? In my mind this was too difficult to actually accommodate because of the configuration of the landing gear. Liquid Nails?

millennium falcon night light
Strong adhesive? Bolts?
I turned to Internet at this point to see if anyone else had taken on a similar project and to see what other options might exist. A couple of projects I read about involved major detail work and remounting the landing gear and trimming body work to lower the profile of the Falcon. (By my figuring the Falcon would stand out from the wall about 9".) All that sounded great, you know, for people with a high level of Patience and/or Artistic Skill. My stats in both those areas are somewhat capped by my natural ability to look at something and say, "Well, that's close enough."

I decided on going the Liquid Nails route to secure the Falcon. Taking no chances, I roughened the mounting surface and the feet of the landing gear, applied the liquid nails and clamped the feet overnight to ensure that the glue dried properly.

millennium falcon night light
While the Falcon was clamped in place, I sawed out sections of the engines so the light could get out.
Some of the rougher edges were filed down to appear less jagged.

Now I had the "shell" for the light -- or lights as it turned out.

I knew I wanted to make use of flexible LEDs capable of multiple colours and the ability to dim via remote control. I jumped online and there are lots of options available but all of them seemed like overkill. I didn't need 5 meters (16 feet) of LED's; at most I need 3 feet so I could comfortably wind the strip through the Falcon -- looping around the back, up through the middle and the cockpit. I eventually visited a local shop (Onstate LED Lighting) who was able to supply the controller ($14) and a power supply ($12). For the actual strip of lights I cannibalized a piece from a 5 meter strip my oldest son couldn't use due to a fried power supply. In the end I needed just over 2 1/2 feet of LED lights.

millennium falcon night light
The lights start at the tail section and move clockwise into the front of the ship and the cockpit. I left the cardboard partition in place. Note that I also that I also cut out a section of the "valley" between the front forks to allow more light to be projected upward. The controller is hidden inside the hold and the receiver pokes out slightly through the engines so the remote will work.

I wound the lights into place, with the controller inside the Falcon and the receiver poking out discreetly from the rear of the ship. After a bit of filing, the power supply cable was easily slipped through a hole on the underside of the ship.

millennium falcon night light
Light test in the dark. The exit/entrance ramp is long gone. I may fill in that gap with pieces taken from the other Falcon, but for now I like the extra light coverage; plus it does a good job lighting the Falcon from underneath.

Once I turned on the LED lights I realized that I needed to cut away sections of the engines and the "valley" between the front "forks" of the Falcon so more light would shine through. I used a hacksaw to complete this task. (In retrospect, I'd do this cutting before spray painting everything to keep down the dust.)

I wasn't quite done though because once we tested it in dark, the thinness of the removable back panel became apparent. It made the whole thing look funny because it glowed aggressively while the rest of the plastic was thick enough to prevent this issue. I thought about the possibility of layering black paint on the inside but since I have a relatively high Cheap stat I turned to the magic of tinfoil. I cut out a piece of foil and taped it to the inside of the panel. Problem solved -- no more glow!

And after a quick hole drilled in the mounting board and short nail hammered into a stud, it was ready to go on the wall! Overall Dad stats increased by +3.

millennium falcon night light
The finished product! Maybe a few minor tweaks remain to be completed, but otherwise, I'm very happy with the result.

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