The Evolution of Star Wars - Cloud City
By Justin McLaughlin
Appearing mainly in Star Wars: Episode V and briefly in Episode VI, Cloud City is a beautiful floating city situated in the atmosphere of the gas planet Bespin. According to Wookieepedia, Cloud City is 16.2 kilometers in diameter and 17.3 kilometers in height from its tallest skyscrapers to the “unipod” hanging at the bottom.
Han Solo, Leia Organa and Chewbacca travel to Cloud City to escape from Imperial forces during Episode V.
According to the first draft script of Star Wars, the Imperial capital was located on Alderaan, which was a gas giant similar to Bespin. The Imperial capital itself was a floating city closely resembling Cloud City. By the second draft, these three locations (Alderaan, Bespin and the Imperial capital) had been split up.
A subtle detail about Cloud City is that Lando Calrissian says “we’re still a very small operation” implying that typical tibanna gas mining operations are even more massive than Cloud City, which is established in Episode V to be very large. From what we see of Cloud City in Episode V, the city has many levels, ranging from the skyscrapers perched atop the city’s saucer shape to the deeper shafts and rooms where Luke Skywalker fought Darth Vader.
According to Wookieepedia, Cloud City was founded about four centuries before the Battle of Yavin, by an eccentric businessman named Ecclessis Figg. The founding purpose of Cloud City was to mine Tibanna gas, which is the ammunition for blasters. Cloud City later became a tourism hub. 2
In Episode V, we see mainly the upper and lower levels of Cloud City; either the tops of the skyscrapers, or the deeper labyrinth of tunnels and tubes. Perhaps the location represents the characters (and the audience’s) mood; while Han Solo and company are in the upper levels, they believe they have found a place safe from the Imperial fleet. Once Darth Vader surprises and captures them, they are taken to a dark torture/prison chamber. The carbonite chamber is also dark, and its colors are mainly orange and dark blue.
When Luke fights Vader, that battle takes place in the carbonite chamber, symbolizing the danger Luke faced, and then the battle moves to a walkway over an endless drop, perhaps representing the risk that Luke will “fall” to the dark side. Luke loses the duel and falls down the shaft, almost dying but being saved by Lando and Leia in the Millennium Falcon.
Wookieepedia states “In the early rough draft of Star Wars written in 1974, a city on Alderaan, which is set as a giant gas planet and is the capital of the New Galactic Empire at that time, resembles… Cloud City… When Ralph McQuarrie began conceptual work for the second draft, he designed the Imperial capital on Alderaan. The art he provided was the inspiration for the look of Cloud city, differing only in minor respects from the city as seen in Episode V.”
Concept Art: Wookieepedia – Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie: