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The Last Jedi Revives an Extremely Arcane Bit of Star Wars Lore. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Chewie, a porg, and space dice.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Lucasfilm, iStock.

The new Star Wars installment is chock-full of references to the space opera’s past, but here’s one allusion that moviegoers, and even many Star Wars buffs, might not be able to place: a pair of tiny golden cubes on a chain, the Millennium Falcon’s space-travel equivalent of fuzzy rearview mirror dice. The dice are the property of the galaxy’s favorite rogue, the late Han Solo, and they’re still dangling in the cockpit when, as glimpsed in a TV spot, Luke Skywalker reenters the freighter. Like everything in the Star Wars universe, the tiny gold knickknack has a backstory, and Slate investigated it.

The golden dice make their first appearance in Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, the film that introduced George Lucas’ saga. Set decorator Roger Christian, whose team won an Academy Award for the 1977 film, wrote in his autobiography that he added the dice as a finishing touch that helped develop Solo’s character as “reckless” and “a gambler.” Christian took inspiration from actor Harrison Ford’s previous film with Lucas, American Graffiti, in which Ford’s character had a skull dangling off his mirror, but Christian deemed a skull “a little too rock ’n’ roll for Star Wars.” So the dice became a part of the Millennium Falcon. Eagle-eyed viewers can glimpse the dice at the very top of the frame during the scene where the ship is sucked into the Death Star by a tractor beam, for instance. Chewbacca also hits his head on the dice as he boards the Falcon in Mos Eisley, the spaceport where the famous cantina scene occurs.

Speaking to Vanity Fair before the release of The Last Jedi, Pablo Hidalgo, creative executive of Lucasfilm Story Group, said that the production might have forgotten about the dice in the interim; they didn’t appear again until the saga returned with The Force Awakens. Hidalgo said the team behind the 2015 movie re-watched old footage to reconstruct Solo’s ship. (According to the Metro, the art department at Pinewood Studios realized they were missing the dice after filming had started and bought a pair of 24-karat-plated dice from a fan of the franchise on eBay for £22 in June 2014).

Hidalgo, who J.J. Abrams called the “keeper of all arcane details of Star Wars,” spoke about the dice’s origins in that same Vanity Fair piece, and the charm showed up on the magazine’s Force Awakens cover, nestled between the V and A.

“The story that you would hear if you traveled to cantinas or watering holes around the Star Wars galaxy,” Hidalgo says, spinning his yarn, “is that those dice were involved in a game of Corellian Spike—a dice-using version of a card game called sabacc. Rumor has it Han won the Millennium Falcon [from Lando Calrissian] with those dice. Whether or not that’s just bar talk, I can’t say.”

This account is reiterated in Star Wars: The Force Awakens the Visual Dictionary, which Hidalgo wrote. But in the Expanded Universe young readers novel Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo Adventure, published in 2015, author Greg Rucka seems to suggest an alternate story. He writes, “The Wookiee barked a response to C-3PO, slapped his comm button again, and swung up from his seat, ducking out of habit as he stepped out of the cockpit and knocked the pair of novelty chance dice that he’d hung there as a joke some years ago.” The official Star Wars website references this as a “canonical explanation.” [Very mild The Last Jedi spoilers follow.]

So the origins of the dice are muddy, although perhaps not quite as mysterious as the question of Rey’s parentage at the start of The Last Jedi. But we do know they have sentimental value: Luke swipes them out of the Falcon and gives this reminder of Han over to Leia when the twins reunite. The film lingers on this moment with a close up of the dice resting in General Organa’s hands, but viewers who aren’t eagle-eyed or steeped in Star Wars lore might be left wondering what significance, exactly, the golden dice hold.