Beyond a Cell Block: References to THX 1138 in Star Wars

Like the Force, George Lucas' first film is everywhere in Star Wars.

THX 1138 was George Lucas’s directorial debut back in 1971. The film, produced by Francis Ford Coppola, brings us to a dystopian future world where the human population is controlled by a police force of robots and subjected to drugs that subdue all emotions. Based on a student film by Lucas himself, it features Robert Duvall as the main protagonist and titular character. The film is probably best known to Star Wars fans from the various references in the Star Wars films. Let’s have a look at some of them.

Original Trilogy

The 1976 novelization of Star Wars has the most obvious reference to THX 1138, as it is name of the stormtrooper that lost his armor to Luke Skywalker after being knocked out on the Millennium Falcon. In the film, the stormtrooper was renamed to TK-421. However, we can still hear an onscreen reference in the scene where the disguised Luke and Han are moving Chewbacca through the detention level of the Death Star. When lieutenant Shann Childsen asks where they are “taking this…thing,” Luke claims he is a prisoner transfer from cell block 1138.

Another reference can be spotted in the hangar control room on the Death Star. When C-3PO asks what he and R2-D2 should do if they are discovered, the first line on the monitor reads “THX/1138.” The final reference can be found in the name of the stilt-legged speeder that is parked outside the Mos Eisley cantina, which is referred to as a Void Spider THX 1138 in Decipher’s Customizable Card Game, although the name was later changed into the Void Spider TX-3.

THX 1138 - Star Wars cameo

The references in the next two episodes are less obvious. In The Empire Strikes Back, shortly before the onset of the Battle of Hoth and after discovering a signal from one of the probe droids, General Rieekan issues the order to send Rogues 10 and 11 to station three-eight. The reference in Return of the Jedi is much harder to spot and was long debated to be absent until 2007, when Sideshow Collectibles released the 1:6 scale figure of Princess Leia (in Boushh disguise) which had the numbers 1138 painted on the side of her helmet. Pete Vilmur, head of fan relations at Lucasfim, later contacted Lucas Licensing’s Chris Spitale, who had overseen the Boushh project at Sideshow. He revealed photos of the helmet used during filming, which indeed had 1138 painted on the side.

THX 1138 - The Empire Strikes Back

Prequel Trilogy

The reference in The Phantom Menace is easy to spot, and one of the most well known Easter Eggs. 1138 is the designation of one of the battle droids fighting at the Grassy Plains during the Battle of Naboo. Its designation is printed out on his backpack, which can be seen clearly once the Droid Control Ship is knocked out and Jar Jar Binks tips over its lifeless body. A more obscure example is in the Young Jedi Collectible Card Game, where one of the Vulture Droids accommodating the Radiant VII is named DFS-1138.

THX 1138 - The Phantom Menace cameo

The reference in Attack of the Clones is illegible, but apparently all clone troopers have red LED lights in the back of their helmets that read 1138. In Revenge of the Sith the reference is neither spoken nor seen, but Commander Bacara, the clone trooper that shoots down Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi on Mygeeto during Order 66, has the numerical designation CC-1138. There is also a reference in The Clone Wars episode, “Clone Cadets.” In order to put Domino Squad to the test, Commander Colt gives the order to run the Citadel Challenge in version THX, variable 1138.

THX 1138 - video game cameo

Video Games and More

In addition to the movies, there are plenty of references to both THX and 1138 in Star Wars video games. One of the main characters from Republic Commando, Boss, has the numerical designation RC-01/138 (or RC-1138). He also made an appearance in The Clone Wars episode “Witches of the Mist,” although his designation is never mentioned. In The Force Unleashed, the protagonist Galen Marek is referred to as Subject 1138 during the escape from the Empirical, and in The Force Unleashed II, the clearance code for docking the Salvation is “Talus Haroon 10-11-38.”

The number is also referenced in novels that are now part of Star Wars Legends. The Thrawn Trilogy novels feature an experimental bioweapon that was identified as Trihexalophine 1138 in issue no. 68 of the Republic comic series. And how about the book titled, One Thousand, One Hundred and Thirty-Eight Wonders of the Ancient Galaxy?

THX 1138 - video game cameo

The Star Tours ride in the Disney theme parks is a bit more conspicuous. Star Tours Flight 1138 will bring you to Chandrila. Spaceport THX1138 is a starliner terminal in the Earth System that was visited by a Star Tours speeder in the revamped ride. And whilst queueing for the ride, you might hear an attendant asking for the attention of the owner of a red and black landspeeder with vehicle ID THX-1138 — as it is parked in a no-hover area!

Besides Star Wars, THX 1138 has been referenced in a lot of other media and has become sort of a running gag.

Kevin Beentjes (Wild Whiphid) is a molecular biologist working at the Dutch natural history museum. He is an editor for TeeKay-421, an administrator for Yodapedia, and fascinated with the myriad of alien life forms in that galaxy far, far away.