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My former editor Lukas Kendall once wrote that "Star Wars is at once a tried-and-true, satisfying narrative, and the greatest travelogue ever created; that is what creates a phenomenon." (He published that in a 1997 Film Score Monthly essay analyzing the original trilogy. And oh, yeah, he's a Star Wars appreciater. So am I. I'm warning you up front.) Star Wars is its own world, metaphorically speaking, recognizable enough for an audience to get its bearings and exotic enough to give us the illusion that it's indeed "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," as opposed to various English and Australian soundstages or other parts of our world.

Which might be why there seemed to me to be a strange but pleasurable kind of weight to Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, which compares and contrasts the worlds of Star Wars and our world. The exhibit includes props and costumes from all six films, but mostly I wasn't thinking of those as "props"; I'd think of them as "artifacts." At times something definitely breaks that illusion, like the Seventies lettering on the syringe of A New Hope's interrogation 'droid, but it was surprisingly easy to accept these models as something from Beyond instead of from Lucasfilm's vaults. Cool. (And remember, those vaults also include the Ark of the Covenant, so that's cool, too.)

The show (closing in Portland on Monday, and opening at the California Science Center in L.A. come February) focuses on how we might be able to create tech much like what's in Star Wars such as levitating transports, more sophisticated robots, extensive replacement body parts, and better adaptations to extreme weather like that of Hoth (or our own Antarctica; the exhibit mentions an idea for an Antarctic exploration base that could move around, kind of like a low-slung AT-AT). The work on bionic body parts is particularly intriguing, because we've managed a lot of progress on making, say, artificial limbs that behave, and can be controlled, like real limbs. Useful artificial skin, true replacement eyes and ears, everyday use of artificial hearts...

Faster-than-light travel (that mythical "point-five past light speed" Han promises) is, of course, impossible based on what we currently know about the laws of our universe (unless, perhaps, tachyon theories yield something interesting), but the exhibit points out ideas for how we could manage interstellar travel with tech we have now: hey, there's a model of the Daedalus!

Yes, I'm geeking out on the possibilities.

Of course, I also geeked out on the props. The ILM people are prop fiends, breaking a record (if I remember correctly) for number of physical spaceship models they built, even on the frequently digital prequels. I took about 50 pictures of these objects, often from low angles to avoid flash glare on the display cases, and also to make some objects (like an AT-AT Imperial Walker) more imposing. There's a Yoda puppet from Empire, next to a costume Samuel L. Jackson wore as Mace Windu. You get to see how tall indeed are Darth Vader and your average Wookies. Here are the different pieces of Vader's helmet. You get to see the variety of light saber designs. There are several Millennium Falcons, ranging from over five feet wide to one a little larger than my hand (and I saw a note saying one Falcon was the size of a silver dollar). The smaller-than-lifesize Wampa ice creature made for the Empire Strikes Back special edition (yes, I called a non-existent creature "lifesize," but that's the easiest way to refer to it) sits in one case, actually a little hunched over. "That's one weary Wampa," I thought.

There's humor, too, like a montage of the damage a lot of the R2-D2 models went through while making the movies. Poor thing! The model shop finally built a version that was nigh-indestructible: you see Kenny Baker, the guy sometimes inside R2, looking at it and smiling and saying that he needs to run it over with a car or it'll put him out of a job.

And among the hands-on stuff -- get a model vehicle to levitate, do your best to control a hovercraft or assemble a functioning Tatooine moisture farm, try to make those robot legs walk (it's harder than it looks) -- I think the neatest was the robot scorpion made of something much like Lego blocks, reacting to children while an OMSI volunteer oversaw, smiling at how the kids reacted to it.

I spent an hour and a half inside the exhibit, surrounded by Star Wars and things reminiscent of Star Wars. And I'm still thinking back on it and thinking, "That's neat."

"Neat." It's a good word.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
curt_holman
Dec. 31st, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC)
Kessel Run
Do they explain the whole "Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs" thing? I've been watching 'A New Hope' with my daughter lately, and I can't really figure out the whole "a-parsec-is-a-unit-of-distance' thing.
chris_walsh
Dec. 31st, 2006 04:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Kessel Run
Heh. I like both of the theories I've heard. One is, of course, that Han is talking out his ass. ;-) (Note Obi-Wan's expression after Han says it.) You, of course, can phrase that to your daughter in a gentler way...

The more involved theory I'd heard was that the Kessel Run is a zig-zagging, smugglers' route that has to weave past several black holes with their huge gravity, and the closer you come to a black hole the more likely you'll get sucked into (or properly onto) it, but that the faster you can go, the closer you can skirt to those black holes without getting caught and thus shave distance off of the run. And the Falcon, the vessel's funkiness aside, is hella fast in hyperspace.

I'm still scratching my head, myself. But here's the Wikipedia (for what it's worth) page on parsecs. (And no surprise, it's addressed on the Wiki for the Falcon, too. Scroll down to "Kessel Run.")
curt_holman
Jan. 1st, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)
Event Horizon
That black-hole theory is pretty clever.

I'm not a fancy big-city astrophysicist, but if it takes a ship closer to the black holes, wouldn't that make time slow down, thus ruining the time-saving advantage of going fast?
chris_walsh
Jan. 1st, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Event Horizon
Could. Shoot, it could.

I could come up with some technobabble (to borrow from Star Trek, which I also love) to justify it, but what's really coming to mind is a quote from Bloom County:
Failure, Mr. Jones, is hardly original.
But to think more, maybe it's still a good idea to go that close, in that it makes the smuggler ships less likely to be seen or caught by those big behemoth Imperial ships that would too easily get caught by those black holes...Yeah! That must be it!

Congrats to me, my mind works this early. ;-)
supremegoddess1
Dec. 31st, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC)
all i want is a transporter.
chris_walsh
Dec. 31st, 2006 06:48 pm (UTC)
I'm holding out for anything (whether true levitation or anti-gravity or harnessing of The Force) that makes flying (or at least jumping really really long distances) easier.

Guess that means in this world, I should really want to be the Hulk.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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