Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh
chris_walsh

Not wretched, not a hive, no scum, no villainy...

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.
Tags: star wars
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