Star Wars Saturday, Part 2: Where science meets imagination (and marketing)

The second half of our Star Wars Saturday was going to the Discovery Science Center in Anaheim to see a traveling exhibit, Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination.

The Star Wars part of the exhibit was basically a ton of actual models, costumes, and props used in the filming of the Star Wars movies. That was pretty sweet, and pictures of those models and props are the raison d’etre of the post.

The “science” part of the exhibit was fairly thin. For various topics like spaceflight, walking machines, robots, advanced prosthetics, or whatever, there were real-world examples, often with examples, models, or videos. I could be wrong, but I estimate that the exhibit was about 2/3 Star Wars movie props and maybe 1/3 “science” stuff. I put “science” in scare quotes because those parts of the exhibit were supposedly there to show how the people who made the Star Wars movies were inspired by real-world technology.

But there are a couple of problems with that story. It’s a commonplace now that our real-world technology is inspired by science fiction more than the reverse. And the exhibit bore that out, because most of the examples that supposedly inspired George Lucas and the ILM model-makers are from the past decade and therefore post-dated the movies they allegedly inspired. Although Star Wars was primarily inspired by pulp sci-fi and 1930s movie serials, there is no doubt that the advent of real spaceships and computers and so on in the decades preceding A New Hope had some influence. There is probably an interesting historical story to be told about the effects of the space race on Star Wars–but you won’t find anything about that in this exhibit.

My resistance to the Lucasfilm mind-probe was negligible.

So, on one hand, the point of the exhibit is basically to go see some cool stuff from the movies, with a painfully thin veneer of “science”. I’m used to sell-out hijinks like that from children’s museums and science centers. It’s annoying, but I am not outraged like I would be if one of these blatant Lucas-fests was hosted by a natural history museum or planetarium.

On the other hand, I knew exactly what I was getting into when I went, and wasn’t honestly that interested in anything other than seeing the movie models and props. And we did poke around the rest of the museum long enough to see some cool stuff and learn a little, so maybe the strategy of using Star Wars as a gateway drug to science is not completely ineffectual–although I still think it’s misguided, and that science is sufficiently interesting that no gateway drug ought to be required.

Oh, and the exit from the exhibit dumps you into a Star Wars gift shop (that you can also get into without going through the exhibit, natch) with some absolutely ruinous pricing. For example, the same plain-Jane action figures you can get at Target or Wal-Mart for six or seven bucks were priced at $17.95. So if you go, caveat freakin’ emptor.

Okay, enough whinging about the perversion of science by marketing. I went to see a bunch of real stuff from the Star Wars movies, and I got my wish, so on with the photos.

Credit where it’s due: the first display case in the exhibit has four models of real conceptual spacecraft, including a matter-antimatter rocket, a laser-boosted interstellar ship, and this Bussard ramscoop ship. I think these are the first actual models of any of these things that I have ever seen, so, hey, real (projected) science FTW.Scattered among the real shooting models and costumes were a handful of concept models and maquettes, including this early rendition of General Grievous’s flagship, which is something else I had never seen before.

This big model of the Millennium Falcon is about the size of my dinner table, and the level of detail is just unbelievable.

But I was far more charmed by this little hand-sized version, which was made for the shot in Empire where the Falcon is stuck to the back of the Star Destroyer’s bridge tower.

And speaking of Star Destroyers, this one (also from Empire) was wicked cool. I had a plastic kit model of a Star Destroyer when I was in high school, and Jarrod and I used to zoom it slowly over our heads to replicate the opening shot of A New Hope. Seeing this beast brought back a lot of memories. Geeky memories, sure, but memories nonetheless.

The Yoda puppet was unexpectedly my favorite thing in the exhibit. It was one of the last things we saw. I was getting a little jaded on all the awsome, and then we came around a corner and BAM! There’s Yoda. “Judge me by my size, do you?” No, sir. “And well you should not…”

Where’s the fun of being a Jedi if you don’t get trained in a swamp by a little green backwards-talking alien that’s 900 years old? Those pansies in the Jedi temple didn’t know what they were missing.

For more info on Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, including future exhibits sites and dates, check out the Wikipedia page.

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