Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, Museum of Science, Boston, MA

Diana, MaceVindaloo, Diasala, Zit, SuSu

At first, it seemed kind of lame ... an attempt for educators to show how cool science is by using a popular entertainment as a draw-card. Because though George Lucas damaged the franchise with his ego, there are still people who love the galaxy far far away, though maybe behind closed doors.

Like, us.

So we didn't like the idea of diluting the GFFA with an educational experience. You know what 'science museums' are like an attempt to make learning fun or cool or not boring. They tend to be filled with displays which might show something if you didn't have to read and understand screes of stuff. Or if you simply cared. These places tend to be filled with guilt-ridden parents and kids running around punching and thwacking buttons to see if stuff is going on, but running off to the next thing before they actually learn or perceive anything.

So, we almost didn't go to this show, but we figured we were obliged to, since we were in Boston anyway, and most of us had missed the Magic of Myth show.

It was weird to walk in and see costumes and props we'd seen at C3 ... some of us had even made versions of these for cosplay. We did notice that only the most popular things were here, and the lesser-known Jedi and villains were not represented. Heck, General Grievous and the clones were only shown via maquettes. And things from Hoth were featured, like the wampa, so that a display about surviving in extreme cold could be created. Not very imaginative ...

There were also models of things like spacecraft which might simulate things as done in the Star Wars universe, and real-world analogs for some of the weaponry found on Star Wars. For instance, the walker-style tanks, referred to as All-Terrain. There is a John Deere 6-legged vehicle which climbs hills without a road, chops down trees, strips them, and sections them for pick up by lesser vehicles later. That sounded just plain dorky, without the cool.

But duty calls, so we went. And we were pretty damned pleased that we did!

It's true that having to hear fannabes mis-cite stuff about the GFFA was painful. And seeing Luke's shot-through prosthetic hand labeled, "Episode V" was irritating ... Okay yeah, and we ended up correcting people. We lost control and had to remind ourselves, this was not C3 ... these are normal people ....

Unlike the Lord of the Rings exhibition, this show was actually created by the Museum of Science and Lucasfilm, and local industrial and engineering sponsors were found. At the entry, we were told that we would not be allowed to re-enter the exhibit once leaving, and there were no bathrooms within the exhibit! When one of us loudly complained, "What? That's like the Lord of the Rings show!" and the woman at the door promptly responded, "Yes, but you're allowed to take photos." Okay, that's better ...

And because we are true blue Star Wars fans, we were drawn to the many props and maquettes and models and costumes. It was a little strange to know that we were simply re-visiting these objets, having "visited" with them before at C3 and The Magic of Myth exhibition. But what's this? Next to Luke's landspeeder (which makes its very first public appearance ever) was a hovercraft which kids could ride ... and a video presentation of the maglev monorails ... despite ourselves, we found ourselves drawn to these efforts to educate or at least link the GFFA to the here and now.

Luke's X-wing (Red 5, of course!) crossed with the Naboo N-1 Fighter looks like it gave birth to the Moller Skycar model. And there were many models of futuristic looking craft which are being designed to do everything from augment public transportation to take commercial tours through space.

There is an animatronic robot show (sponsored by Raytheon) where Cynthia Breazeal, Director of the Robotic Life Group at the MIT Media Lab is featured alongside C3PO to "discuss" why R2D2 is not the incorrigible miscreant the protocol 'droid believes him to be. She admits in the course of the show that she created a robot called KISMET because she was affected by how friendly and sociable the GFFA's favorite astromech is in the Star Wars films. The show is actually worth the 15+ minute wait in line, in that you get to find out how progressive robotics has become. It's not all prosthetics and coldness anymore.

Speaking of prosthetics, there is a display showing the latest substitute body parts here on earth, alongside Luke's and Anakin's prosthetic hands, and maquette of General Grievous. As a maquette, the artist did a superlative job modeling the cyborg General, showing movement and strength in the little clay figure. Darth Vader's 1977 costume is here, as well as the more recent helmet built for Hayden Christensen. Though the mostly-machine men are considered "twisted and evil," these prosthetics are obviously developed to answer real needs for those who have lost or perhaps never had certain limbs.

To our surprise, Lobot's headgear was also here, alongside a display showing how neural triggers are embedded directly into the brain, and an interactive quiz which put forward questions like, "If you could download anything from a computer into a brain, would you do it if you couldn't trust the source?" Hey, that's a Ghost in the Shell thing!

Not everything was an attempt to tie Star Wars to a educational contemporary earth thing. There were video presentations where the likes of Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, Doug Chiang, etc. tell the stories which are now famous: how R2D2's voice is based on the sounds a baby makes; how they used trucks and robots to run cameras so it gave the feeling of flying through a set; how the sets for episodes 1, 2, and 3 were reverse-engineered to mesh up with 4, 5, and 6, how the landspeeder was built on a tri-wheeled chassis so they could more effectively hide the earthly wheels on the repulsorlift craft; how the "lived-in universe" was an important step in film making. It was annoying that kids would jump in front of you and start pushing buttons. (Yeah, we yelled at a lot of kids and their parents, who pretended they didn't know the kids.)

Come to think of it, this show did remind us a bit of the Lord of the Rings show, in how displays were put up and video clips were presented. The Museum of Science obviously learned a lot while the LOTR show was in residence.

This were also several displays to show how robots detect and decide. For instance, some robots detect motion, which means if you don't move, you're invisible. Others only detect height (the robot would call you by a name programmed into its database, based on your height ... we have a couple of Chewbaccas, one Han, an ewok ...), or concentrate on motion. There was one interactive display which instructed you to hold a robot up by its treads, then push it gently and observe how it figured out how to stay upright. Only, people would smack the thing and make it fall over and turn off ... they either can't read or they don't understand that R2D2 is fantasy.

There were also virtual reality displays which allow you design a moisture farm or a city, and calculate productivity or traffic patterns. Or to build aspects of a robot. Or learn how difficult teaching a robot how to walk actually is. It was interesting, and they tried to tie everything to a Star Wars feature or context. Though they kind of screwed up a quiz wheel called "Jedi Trials" it was quizzing you on aspects of the exhibition. That's not how the trials were conducted!

It was more interesting to see some things we had seen before, just because we're like that. We hadn't seen the model of Kashyyyk before, and despite the fact that seeing it on screen was disappointing, the model was most impressive! The concept seems more colorful and exotic than the screen version, and less damp and warm. One would think that with their fur and size, that Kashyyyk would be a colder, dryer place, eh?

Of course, we kept going back to the 'droids and props and costumes. We took a LOT of photos, so we hope you enjoy them. It was nice that we were allowed to, too!

Like we mentioned, the descriptions were occasionally wrong, but the labeling was mostly good, and some costumes and such were captioned to link them to something contemporary or educational. Or would explain something interesting about the prop or costume. Like, the Wampa costume is man-sized, but forced perspective camera angles made it appear much larger to the viewer. And how the Vader costume looked disproportional, but again, the forced perspective took care of the sizing. Think of how Michelangelo's "David" is broader on top than on bottom, since it was to be viewed from below ... the forced perspective made his head and shoulders appear "normal" rather than "monstrous."

The gift shop a the end of the show was dedicated to the exhibit, meaning Star Wars stuff, including the Master Replicas lightsabres, C3PO and Darth Vader Hallowe'en masks, pewter chess sets, and a exhibition publication published by National Geographic! It was difficult to keep the purchasing to a minimum, but since we were restricted from using the bathroom while in the exhibition, the call of nature eventually hurried us along out of there. (We knew the bathroom restriction was a crowd control plan!)

Linked up with this exhibition was an IMAX film hosted by Anthony Daniels called Far, Far Away: The Worlds of Star Wars which seeks evidence of planetary and geologic extremes which could match the GFFA planets. There was also a Special Effects show, and a full-size replica of the Millennium Falcon, featuring a "jump to lifespeed multimedia experience." It's not a flight simulator ride, but the "3Space" audio system by Bose was featured. The additional fee included a souvenir pin. The other movies and such also carried an additional fee of $9. The exhibition itself cost $20, and included a pass to the rest of the museum. Pricy, but not mroe so than other shows, and it's discounted with membership to the museum. So if there are several of you going, or you plan to go more than once, consider joining the museum.

All in all, it was a nice walk from downtown to the Museum of Science, and though we had to buy tickets on Saturday and return on Sunday to view the show, it was wholly worthwhile. We were all impressed at the calibre of the displays and attempts to educate the masses. One of us, who had given up on George Lucas after Episodes I and II, decided to go ans watch Ep3 ... we hope he likes it. It would make the beating we gave him when he told us he hadn't watched it worth his pain!

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