STAR WARS: IDENTITIES
London is about to become an outpost of a galaxy far, far away as the STAR WARS IDENTITIES exhibition comes to town. Richard Edwards plays Bothan spy…
The new Star Wars exhibition set to storm London.
As far back as SFX can remember, we always wanted to be a Corellian smuggler. Or a bounty hunter. Maybe even an X-Wing pilot. But is the adventure and excitement we crave a realistic target – or the foolish ramblings of a boy who grew up far away from the bright centre of the universe (in the Midlands)? We’re about to find out...
SFX has landed at the Munich incarnation of the Star Wars Identities exhibition before its contents are loaded onto a transport, given an X-Wing escort and redeployed at London’s O2 this month. There have been Star Wars exhibitions before, of course, but in addition to the usual props, costumes and concept art (more on those later), Identities wants to talk about what makes us all tick – from a scientific standpoint.
“When we started working with Lucasfilm on the project, the only challenge they had given us was they wanted to focus on the characters of Star Wars,” says Geneviève Angio-Morneau, a museologist who played a key role in assembling Identities. “Other exhibitions have had science factors, other elements that could more easily be associated with Star Wars like space travel and robots… So at first, we were a little bit surprised. I was like, ‘How do we work with these characters, and get a more scientific angle?’ So we started brainstorming. We were looking into mythology, but obviously that’s not terribly scientific. But when we were reading about mythology, we read a lot about the hero’s journey – so Joseph Campbell’s writing [his work was a major influence on George Lucas when he made Star Wars]. We started thinking about how a person grows from their childhood to their adult life. Obviously, there’s psychology, there’s genetics, there’s behaviour, there’s all of these different sciences that contribute to how we become the individual that we are. That’s the genesis of the whole approach for this project.”
Armed with a headset that delivers a voiceover at the right moments, and a wristband that’ll allow us to record the decisions we make on the interactive bits of the exhibition, we’re ready to go. “We accept all species,” says a Nigel Farage-baiting sign on the wall, as we’re invited to choose a face for our avatar from that galaxy far, far away. With options including Ewoks, humans, Gungans, Rodians and more, we decide to join Admiral Ackbar’s race as a Mon Calamari. We hope it’s not a trap…
Now we leave on a mission to find out who our alien will be. Along the way there are video documentary segments explaining the science bits (the animated style is reminiscent of
Jurassic Park’s Mr DNA), and 10 interactive “stations” that prompt you to search your feelings and think about who you are. And of course, there are plenty of tie-ins with the first two Star Wars trilogies. For example, Anakin and Luke Skywalker clearly have similar genes. They both grew up on Tatooine, and much of their upbringing was away from their biological parents. They’re both good pilots and strong with the Force. But at some point their paths diverge to make them very different people. That’s Identities in a nutshell.
“We started looking at the progression of a person’s life,” explains Angio-Morneau. “Right from the get-go, we talk about genes and species. Then, the whole progression of the exhibit follows, in a sense, the life of a human. We talk about our origins, and we search for things that influence our youth, like our parents and how they raised us in terms of authority and leniency. At the end of the exhibition, we talk about the choices we make as an adult.
“We really structured the whole exhibition about this quest. Star Wars is definitely there, but the whole focus – the way we were writing the text and designing it – became about you, the visitor, in the Star Wars world. You are the hero of the exhibition.”
That perhaps doesn’t do the Star Wars element justice, however, because even if you find the science isn’t your cup of bantha milk, you will be in awe of the museum side of the exhibition.
SFX is in heaven, with all the amazing models, costumes, concept art and more on display – now we understand how a connoisseur of classical art feels when staring at a painting at the Louvre. Close up, Han Solo in Carbonite has a remarkable amount of texture. You can see the wires and motors that moved Jabba’s eyes (pretty much the only bits of him that have survived from Return Of The Jedi). The ship models are just as beautiful close-up as they were on screen – and an ILM information sheet reveals that they really did think about the relative speeds of the ships. (Contrary to popular belief, the Millennium Falcon is not the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.)
There’s an undeniable sense you’re looking at history, and it’s no accident – the team behind the exhibition worked closely with Lucasfilm to ensure they had the best possible set of exhibits to show off. “They’re all treated like pieces of art,” says Sophie Desbiens, communications director at Identities creators X3. “When we’re in a venue we have specific requirements in terms of humidity and things like that. It has to be totally controlled because these objects were not made to be conserved. What we have left is very precious. A lot of the time people ask what the monetary value of these things is, and the only answer you can give is ‘priceless’. They’re unique. They’re witnesses of a different age in moviemaking. When you look at Chewbacca, every hair was sewn in one at a time. It was a craft.”
Nearly as impressive are the facts that accompany the artefacts – stuff that even the most hardcore Star Wars fan may not know. Like X-Wing pilots’ visors being yellow to hide the fact that the heat on set caused the actors’ make-up to run. Or that Harrison Ford provided casts for Han’s face and hands when he was frozen in Carbonite, but that the rest of the body belongs to a mystery donor.
“There’s an amazing amount of literature that already exists out there,” says Angio-Morneau, “and Lucasfilm gave us a ton of books. We had a lot of reading to do. Then we sat down with the [Lucasfilm] curators to ask if there was any unknown fact, or objects that had never been seen before. It was a very thorough validation process of reviewing all the content to make sure all of it was accurate. We actually hired a Star Wars geek for our team for this process. We really wanted to make sure a Star Wars fan would learn something new.”
And we have. We’ve also had a chance to ponder our existence, and our Mon Calamari has emerged fully grown. Turns out he spent some of his early life on Hoth (hope his gills didn’t freeze up), he’s a bounty hunter, and his home planet has been destroyed. We’re now faced with one final choice. Will he turn to the Dark Side, or stay in the light? We’re not telling – the answers to some questions are between SFX and the Force.
Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition opens at the O2 on 16 November. Tickets are available at www.theo2.co.uk.
From the reveal of Darth Vader in Return Of The Jedi.