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…

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents -

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.”

GEEK PARADISE

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.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Jo­erg Koch

From the re­veal of Darth Vader in Re­turn Of The Jedi.

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