Star Wars - Where Science meets Imagination

As a science fiction fan I could hardly miss the Star Wars exhibition that was held from 4 June 2009 to 3 November 2009 at Melbourne’s Scienceworks Museum. I worked there as a volunteer, and also wrote an article about the exhibition, which was published on 11 October 2009, for the website “Germans in Melbourne”. The article was edited by the website’s editorial staff, and can be viewed by following this link:

This is a somewhat abbreviated version of the article I wrote in 2009:

 What are they exhibiting?  

Not surprisingly, this exhibition shows us laser swords, Star Wars figures like Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, and models of spaceships from all six episodes. Yet, as the title of the exhibition itself implies, it isn’t only about the fantasy world of the Star Wars saga; it also covers current technological advances, and as such it is not only a must for fans of Star Wars but also for anyone who is technologically keen: anyone with an interest in robots, space travel, and technological advances in medicine, or relating to the environment.

 The Exhibition

Even before you enter the exhibition you catch sight of the occasional Star Wars volunteer coming up to visitors dressed in the costumes of their favourite characters from the saga. Children love being photographed with storm troopers, Jedis, or with Darth Vader, who manages to get a fair amount of respect from some of the kids because of his black armour.    

Apart from models of spaceships from George Lucas’ fantasy saga, the exhibition also has showcases full of models of spacecraft taken from current space technology. The highlight of the collection of original film models must be Luke Skywalker’s ‘Landspeeder’ from Star Wars IV, broadcast in the US as the first of the six episodes on 25 May 1977. A video presentation about this exhibition model shows us what technology was invented to allow the ‘Landspeeder’ to hover over the ground. While the sort of propulsion shown in the film might be science fiction, visitors can themselves try out maglev technology in a test station, so that they can see to what extent it is really possible for vehicles to stay levitated over the ground’s surface. This isn’t just educational fun for children!

The next interactive station offers visitors the possibility of creating 3D environments with the help of a computer, for example the farm (moisture farm) where Luke Skywalker grew up. If there are too many people crowding round it’s worth waiting to get a chance to try it out for oneself. During the wait visitors might like to look at the videos about the various worlds portrayed in Star Wars, and admire the costumes of Star Wars characters in the glass showcases.   

In the video presentations, the worlds of the star warriors are compared with the climate on Earth. Personally, I was interested to learn that the location used for Luke Skywalker’s home on the desert planet was actually a hotel in Tunisia that is constructed below ground because of the hot climate, and as a result benefits from natural cooling.

It’s also interesting to see how, in another part of the exhibition, technical advances in medicine in the real world to do with the use of prostheses and medical implants are compared with their use in Star Wars. You can also program little R2-D2 robots to move in the direction you want them to move in.

On a stage in the ‘robot theatre’ there is a video presentation in which robot developer Dr Cynthia Breazeal has an entertaining discussion with C-3PO about the personality indicators possessed by the small robot R2-D2. Kismet, a real ‘social robot’ that was developed by the scientist, gets to say something too, in his own way. 

Because the main point of this 15-minute presentation is to debate the ability of robots to express themselves emotionally, at another interactive station near the stage visitors are able to change the facial expressions of a computerised human’s face. 

Once you’ve seen enough and tried out everything, you leave the exhibition via the Star Wars fan article shop, there to ensure that the marketing angle isn’t neglected and so that visitors who buy a souvenir will be reminded of the exhibition for a long time to come.

Personal Conclusion: Worth Seeing

I found that the way the exhibition juxtaposes science fiction and current technological advances was in general successful and makes it worth a visit. Children and adults can try out the technology by playing with it. I would have liked to find out more about the music for Star Wars, since for me this is the highlight of the films. It’s true you can hear music from the Star Wars films as well as other sound recordings, but it is only played as background music to the video presentations – the ‘Making of Star Wars’. Even so, not everything can be covered in one exhibition.

Written by: Vanessa Nickel

Translated from the original German article by: Linguistico