ECHO BASE-South Portland, Maine--The Museum of Science in Boston served as the launching pad for one of the most unique Star Wars-themed exhibits ever created, and soon, it’ll be coming to a galaxy near you, so to speak. “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination” was developed by the Museum of Science and LucasFilm, LTD and made its debut October 27, 2005. In fact, it’s the first time you can see props, costumes and models from all six Star Wars films in one place, along with some real-world examples of how the line between science fiction and reality continues to blur, thanks to advances in modern technology. The exhibit’s 6-month run is now over, but some friends and I managed to make the trip from Maine to check it out just before it closed. [ed. note: the exhibit has now moved on to COSI Columbus from June 3rd - Sept 4th - details right here!]

Plan Ahead
My first thought was that we could simply drive to the museum and buy our tickets there, but after reading an article that pre-ticket sales were being arranged for the upcoming exhibit in Columbus, we decided to call ahead, just to make sure we could get in. Sure enough, the recommendation was to buy our tickets ahead of time. Further, your ticket indicates what time you’re allowed to enter the exhibit. For example, in our case, we couldn’t get in until 11:30 a.m.

Admissions were scheduled about 15 minutes apart to help ease problems with overcrowding. The plan worked great because you could stay as long as you’d like, and most people’s visits were much shorter than ours, so we never felt packed in like sardines. Picture-taking was pretty easy, too, thanks to the smaller crowds, and most visitors were very gracious about trying to keep themselves out of our photo collection.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

The entrance to the exhibit was crafted in a Tatooine motif, and we passed the time in line fielding Star Wars trivia questions from the tour guide, who also gave us some insight about what we’d see once we were inside. We also had the option using a PDA to serve as our multimedia guide for an extra few dollars, but we decided to pass so we could fully concentrate and take in all the sights.

What You’ll See
Once inside, the first specimen that caught our eye was Luke’s landspeeder from Episode IV: A New Hope. Rumor has it the piece had been taking up space in George Lucas’ garage prior to being prepped for the exhibit. It was also the central focus of the “Getting Around” display, which teaches us how modern-day scientists are trying their best to replicate various, hi-tech modes of sci-fi-inspired transportation, such as vehicles fitted with repulsorlifts as seen throughout the Star Wars universe.

To further demonstrate the concept, there were pictures of primitive, so-called “hovercraft” vehicles that use bursts of air to propel them across bodies of water. And for the daredevil in us all, you could sit in a type of “air-car” that glided across the floor using bursts of compressed air. Trying to maneuver the vehicle proved to be no easy task, but many of the youngsters at the wheel didn’t seem to mind. Needless to say, we were sure even the world’s top scientists would be equally flummoxed by this particularly intriguing and interactive display. The land speeder exhibit also included a color-television monitor airing some behind-the-scenes footage and movie clips from Star Wars, showing Luke’s speeder in action. (Hint: the speeder has three wheels--one in front and two in the rear--that were hidden with a mirror, which in turn reflected the sand, thereby creating the “hover” effect.) The exhibit also included a scaled-down model of the landspeeder, complete with maquettes of Luke, R2 and C-3PO. (Incidentally, we wondered how the actors and the R2 prop even managed to fit on the speeder for their scenes, because there’s not as much room as you’d think.

Where to Look, Where to Look…
Not far from this attention-grabbing exhibit, our eyes were also treated to a bevy of detailed models and props of all shapes and sizes, including a Trade Federation tank from Episode I, the Tantive IV from A New Hope, Darth Vader’s Devastator, a TIE fighter, and a hefty Millennium Falcon.

Incidentally, the Falcon display also contained a video detailing how the model was made, some behind-the-scenes footage of how it was filmed and used in action sequences, and there were even some tidbits about the ship’s back story, considering it’s practically a Star Wars character in its own right. And, as one might expect, Han and Chewbacca weren’t very far from the “fastest hunk of junk in galaxy”. Costumes worn by Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew are some of many impressive costumes on display throughout the exhibit.

Props, Costumes and Droids, Oh My!
As we meandered on toward the exhibits other main section, titled “Robots and People:, we were also treated to several more display cases containing a wide variety of props and costumes, including C-3PO (both “naked“ and with his gold plating from Episode III), R2-D2, a stormtrooper, a full-size battle droid and life-size destroyer droid, a pit droid, an imperial probe droid, a snow trooper, a Wampa ice creature, and various devices used by Han on Hoth, including a scanner and a pair of macrobinoculars.

In fact, the Hoth display demonstrates how humans work and manage to survive in extremely harsh environments, like the Arctic. You’ll even get a look at what scientists are forced to wear to battle the elements in such drastic weather conditions. Not too far off were more costumes and props, including Darth Vader’s armor from Episode IV and his helmet (disassembled) from Revenge of the Sith, full-scale FX-7 and 2-1B medical droids, full-size Tarfull and Salporin wookiee costumes, a life-size Yoda puppet, a Jedi outfit worn by Samuel L. Jackson, Anakin’s metallic hand (as seen at the end of Attack of the Clones) and Luke’s plastic, badly-burned, prosthetic hand.

From Fantasy to Reality
Intermingled with all of these wonderful SW artifacts was a bevy of modern-day robots, prosthesis and computers to demonstrate how some of the technology we’ve seen in the Star Wars movies is slowly becoming a reality. For example, one display case contained a computerized C-Leg, which can respond quite well to the gait and stride of the person wearing it. There were also examples of the materials used to construct these items, such as titanium. We also got to see pieces of lab-cultivated skin that could be used for grafts. Other technological advances demonstrated how computers and robotics are being used to help those with impaired vision and hearing, and there was even a piece that featured a cranial implant to help paraplegics accomplish small tasks by literally harnessing their brain power. As we looked over each of these items, flashbacks of Anakin Skywalker being “built” into Darth Vader come to mind, but fortunately, this technology is being used for good, rather than evil. In other display cases we saw some smaller robots used for practical, everyday purposes, such as the ROOMBA, which can clean your floor on its own using a variety of sensors to work its way around a room. There were even some small robots that could be used for a variety of tasks outdoors. Some of the more interactive displays allowed users to build and test their own small robots, to demonstrate the laws of physics, and to even use a computer to see how programmers use software to help their CGI characters express themselves and even use artificial intelligence.

Wait! There’s more!
If you’re looking for a more extensive lesson in robotics, your best bet is to check out the Jawa Sandcrawler mock-up, which includes a presentation featuring C-3PO. Unfortunately, our group decided to pass on this because there was a 45 minute wait to get in. And judging by the length of the line, we were sure it was well worth waiting for.

I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention the weapons display case. For the first time, we got to see actual prop light sabers, blasters and blaster rifles up close. Among the light saber handles, Emperor Palpatine’s caught my eye, primarily because it seemed rather small and a bit dainty, compared to the others.

Of course, judging by the deadly force with which Palpatine wielded the weapon in Revenge of the Sith, it appears size really doesn’t matter. And of course, once you’ve had your fill of the exhibit, your path leads you directly into the gift shop.

The Long and Winding Road
We really weren’t all that impressed with the merchandise offered at the gift shop . There were lots of “kitschy” things, such as key chains, mugs, pens, posters, and such. Most of the t-shirts and toys were geared for the younger crowd, but at least for the big kid in all of us there were quite a few 2006 SAGA action figures and books to choose from. However, the action figures cost double what you’d pay at your local “big-box” retailer, but I was almost tempted when I spotted a much-sought-after Scorch Commando. Unfortunately, a six-year-old and his pal eyed it seconds before I did, and well…all I could do was to simply tell the kid to hold on to his lucky find, but in my heart of hearts, I’m sure that figure was ripped from the box within seconds after he left the shop.

Check It Out
All in all, the exhibit was well worth the trip and the $20 admission fee. My only regret was not getting a chance to take a spin in the full-size mock-up of the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit. Admission to the simulator costs a few dollars extra, but in our case there simply weren’t enough seats for all of us to enjoy the “ride” at one time. Much like your exhibit entry, you can choose from whichever seatings are available at a predetermined time, as space is limited, and you must make your reservations ahead of time.

So, as the exhibit begins its next journey to Columbus, Ohio and beyond, make it a point to check it out, if you can. My biggest recommendation is to buy your tickets well ahead of time, make sure your digital camera is fully charged and your memory stick empty, then grab some friends, take lots of photos and share the magic!

May the Force be with you!
Sean Baker

Be sure to check out Dustin's review of the same exhibit on it's second stop of the tour at COSI in Columbus , Ohio right here!