Sci-fi meets hard science in Star Wars show 

click to enlarge This Yoda puppet is among the collectibles included in Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination.
  • This Yoda puppet is among the collectibles included in Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination.

Keeping true to the Star Wars camping-out-all-night, fanboy spirit, Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, a traveling exhibition that combines film memorabilia with hard science, makes its grand opening this week at the Indiana State Museum with a midnight showing beginning at 11:59 p.m. May 24. It'll then run through Labor Day on regular museum hours. The show combines props and costumes from all six films with exhibits demonstrating the real-world applications of some of the film's design concepts, including robotics, lasers and space travel.

Speaking as a member of the generation for whom the release of Star Wars was the defining cultural event of our lifetimes, it would've been a little hard to imagine in 1977 that the way-cool, explodo-filled space opera that filled screens and broke our parents' bank accounts might actually be taken seriously someday. And now here we are in a world where the White House cracks Death Star jokes on occasion. It turns out that for every kid who stared in open-mouthed awe the first time the Millennium Falcon made the jump to lightspeed and promptly went looking for the toy, there was another who was thinking "I bet I can make that happen ... "

"A lot of scientists remember Star Wars and what a great influence it was, getting them interested for the first time," Traci Cromwell, manager of the exhbition, says. "We're going to be able to show real-world artifacts and lots of cool and exciting things that are going on in places like medical research, travel and Antarctic expeditions. There are robots being used right now in the medical field for surgery, and there are robots we use for fun. We're getting to the point where robots are just a more common thing. A lot of these technologies are being used today and people don't even think about how it's out there."

click to enlarge One Engineering Design Lab in the Star Wars exhibition asks "How would you build a maglev car like Luke's Landspeeder?"
  • One Engineering Design Lab in the Star Wars exhibition asks "How would you build a maglev car like Luke's Landspeeder?"

For an additional $5, the exhibition includes a full-sized cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. "Four people at a time can sit and watch through the windshield for a journey through space narrated by C-3P0 and R2-D2," Cromwell says. "We have models of all the ships in the series that were used in actual filmmaking, from an X-Wing to two versions of the Millennium Falcon: one that can fit in the palm of your hand and one that's several feet wide."

She says the entire exhibition is focused on being as interactive and up-close as possible. "You can be right next to costumes the movie actors wore, and be next to something that was part of the whole raw experience of this series," Cromwell says. "We expect it will take people about an hour and a half to make it through the whole exhibit. There's lots of hands-on interaction for both parents and kids. You can build a robot, ride the equivalent of a landspeeder and do all kinds of cool things. I think people will remember it for a long, long time."

The entire summer will feature exhibition-related events, including three lectures from Rose-Hulman professors about the influence of Star Wars on their own careers and fields, baseball night at Indians field, and monthly fan days in June, July and August.

The exhibit calls the Museum of Science in Boston its permanent home; once it leaves Indianapolis, it moves to California and than it's back home to Boston. "When it's done, that might be your last chance to see it in the Midwest,' Cromwell says.

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