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‘Star Wars’ up close at Exploration Place

Visitors to the Exploration Place exhibit "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination." can take a short flight in this Milenium Falcon model. The Exhibit opens on May 26 and will be on display through Labor Day. It's one of the largest exhibits that's ever come to the museum and features dozens of costumes and props from all six of the "Star Wars" movies. (May 18, 2012)
Visitors to the Exploration Place exhibit "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination." can take a short flight in this Milenium Falcon model. The Exhibit opens on May 26 and will be on display through Labor Day. It's one of the largest exhibits that's ever come to the museum and features dozens of costumes and props from all six of the "Star Wars" movies. (May 18, 2012) The Wichita Eagle

A long time ago, in a movie theater far, far away, the lights went down and we were dropped into the outer space of “Star Wars.”

We were given a few seconds to take in peaceful stars and planets before a gigantic white spaceship shot out over us with an almost unbearable weight, filling the top of our field of vision and shrinking us into awe.

Now, with those memories replaying in our mind, we can be the ones standing over the Imperial Star Destroyer, taking in all the sleek white expanse of Darth Vader’s ship — all 49 inches long. It’s the model that was filmed for the opening of the original “Star Wars” movie and one of 80 artifacts that can be seen in a long-awaited exhibit that opens May 26 at Exploration Place.

“Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination” is the largest exhibition that Exploration Place has ever staged. To make room for its 10,000 square feet – 3,000 square feet more than its previously largest exhibit, “Whales,” the museum had to relocate its Tots’ Spot and reconstruct walls and floors.

The exhibit is so rare in this part of the country that Exploration Place has been advertising its summer-long run in surrounding states.

“We know that ‘Star Wars’ is such a draw,” said Christina Bluml, director of marketing for Exploration Place, noting that she’d just heard from someone in Oklahoma who’d heard about the exhibit. “There’s so many diehard fans.”

Now the exhibit that has been two years in the offing is being readied to open Memorial Day weekend for a run through Labor Day, Sept. 3. It is a gallery – being kept as cold as a movie theater for preservation – of costumes, spaceship models, weapons and droids that were used in the series of six movies that make up the “Star Wars” canon, released from 1977 to 2005.

“As the 5-year-old boy that saw the first movie in 1977, this is a big deal,” said Kerry Ellison of Wichita, who as a big boy dresses as “Star Wars” character Jango Fett at special events, such as opening day of the exhibit.

“You get to see props from the movie ... and you’re up-close and personal with them. You get to see the models of the X-wing and the Imperial Star Destroyer. You get to see kind of what George Lucas ... was seeing back in production, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Old friends and spooky enemies are met in the exhibit, in the form of Princess Leia’s belted white gown, Anakin Skywalker’s hooded robe, Yoda complete with wild gray hairs on his wrinkled green head, Darth Vader scary all the way down to his huge black-booted feet, and very imposing, very hairy Wookiees. C-3PO and R2-D2, of course, also are in attendance.

“I hope you have a lot of Windex, because there’s going to be a lot of prints on this glass,” the center’s marketing project coordinator, Linda Eaves, told exhibits director Lynn Corona.

Most of the artifacts look to have been through battle – dinged up, worn and scratched – especially Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder. You may remember he couldn’t afford the latest model.

Interspersed with the movie trappings are real-life applications of the technology in the movies – from Roomba robot vacuum cleaners to cochlear implants to Antarctic extreme-weather clothing. While there is no “Star Wars” soundtrack playing in the background, there are stations where visitors can watch videos showing scenes from the movies for context in lessons about real-life science, including one about prosthetics: “The fantasy is becoming reality.”

The exhibition was created by the Museum of Science in Boston in collaboration with Lucasfilm Ltd., with support from the National Science Foundation.

Technology enabled the models for the “Star Wars” spaceships to get smaller as the movies went on, Eaves said, making them more easy to manipulate. According to the exhibit, the filmmakers made Darth Vader’s Imperial Star Destroyer seem enormous at the opening of the first “Star Wars” by detailing the model’s surface very finely and by running the camera past it very closely so it would seem to fill the screen.

The exhibit has hands-on areas that allow visitors to make a robot walk, sit in a hovercraft device and experiment with magnetic levitation.

For an additional $3, people who have paid Star Wars or regular Exploration Place admission can have the experience of virtual travel in a mock-up of Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon. It’s a 4 1/2-minute tour of space narrated by C-3PO, showing planets and stars and spaceships pass by, and giving some astronomical instruction along the way, ending up amid leftovers “from the Big Bang.”

Included in admission to the Star Wars exhibit for non-members are a planetarium show called “Galaxies Far, Far Away,” a live science show in the Kemper Theater auditorium, and outdoor MiniGolf.

Costumed “Star Wars” characters from the area 70th Explorers Garrison costuming organization, including Kerry Ellison, will make an appearance on opening day and on subsequent weekends of the exhibit, as well as in the River Festival parade on June 1.

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