Labor Day weekend marks closing of ‘Star Wars’ exhibit at Exploration Place

It landed on Memorial Day weekend, and now Exploration Place’s “Star Wars” exhibit is getting ready to fly from our galaxy on Labor Day.

“We expect a pretty big closing weekend. It’s been a success for us,” Christina Bluml of Exploration Place said of the largest exhibit ever to be staged there. “We’re very happy.”

On Saturday, costumed “Star Wars” characters from the 501st Legion, 70th Explorers Garrison costuming group will be on hand to mark the closing weekend.

After it leaves Wichita, the exhibit will go to a museum in Florida and then to one in Indiana, “then it’ll be off the market,” Bluml said.

Exploration Place advertised the exhibit of 80 items that were used in the six “Star Wars” movies more widely than for anything else it has hosted. The museum also rebuilt floors and walls to accommodate it.

Attendance numbers won’t be released until after the exhibit closes Sept. 3, but Bluml said that “Star Wars” attendance has topped the 2008 exhibit of plasticized cadavers called “Our Body: The Universe Within” for the time frame in which the two overlapped.

“We have gotten people in from outside of our regular market,” Bluml said. “Star Wars” is “always such a draw and so permeated into our culture.”

The exhibit, officially titled “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination,” features movie artifacts ranging from costumes to weapons to spaceship models. The items are tied to their real scientific corollaries on the planet Earth.

For $3 extra, people who have paid Star Wars or regular Exploration Place admission can have a 41/2-minute experience of virtual travel in a mock-up of Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon.

Jen Angel of Arkansas City is a member of the costuming group and has been at the exhibit often over the summer – finding herself most popular when she’s dressed as Princess Leia. She said she’s met people who have come from Corpus Christi and El Paso, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York to see the exhibit.

“In the middle of landlocked Kansas we met people from England, New Zealand, Germany – it’s like wow. Even from Russia,” she said. “They were in town for other reasons – visiting family or getting new jobs – but this was one of their main stops” in Wichita.

Members of the costuming group have had fun playing “Star Wars” trivia games with visitors to the exhibit, she said.

“It’s the little bitty kids that will tell you things you didn’t know,” she said.

Labor Day will not only be the last day of the “Star Wars” exhibit, it will be the last Monday that Exploration Place will be open for the season. Mondays will be back in the rotation in mid-March.

Exploration Place’s next traveling exhibit will be “Videotopia: It’s Game Time!” featuring a history of video games and the chance to play dozens of restored and new arcade video games including Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Frogger. It will open Sept. 29 and run through Jan. 1, 2013.