Saturday, November 06, 2010

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination

This week, I took a little jaunt over to the Lafayette Science Museum to visit the traveling exhibit "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination." The exhibit offers lessons about space, prosthetics, robotics, and exploration. They also have a lot of really cool movie props, costumes and models on display.

Have you ever driven a hovercraft? I tried, but it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. What I learned from my short and dizzying effort was that when you're steering a vehicle that's floating on a thin cushion of air, your movements need to be subtle. I tried to turn a little bit to the right and ended up spinning in circles. That's just one of the interactive games and activities that relate real-world science to the technologies in Star Wars. The hovercraft is compared to vehicle technologies like the landspeeder and podracer.

My main interest in seeing the exhibit was to get a close-up look at the movie miniatures, costumes and props on display. I've been lucky enough to attend similar exhibits in the past, and each one always offers chances to get close to something I've never seen in person before. This time, I was excited to find the Alliance medical droids FX-7 and 2-1B from The Empire Strikes Back. Other droids on display included R2-D2 and C-3PO, the interrogator droid from A New Hope, and from The Phantom Menace, a battle droid, Droideka, and pit droid.

Models on display included a TIE fighter, large and small Millennium Falcons, an X-Wing, Y-Wing, the Tantive IV blockade runner, and an AT-TE Trade Federation Tank. Several Jedi costumes were on display, along with clothing worn by Han Solo, a Snowtrooper, Stormtrooper, Princess Leia, and little Anakin Skywalker. One cabinet was filled with blasters and lightsabers, and a Hoth display featured macrobinoculars and scanner, a Tauntaun maquette, and a full-sized Wampa costume. This list is only a fraction of the items on display.

I took about a thousand photos (literally) while my mom, who rode over with me, watched the videos and listened to the audio recordings about each exhibit. Sometimes she'd come to me and say, "The recording only talked about these things, and didn't say anything about these other things in the showcase." So, I'd explain to her what everything was. She's never seen the prequels, so for example, she didn't recognize the female Tusken Raider costume in the Tatooine part of the exhibit. With the original trilogy, she did better. When we got to the weapons case, she pointed at the large quote printed inside and said, "That sounds like Han Solo." It said, "Ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side." Yep, that's exactly right, mom.

They have two theatre experiences. The Robot Object Theater is a 15-minute long show that's included with regular museum admission ($10/adult, $8/senior, $6/child). The set is similar to the interior of the Jawa Sandcrawler, and it's mostly a conversation between C-3PO and robotics expert Cynthia Breazeal (who appears on a large monitor). It's a cute show that showcases the work that robots do here on earth and the challenges faced by robot designers. It ties in with several interactive exhibits on robotics.

The other show is the Millennium Falcon Experience. For this you have to buy an extra ticket, but it's only $2 and well worth it. You walk through the hallway of the Falcon, sit in the cockpit and take a ride through the known universe. The wrap-around space images simulate flight motion, so it's really like you're riding in the Falcon's cockpit. At the time I rode, I was the only one, so I got to sit in the pilot's chair. The voyage is narrated by Anthony Daniels (as himself, though he has a conversation with R2, which is kind of weird).

The exhibit will be in Lafayette, Louisiana, through January 17. Visit the website for complete details on museum hours, ticket prices, and restrictions.

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