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‘Star Wars’ Translated to Reality

11 Mar, 2012 By: John Latchem

As science-fiction, “Star Wars” often depicts fantastic technologies well beyond what is currently possible in real life. But those concepts may not be as far out there as one would think. That’s the premise behind “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination,” a traveling museum exhibit that has been touring the country for the past few years.

The fun showcase, like a "Science of Star Wars" documentary come to life, combines displays of props, costumes and models with interactive features that demonstrate the films’ real-world implications. In one section, kids can build a model of a working magnetic levitation train out of legos. Another lets handy fans build a miniature R2-D2, or try to simulate how humans walk using remote-controlled robot legs (it's not as easy as it looks).

One of the stations for designing a maglev platform out of Legos.

Controlling a robot's legs by remote control isn't as easy as it looks.

In another display, guests learn about some of the different planets of “Star Wars,” and have the opportunity to create virtual habitats to discover some of the best ways to survive in the extreme environments depicted.

To further hammer home the life-imitates-art aspect of the exhibit, some props are displayed near examples of real-life counterparts. This means that the medical section offers not only a prop of Luke’s and Anakin’s  fake arms, but also actual prosthetic devices. A section about the ice planet Hoth shows off real Antarctica survival gear. For the robotics section, this provides perhaps the best excuse to stick a Roomba in a museum. And a prop of Luke’s landspeeder from Episode IV rests not too far from a working hovercraft on which kids can ride.

Real-life robots

Test drive a hovercraft

Then there are models of conceptual spacecraft so theorhetical that may as well have been in the movie.

Still, fans will take great delight in walking past the special effects models used to depict such ships as the Millennium Falcon and a Star Destroyer, Darth Vader and Stormtrooper costumes, and much more. It’s a terrific testament to the work of artist Ralph McQuarrie, who died March 3. Seeing many of these props so close might be surprising for some people. I for one never realized just how big the Wookiees were supposed to be.

The big guy

One of several Millennium Falcon models on display

So if you’re looking for a “Star Wars” experience beyond just re-watching the movies on Blu-ray and the museum tour comes to your town, be sure to check it out. And for an extra $5 fans can take a simulated ride in the Millennium Falcon.

All in all, this is a great example of how popular cinema can be used to inspire learning.

The exhibit, which launched in Boston in 2005, is currently at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, Calif., through April 15. It moves on to Exploration Place in Wichita, Kansas, from May 26 to Sept. 3, 2012, followed by the Orlando Science Center in Orlando, Fla., from Oct. 13, 2012, to March 17, 2013.

Tickets to the exhibit in Santa Ana, which also requires a museum general admission, can be purchased online (discoverycube.org) for $22.95 for adults and $20.95 for children 14 and younger and seniors 62 and older.

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